Autism Awareness Month:
I heard April is the month for Autism Awareness and it got me thinking. I pondered for about a night and came up with something I think would be a great different approach.
Let’s start off and continue the month by communicating. I believe the best way we can understand autism as well as understanding the so called “normal” world is by opening our minds and having honest communication. Some people may be doing this already, but it doesn’t hurt to continue or strive for more.
Parents (and other non-autistic people):
Talk with your autistic child. Let them speak about what interests them. Listen to them. Even if your child is nonverbal, you can still learn a lot by sitting next to them and just being there. If it’s cars they are interested in, talk about cars. If it is math, do math problems with them. If it is insects, it doesn’t hurt to go out in the park and follow them as they catch a few bugs.
My dad and I had lots of fun just sitting down on the pavement next to an ice-cream stand. We sat and watched really tiny ants move a huge chunk of pecan. It was too large for any one ant to carry, but with combined effort they moved that huge pecan into their nest. We learned about teamwork and cooperation through watching the ants.
If you wish to give your child a hug, give them a FIRM hug. I was cruising by wrongplanet.net and found quite a few autistic people reported enjoying strong firm hugs over a light touch. For me I love massages, firm ones. A nice strong scratch on my back is welcome. Make sure to ask your child first. If they say no or lightly shove you away, don’t take it to mean they don’t love you.
Don’t expect your child or an autistic person to make eye contact. If they do, encourage them. If they don’t then don’t punish them. For many autistic people eye contact causes intense anxiety and makes communication more difficult. You’ll be surprised how much your child understands and remembers what you say, even if they may not look like they pay attention. They may or may not be able to verbally express that they are paying attention.
Autistic children and adults:
Be assertive! After all how does anyone know you need something unless you speak up? I know too often I expect people to read my mind and think the same way I do. The more I mature, the more I realize that isn’t the case.
If you’re not comfortable talking verbally, try to speak up. It may be awkward, but who knows maybe you’ll enjoy it, or maybe not. I think for a few days in a month is not a bad attempt.
Without fear or embarrassment speak up tell people if you have trouble recognizing faces, say so. If you have a hard time remembering someone’s name, tell them so. I found if I tell people I am bad with names, they are pretty forgiving. After all there seem to be a number of people in the NT population that suffer the same problem.
If there’s something bothering you and you can do something about it, do so.
If there’s a flickering light in the classroom or in your office, don’t put up with it or wait for it to trigger an anxiety attack. Go down to the office and get action. Speak up, say you are autistic, have autism and that light is interfering with your concentration and ability to function. And if they don’t take action right away, keep bothering them. After all you know yourself better than anyone else.
If someone is bullying you, speak up and say, “Hey I’m autistic, what’s your problem!” or “What does it feel like to be such a cruel and insensitive person?”
I wish I could have been that assertive my earlier years, rather than letting the bullies have their way and slinking back thinking I was flawed. It’s the bullies who are flawed not you. They are disabled. Bullies need to be classified as disabled and cured! (seriously)
If your mother/father are showing an interest in what you are doing, let them play along. This may help improve bonding time as well as help them to understand you.
(Written with children in mind, but can be taken for adults as well):
Try asking for a hug from your parent or close friend. If they don’t give a firm hug, give them a firm hug and let them know you like hugs that way. If you don’t like hugs, try to step out of your comfort zone just a few rare times.
I don’t like being hugged by acquaintances, but if they want to hug me, I let them as long as they prompt me before they start hugging.
If you like back rubs or your back scratched, let your parent know. Ask them for a back-rub. One great nonverbal cue I use is I sit on my dad’s or mom’s lap (although after I got bigger, I’d sit next to them or in front). I took their hand and put it on my back. I moved their hand back and forth to get them started on the scratching motion.
If it is painful to look into people’s eyes, you can try looking at their face. If that is difficult, make sure to tell them that just because you aren’t looking into their eyes, doesn’t mean you are not paying attention. NT’s seem to be confused that lack of eye contact means not paying attention. If you are able to, repeat parts of what your parent said to let them know you listened.
I hope this helps. I could go on but this is long enough.
© 2008 M.J.I.