I read an article this morning from Autism Speaks through following the Flutie Foundation (The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism) page. These articles, like everything else, are a dime a dozen. I quickly scrolled and chuckled to myself as I scanned each point and its explanation. Here’s my thoughts on a few of them:
#1. Autism is a huge spectrum. You’ve probably heard the saying “if you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.” I know tons of children with autism through my work as a teacher and through Tommy. Not one of these individuals is the same. They’re similar in ways, but definitely not the same. Therefore, as parents, our roads aren’t the same. Don’t compare us.
#2. A routine and transition warnings are helpful for a child with autism. School is inherently far more structured for Tommy than home. We try to use visuals as much as possible (pull back the shower curtain for “Checklist for Showering”, check the “Calming Down Checklist” on the front door, or find the “Tattling v. Telling” visual in the playroom). When we foresee a disruption to the routine, out come more visuals. Problems at school with rigidity? More visuals. And for God’s sake, make sure you give at least a 5 and 2 minute warning for EVERYTHING. Honestly, these have been great for James, too. Will could write them.
#3. A child with autism needs extra time to process language. Tommy CANNOT, I repeat, CANNOT complete a task that has more than two steps. Here’s an example: “Tom, go upstairs to your room and get your pajama bottoms and a pair of long socks.” Two steps, right? Tricked ya. That’s three. You’re most likely to find Tommy 20 minutes later in his bedroom stimming with an Eiffel Tower a centimeter from his eyes. His foot stool is more than likely at his bureau to get pajamas, but socks? Forget it. And whatever you do, DO NOT PARAPHRASE or REPHRASE what you told him. The process starts all over again!
#4. Receptive language and expressive language are two different things. Ha! Scripts sometimes are my worst enemy. This past winter I rear-ended someone. I let my foot off the brake and rolled to be more precise. However, I wasn’t in my car, I was in Eric’s. Holy s*@t. Eric loves cars more than anything. There was no damage to either car, but the boys (actually just Will and Tom) were upset. That evening was not my finest mom moment. Tommy was crying and kept saying he didn’t want to be in an accident. Will kept saying I ruined his perfect day. I was upset because I didn’t want to hear it from Eric. By the time Eric got home, all three boys were in bed. I told him what happened because two out of the three boys were unknowns. Who would rat me out first?
The next morning, it was Tom who opened his big mouth. He scripted me snapping at him while I was trying to exchange insurance info, etc. Ugh. The whole thing! I panicked, only because I was worried he’d do it at school, too (I may have swore; according to the script, anyway). But, hey, we’ve all been there right? To this day, Will has never mentioned it. He’s a vault.
#5. Children with autism are literal. “Tommy! Spit it out.” He spits. “Tommy, give me a second.” “One, time’s up.”
#6. A child with autism can get stuck on one subject. I’m dying over here. Planets, landmarks, natural disasters, Grandma Jean, black holes, letters, numbers, Disney buses. This makes me literally laugh out loud.
#8. Sensory issues are a distraction for many children with autism…smells may cause them to gag. We can’t have coffee at our house with Tommy home. This makes me sad, and tired.
#9. Children with autism use stereotypic behaviors or receptive behaviors when they are excited, bored, or stressed. “Oh the rocking and flapping is annoying? Sorry, so are you.” You can’t believe how many people make comments about Tommy’s stimming and flapping in public. Don’t tell him to stop, he can’t.
Folks can learn from the few neighborhood kids we have over here. They never say a peep about Tommy riding a tricycle or flapping. They even try to get him to play wiffleball. Those kids have adapted, too. They know not to tell Tommy to run home after a hit. That always gets the “I AM home.” (see #5)
#10. Positive Reinforcement will be helpful but punishments will not. Someone, not saying any names, threatens to take preferred activities away from Tommy. Do you know what Tommy does? He throws them away himself. I’ve retrieved an iPad or two from the trash. He’ll learn. In the meantime, Tommy will keep throwing stuff away.
I got a chuckle out of this article. Not because I think it’s ridiculous, but because I can relate.