My Son has Autism

Since April is Autism Awareness month, I have asked my friend and colleague, Janet Portrait of Hispanic mother and son outdoors, to share some information with you about what she has learned by being the mother of a child with autism.

“My son, Jeremiah, an eighth grade student, has Asperger’s Syndrome, one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders. Basically, it is a high-functioning form of autism.

People with Asperger’s don’t have a certain look about them. They don’t wear signs saying they have it, and you probably wouldn’t pick them out of a crowd, unless you were more familiar with the signs of Asperger’s Syndrome. People with Asperger’s Syndrome can be highly intelligent; however, the general public is often unaware of the fact that this does not make them as highly intelligent socially, or with good communication skills.  One in sixty-eight people (on school campuses, at the grocery store, at the park, etc.) have an autism spectrum disorder. When interacting with people that you do not personally know, please be aware this, especially if you feel the need to discipline them.  Due to their lack of appropriate social and communication skills, they may seem insubordinate at first glance, as if they are being defiant. But, there is a difference between won’t (refusal and unwillingness to do something), and can’t (inability to do what you expect) due to this disability.  Often, they look the same.”

What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

“Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurological disorder. It affects the way you think and the way you understand the world. Basically, the brain doesn’t process information in the same way as a person who doesn’t have Asperger’s Syndrome. People with Asperger’s Syndrome think differently than you or I do.  Most people with this diagnoses are noticed as being “different” or “eccentric.”  Others often don’t realize they have a disorder because the person with Asperger’s Syndrome is not impaired in basic intelligence.”

“Life can be very stressful for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders, because they have to work very hard to understand others who think so differently and try to fit in with them. Many things that come naturally to a neurotypical person have to be learned by a person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Everyone with Asperger’s or any other Autism Spectrum Disorder is unique, but will have some similar symptoms.  These symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty socializing (understanding, relating to, and getting along well or connecting with others); are often “loners”, and don’t have many or any friends
  • Difficulty recognizing verbal and nonverbal cues (facial expression, eyes, body language, tone of voice), which makes it hard to know what others are thinking and feeling
  • Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • Difficulty communicating thoughts and feelings (this often affects their ability to write, and they often do not recognize the importance of communicating something)
  • The inability to see the “large picture” while they focus on the irrelevant details
  • Difficulty identifying and sequencing the parts of a task
  • Thinking literally (difficulties understanding figurative language)
  • Being very visual thinkers (often thinking in pictures)
  • Having sensory issues; may have unusual reactions to the way things look, sound, smell, taste, or feel because their senses are overwhelmed  (people with autism can hear up to eight times louder than we do)
  • Not being flexible in thinking (they can get “stuck” on a thought, difficulties understanding someone else’s point of view)
  • Giving answers that seem unrelated to questions
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Being more comfortable with routines; may be upset by minor changes
  • Having limited and/or obsessive interests
  • Flapping their hands, rocking their body, spinning in circles, etc. (this is called “stimming”, and they use it to calm themselves down in stressful or overstimulating situations)
  • Experiencing meltdowns or rages in response to very stressful situations, because they don’t know how to handle emotions due to limited social and communication  skills
  • Appearing defiant at times, but are usually incapable of responding as we expect in these situations

It’s not all bad, people with Asperger’s also tend to:

  • Have above average intelligence
  • Be critical and individual thinkers (often think outside the box)
  • Have an easier time processing factual information
  • Know a lot about certain areas of interest and can be very successful in those areas
  • Hard working
  • Honest”

I really appreciate Janet being willing to share so much information with us.  Here are two excellent books to consider for your library.  Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew: Updated and Expanded Edition by Ellen Notbohm, mother of a child with autism.  And, Temple Grandin’s book, Thinking in Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life with Autism (Vintage).  Temple Grandin is an amazing person who is an innovator, author, activist, and autistic.  Be sure to check out the amazing movie about her inspiring life, starring Claire Danes.

Janet has more to share next week, including some valuable resources. So, be sure to stop by to get even more information about autism.

Be kinder than necessary, be grateful, and create a peace-filled week,

Ms. Brown


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