For the last couple of things I’ve written for my blog, I have focused on a couple of main ideas. The first I’ll mention, is the idea that if you don’t seek to know and understand an Autistic person, you will be hard put to deal with them in any reasonable or meaningful way. This idea is pretty much universally the case, regardless with whom you are dealing, but it’s of a great deal more importance (in my view at least) when you’re dealing with Autistic folks.
The second is, without getting to know an Autistic person, the chances are good you will be working from understandings that are at best moderately flawed (since the things most often said about Autistic children appear to often not be true—they are at best, often the case).
What I have failed to talk about to this point though, have been the “symptoms of” Autism that I haven’t thought to cover, as important as they are. I am the more remiss in the fact that, these tendencies are the ones that were the scariest for me to confront in my own son’s life.
Every parent knows the fear of a child “gone missing.” You take little Jane to the park, look away for a moment, and when you turn back, she is not in sight. No parent can be blamed for the fear that wells up in his or her heart—for the tightening in the stomach—that ensues.
Most of the time, you catch sight of the little one in due course, and all becomes well in the world again. You may be a little bit more protective as a result, but all is good.
Now let me present you with the reason that most parents of non-Autistic children, “ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Unless your child is quite young, the chances are he or she knows his or her name, maybe his or her address, or mommy’s or daddy’s (or both) telephone number(s).
The first reality of moderately Autistic to severely Autistic children is commonly that, such children are lucky to know their name—that is, be able to answer the question, “What’s your name?”— by age four or five. The rest of the things discussed—phone numbers, address, even parents names, my almost-seven-year-old still to this day really doesn’t know (and I promise, it’s not for want of trying). Now let me tell you that this thing that would be a nightmare to the average parent, is just the beginning for a parent dealing with moderate to severe Autism.
For most children, by the time they were four or five years of age—if not younger—they would understand they were lost. Now imagine a child who has no idea this is the case—a child whose brain works in such a way, that he or she never really thinks about being lost. Have I got your attention yet? Well don’t worry, things get “worse.”
You see, when most children are lost, they will at least try to find assistant. Obviously, this is a “double edged sword,” in that there are evil people out there. Even so most folks would have their children seek out law enforcement or security personnel or similar if they’re lost. My Autistic son will not only not do so, he will run from such folks if they try to “confront” (even mildly) him.
At best, most folks he doesn’t know are “furniture.” At worst they are things of fear. And I can tell you, that has not been instilled in him, it’s just how he responds.
By this point, you are beginning to see what the parents of many moderately to severely Autistic folks are dealing with.
Imagine a child who, by five years of age or older, is still barely mastering “challenge-response conversation.” Don’t know what that is? That’s because in “normal” children, it’s not a concern. Imagine having a child who you ask the question, “Are you okay?” only to always have him answer, “I’m fine.” Regardless what is happening. Imagine having a child who you can ask, “How old are you?” At seven years of age, only to get a blank stare in “response.” This is the child I deal with each and every day.
There are a very few things to which he, “knows the answers.” This is slowly changing, but it’s mostly still the case at seven years of age! And I have seen this to be relatively common in moderately to severely Autistic children.
What makes all of this worse is, from a physical perspective, Garrett (my son) is (for his age) relatively athletic. He can walk well and quickly, he can run, he can do the things a boy his cage would be expected to be able to do in the physical sense. But he doesn’t “get” the idea of being lost.
When your child runs ahead, you may worry that he or she gets “out of sight.” You almost certainly expect though, that either he or she will realize that mom or dad is not behind and stop or slow down. In the worst case he or she will seek out help when lost. None of this is true for my child or for me. I have to constantly remind my child to not get too far out ahead. Yes, I know, you might have to do that as well. The question is one of consequences if he or she fails to heed.
On top of everything, you can talk to your child about getting lost and be relatively sure he or she will have some understanding of what you’re saying. This is not nearly so true for an Autistic child. Imagine a child who, at almost seven years of age, is still mystified by games like “tag” and “hide and go seek.” This is my child! Upon my son, most abstract concepts are entirely lost. If he can’t see it, feel it, touch it, it’s not only not “real” for the most part, it’s not comprehensible—he cannot understand it.
As usual, I don’t bring this to folks to get them to pity me or my son. I bring it to folks so they can understand when I say things like, “No, you probably don’t understand what I’m going through.” I bring it to folks so they can understand why their friends with Autistic children appear “hyper-vigilant.” It is because, by comparison to others, they are.
Okay, I think I’ve said quite enough in this post. As usual, thanks for reading, and may your time be good.