Today is Autism Awareness day. I thought this would be a perfect time to bring awareness to this disability. As most of you know my son is diagnosed with Autistic Disorder. This means many different things to different people as every autistic child is unique. So I will share a list of the most common characteristics and I will share some examples of how they have manifested in my sons life.
Social skills – A person with Autism interacts with other individuals quite differently compared to how the rest of the population behaves. If the symptoms are not severe, the person with ASD may seem socially clumsy, sometimes offensive in his/her comments, or out of synch with everyone else. If the symptoms are more severe, the person may seem not to be interested in other people at all. For Jacob he is inbetween. On a good day Jacob is learning how to appropriately intereact with other people but still struggles and need a lot of assistance. Another well know symptom of Autism is their lack of eye contact. With the help of professionals Jacob’s eye contact is improving. He needs to be reminded but he will now look at you, but not necessarily your eyes.
Empathy – a person with Autism will find it much harder to be aware of the feelings of others. With Jacob we practice looking a pictures of people and talk about how we think they are feeling. Jacob is getting much better but it is still just an intellectual skill he is learning instead of a natural ability. Having a conversation with Jacob also comes across as a one-way conversation. He usually talks at you rather than with you. Autistic people also focus on one theme and talk about it a lot. In Jacob’s case he is most comfortable when spouting facts about animals and dinosaurs. Now almost everyone on earth feels more comfortable speaking about themselves; however, a person with autism will usually do so even more.
Physical Contact – Children with autism tend to not like cuddleing or being touched like other children, but this is not always the case. My nephew, who has ASD, loves cuddles and hugs. For Jacob he needs to be able to anticipate the contact he will have with people. Although he is getting better at controlling his reactions when an unexpected contact happens.
Noise, smell, and lights (Sensory) – Many believe it is not as much the actual sensory intake that causes problems but rather the surprise of it. This is the case with Jacob. When we are able to warn him about what is going to happen he can usually cope much better; however, Jacob really struggles with sensory as he is also diagnosed with Sensory processing disorder so warning him does not always work (for info on this refer to my SPD post).
Speech – This is one of the most common misconceptions. For those of you who have met Jacob you know he is VERY verbal. But this alone does not determine a childs severity. No Jacob is not considered high functioning autistic. If you only think of speech as the pronunciation of words then yes Jacob does very well but speech is so much more. It is how we express our selves. It is how we communicate with others. It is problem solving. For the past 16 months he has been seeing a speech therapist that has been helping him with these very things.
Repetition – Routine and predictability is a way of life for most people with autism. If your bedtime routine is bath, pj’s, then teeth. Most people without autism don’t have a problem brushing their teeth first one night, but for someone with autism a change like this could completely throw them off. For example, by the time Jacob was 4 he was so rigid in our schedual that any slight variation would through him into a complete meltdown. Even when he would come into our room in the morning if we said “look who’s up?” instead of “Good morning Jacob” this would cause the rest of our day to be disrupted. Jacob has specific orders in which he puts his clothes on to go out side and if we don’t follow that he will get so upset that we end up having to start our entire day over. This has taken a lot of work but he is making amazing improvements! He is becoming so flexible and willing to adapt to new situations.
Physical tics and stimming – For an autistic person a tic is usually physical movements that can be jerky. Jacob has a tic. He will blink his eyes really hard and fast about 5 times in a row over and over again. People with ASD tics often say that they have to be expressed, otherwise the urge to do it does not stop. Stimming or self stimulation is a physical way for people with autism to respond to being overly sensitive to stimuli. The most common form of stimming for Jacob is when he rubs his ears and will wiggle wherever he is sitting or standing.
Obsessions – Many people with autism have obsessions. For some it is numbers or license plates. For Jacob it is dinosaurs and animals. Jacob is also a collector. He will collect random objects like batteries, rocks and sometimes garbage.
Developmental inconsistency – Most children without autism will develop in many areas at a relatively consistant basis, this is not the case for most autistic children. For Jacob his language and gross motor skills were above average but his fine motor have required more work. We have all heard about those autistic children that can do amazing things with numbers or music. They are referred to as savant’s. Most people with autism do not have incredible gifts for music or numbers; however, some have high IQ’s and a unique talent.
These are just a few of the things that affect people with autism. I know from personal experience how hard this disorder can be on those affected. My son loves to go out. He loves playing with friends, going for bike rides, and have fun. But most of the time his disorder prevents him from participating in normal activities. On Saturday we attended an engagement party for a friend of ours. We had initially got a babysitter, knowing how hard those situations can be on Jacob, but he assured us he would be good and that he really wanted to go to the party. We decided to try and if it became too much we would leave and bring our children home. We arrived about 20 min early so Jacob could adjust to the new place without too many people in the room. As the night went on more people arrived and the number of people in attendance and the temperature began to go up. Jacob was doing great. He spent most of the night running the hallways with some little boys he met, he had a blast. Then came dessert and dancing (Jacob’s favorite part). After about 10min of the music being on he told me his “brain hurt” and so we moved him to a quieter room where the lights were softer and there was less noise and people. After another 20min Jacob threw up (multiple times). No it was not because he was sick or because he ate too much cake. This happens when Jacob is so overwhelmed by stimuli that his body gets physically sick. His body does not know how to handle everything going on around him and that is what happens. This makes Jacob sad. He wants to participate in those special things that kids like to do like go to movies or trick or treating (every Halloween he throws up), unfortunately he is not always able to, but with experienced professionals able to help, we are able to teach Jacob how to cope with these symptoms that affect his day to day life.
Let us all be understanding to the kid in the grociery store that is screaming at his mom because maybe he is over-stimulated by everything around him. Let us not judge the child that screams at you because you brushed past them in the hall, maybe they are sensitive to physical contact. Let us remember that they are all struggleing to learn how to control themselves.
They may not look any different but they think and feel very different from us. The best thing we can do for these special people is, love them. Let them know how much we care about them, and how special we think they are.
I love my son. I see the challenges that he is overcoming and I am amazed by his strength of spirit. He has the most amazing imagination and (on a good day) he is the funnest kid to be around. I am so blessed to have him in my home.
I LOVE YOU JACOB!!!
Please share this with those you know. Help us raise awareness and understanding of autism.