Are you interested in reading a chapter of a book that will probably never get published? Well then today is your lucky day! Enjoy!
Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Autism
When working with children with autism (or even typical children) we seem to focus on what we can teach them or what we have to teach them. But one fact is as overlooked as it is important: the children we teach have a lot to teach us! I keep learning from my son and from other children. Some of these lessons come from the lessons the children are learning, while some come from the children themselves.
Anyone who has a child with autism or works with children on the Spectrum has heard the term "self care." The focus here is helping children learn the basic skills of self feeding, dressing, grooming and other aspects of hygiene. Ok, most of us have mastered these skills (and I'm getting close), but I like the idea of learning self care. It looks a little different for the "neurotypical adult," at least the way I see it. Parents of any child can feel overwhelmed, exhausted or worn out. I think it's important for everyone to practice a little self care when they need it.
A Reward is a Terrible Thing to Waste
As Avi works in his program he is rewarded for doing what is asked of him. These rewards are candies, or fruits, or sometimes jumping on the trampoline. The reward is whatever his interest is. This reward idea is a pretty good one. We all do things we aren't interested in doing, but we do them anyway. Wouldn't it be great if we could give ourselves a reward from time to time? Or even better if we recognized the efforts of others and rewarded them.
Use Soft Hands with Friends
While being a friend sometimes means being brutally honest I think everyone could stand to be a little nicer. Some believe that a lack of friends who know how to be mean when they need to be hurts our society. Why can't we use soft hands and words with the people we love?
For many children on the Spectrum the world is too full of sights, sounds, smells, tastes and even tactile sensations. In order to combat this many children have an agreement at school to take a break in a quiet, private room where their sensory needs can be met. Brilliant! Couldn't we all use a sensory break now and then? When all of life gets to be a bit too much why not take a sensory break and just breathe for a moment?
Not Talking is Not the Same as Not Having Something to Say
People commonly think that a child who doesn't speak doesn't have anything to say. Of all the things people believe about autism this one may be the most incorrect. Avi doesn't say much and he sometimes seems to be on an entirely different plane from those around him, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't have an opinion and it certainly doesn't mean he doesn't have something important to say. The things that Avi and other children on the spectrum say have surprised and astounded me several times. There is a reason the term "dumb" is no longer used to describe someone who doesn't speak! We sometimes forget that silence isn't bad, that we don't have to fill ever quiet second with speech.
Finding a Voice
I have heard several people talk about helping Avi "find his voice." He can speak, he just doesn't. The problem is he just hasn't found the need to talk. I have been surprised by how, as I have sought to help Avi "find his voice," I have found my own. When Avi was first diagnosed I could barely utter the word. I couldn't conceive of talking about it publicly, I couldn't even imagine telling a stranger that my son had autism. It was intensely personal. Now I have found that I have truly found my voice. He isn't speaking for himself and I cannot escape the feeling that I have to speak for him until he does find his voice. Sometimes the best way to find your voice is to help someone else find theirs.
As Avi is learning to talk, but he's also learning to talk politely. He often reminded when asking to say please. He's getting pretty good at remembering now, but reminding him to say please reminds me that we all need to say please.
Marching to the Beat
As I have been in involved with Avi's various programs I've noticed that there are all sorts of drummers and all sorts of beats. Children with autism tend to march to the beat of whatever drummer happens to play for them. Most of us are concerned about how our march will look when compared to other's, sometimes so concerned that we fail to be ourselves. I like the idea of marching to the beat your own drummer no matter what it may look like.
Whether You're Looking for Differences or Similarities You're Likely to Find Them
I've noticed that people who ask me about autism are most often interested in finding out the differences between children with autism and neurotypical children. There are a lot of differences so if you're looking for them you'll find them. I have met few people who are interested in finding out what makes children with autism similar to other children. I love this viewpoint. It is a viewpoint of inclusion, not exclusion. I love the thought of of finding similarities instead of finding differences. I wish more people, myself included, could adopt this thought pattern.
I have never seen any of Avi's classmates reject a child or adult. They may not be able to connect with others the way typical children do, typically children with autism treat everyone the same way. Whether they are friendly to everyone or aloof from everyone the reaction tends to be similar to everyone. I think a world where people accepted others for who they are would be a great place.
And the list goes on.
Yes, children with autism have a lot to learn about functioning in a non-autistic world, but maybe, just maybe, we could learn something from these children. Maybe if we were all a little autistic the world would be a better place.