Some days it seems the onlypredictable thing about it is the unpredictability. The only consistent attribute — the inconsistency. There is little argument on any level but that autism is baffling, even to those who spend their lives around it. The child who lives with autism may look “normal” but his behaviour can be perplexing and downright difficult…
Here are 10 things every child with autism wishes you knew.
- I am a child with autism. I am not “autistic.” My autism is one aspect of my total It does not define me as a person.
- My sensory perceptions are disordered. This means the ordinary sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches of every day life that you may not even notice can be down right painful for me. The very environment in which I have to live often seems hostile. I may appear withdrawn or belligerent to you, but I am really just trying to defend myself. A “simple” trip to the grocery store may be hell for me. My hearing may be hyper-acute. Dozens of people are talking at once. The loud speaker booms today’s special. Muzak whines from the sound system. Cash registers beep and cough. A coffee grinder is chugging. The meat cutter screeches, babies wail, carts creak, the fluorescent lighting hums. — My brain can’t filter all the input, and I’m in overload! All this affects my vestibular sense, and now I can’t even tell where my body is in space. I may stumble, bump into things, or simply lay down to try and regroup.
- Please remember to distinguish between won’t (I choose not to) and can’t (I’m not able to). Receptive and expressive language are both difficult for me. It isn’t that I don’t listen to instructions. It’s that I can’t understand you. When you call to me from across the room, this is what I hear: “*&^%$#@, Billy. #$%^*&^%$&*” Instead, come speak directly to me in plainwords: “Please put your book in your desk, It’s time to go to lunch.”This tells me what you want me to do and what is going to happen next. Now it’s much easier for me to comply.
- I am a concrete thinker. I interpret language literally. It’s very confusing for me when you say, “Hold your horses, cowboy!” when what you really mean is “Please stop running.” Don’t tell me something is a “piece of cake” when there is no dessert insight and what you really mean is, “This will be easy for you to do.” When you say, “It’s pouring cats and dogs,” I see pets coming out of a pitcher. Please just tell me, “It’s raining very hard.” Idioms, puns, nuances, double entendres and sarcasm are lost on me.
- Be patient with my limited vocabulary. It’s hard for me to tell you what I need when I don’t know the words to describe my feelings. I may be hungry, frustrated, frightened or confused, but right now those words are beyond my ability to express. There’s a flip side to this: I may sound like a little professor or a movie star, rattling off words or whole scripts well beyond my developmental age…I don’t necessarily understand the context or the terminology I’m using, I just know it gets me off the hook for coming up with a reply.
- Because language is so difficult for me, I am very visually oriented. Show me how to do some thing rather than just telling. And please be prepared to show me many times. Lots of patient repetition helps me learn. A visual schedule is extremely helpful as I move through my day. Like your day planner, it relieves me of the stress of having to remember what comes next, makes for smooth transitions between activities, and helps me manage my time and meet your expectations.
- Focus and build on what I can do rather than what I can’t do. Like any other human, I can’t learn in an environment where I’m constantly made to feel that I’m not good enough or that I need fixing. Trying anything new when I am almost sure to be met with criticism, however constructive, becomes something to be avoided. Look for my strengths and you’ll find them. There’s more than one right way to do most things
- Help me with social interactions. It may look like I don’t want to play with the other kids on the playground, but sometimes it’s just that I simply don’t know how to start a conversation or enter a play situation. If you can encourage other childrento invite me to join them at kickball or shooting baskets, I may be delighted to be included. — I do best in structured play activities that have a clear beginning and end. I don’t know how to “read” facial expressions, body language or the emotions of others, so I appreciate ongoing coaching in proper social responses. For example, if I laugh when Emily falls off the slide, it’s not that I think it’s funny. It’s that I don’t know the proper response. Teach me to say “Are you OK?”
- Try to identify what triggers my meltdowns. This is termed “the antecedent.” Meltdowns, blow-ups, tantrums or whatever you want to call them are even more horrid for me than they are for you. They occur because one or more of my senses has gone into If you can figure out why my meltdowns occur, they can be prevented.
- Try to remember that all behaviour is a form of communication. It tells you, when my words cannot, how I perceive something that is happening in my environment
- If you are a family member, please LOVE ME UNCONDITIONALLY. Banish thoughts such as, “If he would just …” and “Why can’t she … ?” You didn’t fulfil every last expectation your parents had for you, and you wouldn’t like being constantly reminded of it. I didn’t choose to have autism. Remember that it’s happening to me, not you. Without your support, my chances of successful, self-reliant adulthood are slim. With your support and guidance, the possibilities are broader than you might think. I promise you I’m worth it. It all comes down to three words: Patience. Patience. Patience.
- Work to view my autism as a different ability rather than a disability. Look past what you may see as limitations and see the GIFTS autism has given me.