April is drawing to a close, and its departure signifies the end of Autism Awareness Month.
In May, we look forward to celebrating National Vinegar Month, Latino Books Month, National Meditation Month, Haitian Heritage Month, and the International Internal Audit Awareness Month.
But before we usher in those all-important celebrations, I’d like to take the opportunity to give a few more insights into the world of autism.
One of the questions I frequently field is how we “handle it.” How do we cope with a child on the autism spectrum while also juggling the demands of three younger kids and a farm?
We are isolated from many of the services that are available for more urban families who are affected by autism. In the months following Riley’s official diagnosis, we received screenings from speech pathologists, an occupational therapist, and a pediatric neurologist. We implemented many of the suggested treatments in our everyday lives, and we continued to follow our instincts and common sense.
Some important factors in our approach were learning to prepare Riley for upcoming events and schedule changes, teaching him to read facial expressions, diligently practicing social skills, and teaching him anger management skills. We also worked to help him be more tolerant of sensory experiences; for example, we exposed him to loud noises and let him control some of those noises, such as the vacuum cleaner, so that he was no longer quite so afraid.
But the two most important factors were these:
1. We explained early on that everyone’s brain functions differently and that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. We pointed out things that he did well, and we pointed out things that he didn’t do well. We encouraged him to tackle challenges, but we assured him that he was loved and accepted for the person that he is.
2. We had a sense of humor, because if we didn’t laugh about some things, we just might cry. People with autism are very literal beings, and it just so happens that many of the nuances of the English language do not make much sense to a literal brain. We have had a few chuckles along the way as Riley has learned to discern figures of speech. At some point during the very frustrating echolalia stage, I uttered under my breath, “You are going to drive me nuts.” Later, Riley was overheard telling someone that “Mom is going to Nut’s house, and I’m going to drive.”
I asked Riley if he would like to share some of his perspectives. He readily agreed.Mom: What would you like people to know about autism?
Riley: It may be hard to make friends.
An autistic person might act different than normal people. For example, I’m not that big on sports because they’re not any of my hobbies. They’re sometimes hard for me. I do play kickball at recess sometimes, though, but I don’t play football when the others are playing it. I don’t like to be tossed around the field.
I am really smart and know lots about the computer and other electronics. I figure things out easily such as a digital camera or cell phone.
I can get yelled at if I do something wrong. For example, I might mess with someone’s flashlight or camera and tell me not to do it or mess with it. I am also very sensitive. Even saying a little thing like “please don’t do that” when I’m doing something may cause me to tear up. I am afraid of crying in public.
Mom: Do you ever wish you weren’t autistic?
Riley: Sometimes. It would be easier to play with my friends because my friends usually play sports.
If I didn’t have autism, it would probably be easier to play the games my friends like to play. I go to a small school, and there are only five students in my class. I am friends with all of them. Actually, everyone is friends with everyone, counting me. I know each one very well. It’s just that I’m the only one in the class who has autism, which makes me a little bit different from the rest of the class. I usually get along perfectly with the third graders who share the same room as us. I am a fourth grader, by the way. Both the third grade and the fourth grade are taught by the same teacher.
Usually I get distracted in math class. I think of things in my head or mess with my writing utensils, books, etc., and then the teacher asks me a question that the rest of the class has already answered. She is asking me to re-answer the question, maybe because she saw me messing around with my writing utensils, books, etc., and I am unable to answer it because I was not listening.
Note from Mom: etc. is one of the fourth grade spelling words this week.
My teacher is not too strict and won’t give me a big punishment for what I’ve just done. She just says that I need to pay attention in class. This does occur with some of my classmates, too, but other times it occurs to me. This may occur because mostly in math class the teacher dims the lights and turns on the overhead projector, and the light from the overhead projector and the dimmed room may cause my brain to do things like I’ve just done. It usually makes me tired, too.
I may have acted a little more autistic in kindergarten than now because I was having speech problems, and now I talk normally.
I also get obsessed on things every once in awhile. For example, I might get obsessed on what kinds of radios there are in the world, computers, phones, weather stations, digital cameras, software for a computer such as Windows XP, Windows Vista, and how the human body works. I was obsessed on generators for a long time. It was nearing my birthday, and mom asked me what kind of cake I wanted. I said, “a generator cake.”
Autism is hard a lot of the time, but sometimes it’s okay. I like who I am.
Mom: I like who you are, too.