MY son Jacob has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). From a young age Jacob reacted poorly anytime we took him out in the community, and would have constant meltdowns in our home. He would run away constantly even if we were just walking from our house to our van. In hind sight it seems so obvious that there was something wrong and I can’t believe I went so long not understanding why. Unfortunately I only knew the stereotypical symptoms of Autism and I didn’t even know SPD existed (which is why I am starting to blog about it so others don’t have to go through what I went through). When I talked to other parents about his struggles I would get a lot of “oh he’s a boy” or “he’ll out grow it”, and although in some cases this is true it was not true for us.
As I have paid closer attention to his problems I have realized that his poor behavior in almost all situations is caused by his sensory problems, and his difficulty communicating. Jacob acts out in situations not because he wants to be bad but because he is overloaded by sensory input and does not have the proper communication skills to inform me of how he is feeling.
One of the major things we are working on is his communication skills. When Jacob starts acting out (such as hitting or screaming or running away) I take him to a quiet spot, sit with him on my lap, give him a big squeeze and “give him words” as his psychologist says. His psychologist suggested that we give him some options of why he might feel upset. Such as, “Are you nervous to go to the store?” “Are you scared of who will be there or how loud it will be?”, “It is frustrating when you don’t get the toy you want”, or “are you hot with the sweater on?”
Over the past year we have really focused on “giving him words” and we have seen vast improvements. Jacob still acts out but once I remove him and get him to sit on my lap he often formulates his own thoughts, telling me “he is scared of the grociery store, it is really loud”, or “I am frustrated that I don’t get that toy”. This is a big step for him.
A lot of children with Autism have difficulty distinguishing feelings in themselves. Jacob does not always comprehend what his facial expressions are (sometimes giving the wrong impression to others). so we focus on teaching him what a happy face or a sad face feels like. It is basically memorization for him but he will hopefully be able to express himself properly and eventually read others facial expressions and body language and react accordingly.
We are also adding more “feelings” vocabulary. Everything before was Happy or Angry. We slowly add new feelings like Sad, bored, frustrated, or excited. Giving Jacob this vocabulary has helped him express his feelings in a more appropriate manner.
It is important to remember that our children, special needs or not, are all learning. I sometimes take for granted what is innately in me. I am an out spoken person and I am able to formulate my thoughts and vocalize my feelings. What I forget is that I have had almost 30 years of experience to learn that. “Feelings vocabulary”, as I call it, is a useful tool for ALL children to learn. The better they learn this skill now the better they will communicate with others as they mature and grow into adulthood.