According to the CDC, 1 in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder. These kids struggle with social communication and social interaction skills, and tend to exhibit behaviors that are often misunderstood. A lot of amazing research is currently under way to better understand autism and the reasons behind why some people are “Uniquely Wired.” My purpose in writing this story is not to focus on the WHY… it’s to attempt to explain the WHAT, and the HOW!
Personally, these children fascinate me! They see, hear and process the world around them differently from others. They have unique gifts, and so much amazing information to share! Many times, their behaviors are misunderstood and judged incorrectly. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding can lead to avoidance, exclusion and social ridicule. Information is key when teaching children to appreciate differences. Here are six things that everyone should know about autism.
- If you meet one child with autism… you’ve met one child with autism. People, like snowflakes, are all different. Every child has struggles. Don’t assume or generalize. Children with autism have an array of both unique challenges and gifts. This why it’s called autism spectrum disorder.
- Early intervention is KEY! Learn the signs! Children learn the most during their first five years of life. Their brains are like sponges! According to research, intensive early intervention improves social skills, communication and learning. It also provides the needed support for parents and caregivers. A complete list of developmental milestones can be found on the CDC’s website www.cdc.gov. Search Learn the Signs. Act Early.
- Always remember… every behavior has a purpose. It may not make sense to you, but to a child on the spectrum, it makes total sense. Some behaviors may appear odd, but keep in mind, these behaviors are providing a benefit to the child.
- Children on the autism spectrum don’t learn what to do by watching others, they mostly learn from information that is directly taught to them. That’s why picking up social cues around them can be so difficult. A uniquely wired child may need to be specifically taught certain skills directly (i.e., when you burp in public, you cover your mouth and say, “Excuse me.”)
- Children on the autism spectrum often struggle with receiving and processing stimulus. For many of these kids, their sensory systems are under-filtered and super sensitive. When they hear a sound, they hear all of it, all at once. When they see a light, they see all of it, all at once.
- Finally, it’s important to understand that while in some ways uniquely wired children are different, in many ways they are the same as other children.
“Sometimes, I flap my arms and hands really fast. I LOVE the way the air feels against my skin. Whenever I get excited, upset, bored or anxious, I flap. When I flap, it helps me calm down my brain and organize what I am thinking.
You might think I look weird, but it’s just my brain thinking on the outside of my body. As soon as I feel organized, I’ll stop.”
You should try it sometime… It really works, and my teacher says its great exercise!”
Uniquely wired kids struggle with communicating their feelings, thoughts and actions. But if we watch and study their responses more closely, over time we can figure out what they are trying to convey. All the pieces to the puzzle are there… we just have to figure out how to fit them into the frame!
When it comes to motor planning – knowing what you need to do in a certain situation and then transferring that task successfully from your brain to your body and muscles to actually carry out the plan – this is often VERY difficult and develops more slowly for children with autism. This may be because a child has a deficit in a specific area.
Help your children relate and empathize by using the following scenarios:
- Imagine walking in front of a car and suddenly hearing the horn honk. Are you startled?
- Imagine how your eyes feel when a camera flash goes off in your face. Do you have to look away because the light is so bright?
- Hold up two toilet paper rolls or paper towel rolls to your eyes. What can’t you see? Do you have tunnel vision?
This is how we think the uniquely wired brain interprets everyday lights, sounds, and surroundings. Lessening the intensity of environmental stimulus and increasing environmental predictability can make huge differences in the comfort level of a uniquely wired child.
“I feel bad when other kids are mean to me – just like you do.
I feel alone when other kids don’t include me – just like you do.
I feel hungry, tired, hurt, cranky, cold, hot, thirsty, yucky and sad – just like you do.
It’s just harder for me to talk about it.”