You Can Relate
In my opinion, everyone has traits of autism – it’s just a matter of degrees. We call them quirks.
Do you have a favorite coffee cup? When you want to use it and find it’s dirty, do you feel an inner groan of disappointment?
When going to a favorite store, do you take the same route every time? If a friend is driving and they take a different route, do you feel a slight (or not so slight) irritation? If your husband is driving, do you let that irritation fly?
Do you plan events to the inth degree? If someone else is planning an event you’re involved in, but doesn’t have absolutely everything planned in advance; does it drive you crazy?
Does it spoil your day when you’ve got plans and something unexpectedly takes precedence?
Many people think they can’t relate to someone with autism, but I believe these quirks and our reactions to them show us their world to a small degree.
There is a great deal of stigma attached to the word “autism.” This makes it incredibly terrifying when parents hear it used for the first time in conjunction with their child.
Much of that stigma comes from archaic thinking when ignorance was so profound that autism was blamed on the parents; particularly the mother. Treatments were practically nonexistent at best and abusive at worst.
Today, there is so much hope. Of course, every child is different, but there are some general tendencies that people with autism have. We now know that:
Treatable: tremendous progress is possible; many children have “recovered” from the stereotypical traits such as rocking, self-abuse, communication disorders, and melt-downs.
A different perspective: General George Patton said, “If everyone’s thinking the same thing, no one is thinking.” Many times the perspective of people with autism is insightful and discerning. We need their genius!
A different set of challenges: difficulty with social interaction, communication, and strict attachment to routine; self-abuse, autistic characteristics such as rocking, hand-flapping, spinning, toe-walking, lining up objects, trouble making eye-contact, sensory overload, and melt-downs.
A different set of gifts: Temple Grandin, autism activist, author, and professor, has said of her autism, “I am different, not less.” Gifts that people with autism have include: strong loyalty, great sense of right and wrong, intense desire to follow the rules, honesty, acceptance of people the way they truly are.
I asked my daughter, Hannah, who has autism, what comes to mind when I say, “Autism is not…”?
Her profound reply was, “Autism is not the definition of a child.” I love that she resists the stigma.
Autism is Not…
Caused by bad parenting: again, that was an erroneous, archaic belief. Sometimes, you do have to be willing to learn different methods of parenting, especially if your child is self-abusive. Every parent I’ve met has not only been willing, but has been grateful to learn these methods.
A spoiled child: there are some people who think that children with autism are just spoiled. This is especially true once they’re in school. Other students, and unfortunately some teachers as well, think that children with autism have too much given to them, such as accommodations and compassion. They believe it’s not fair. However, in my view, the correct definition of “fair” is not that everyone has the same amount of help, but rather that everyone has what they need to succeed.
“…the definition of a child:” every child has likes, dislikes, interests, humor, gifts, and talents.
Praise, praise, praise! When you see a child with autism trying to engage in a new skill or behavior, such as humor, even if they don’t do so perfectly or appropriately, it is vital to praise them for their effort or they may never try again. Then you can guide them to the right words or timing.
If you want to connect with a small child or someone with severe autism, do so patiently and with baby steps. Just be in the same room with them, but at a distance. After a while, move in just a little closer. Don’t try to make eye contact or talk to them. Just be there. After you’ve done that several times, attempt to do whatever they’re doing – not with them, but alongside them. You are entering their world and you must do so slowly.
If you see a child “acting up” in public, do not assume that they’re misbehaving. Since autism has become so prevalent, the child may have autism and is experiencing sensory overload. Remember a time when you have felt completely overwhelmed. Multiply that times a thousand and you’ll understand how they feel.
People with autism will very seldom initiate a conversation on their own with someone they don’t know well. Ask them questions. Start out with yes/no questions to build up some momentum, then switch to more open-ended questions. Ask about their interests, school, family, and activities.
Offer a word of encouragement to parents, but not “You sure have your hands full.” Try something along the lines of, “You’re doing a great job.” Keep in mind that parents are very aware of the constant flow of judgment and criticism towards them. They would be incredibly blessed to hear some encouraging words.
These are just a few suggestions I hope you will find helpful. I will include more in upcoming posts.