I've asked my friend Tania to write a little bit about how autism has touched her life. Here is her story.
Going food shopping. Going to the park. Driving to school. You know, the common tasks we all do. It may be just as simple as loading your kids in the car, but for me, it's got to be setup as a plan. "Where are we going?" "How long until we're there?" "Which way are we going to go?" Those are just some simple (daily) questions I get asked from my cute 5-year old, who is on the autism spectrum. When he requests his favorite Curious George listening CD in the car, it's not by title, it's by the disk number and track number: 3-2. He has memorized not only the disk numbers/track numbers from the Curious George CD, but he can tell me on any of my disks in my car, the song title and the disk number/track number to THOSE disks in my car.
"Where are we going?" "How long until we're there?" "Which way are we going to go?" Those questions may seem very innocent, but I do admit, after a while, the same questions over and over again can be draining. If I go a different way to the store, I have to explain why. If he doesn't want to go to the store, I have to explain why we have to go, and then tell him the sequence of events of what will happen AFTER we go to the store. I think I've trained myself so much that it's second nature to me. Other people may just think I'm a good planner if they overhear me talking to my kids in the store.
My 5-year old, despite being on the spectrum, is incredibly gifted. When he was 4 years old, he could count to 1000. Not only that, but he could count by 2's and 3's. He's reading at a 2nd grade level, and can help me cook, because he can read instructions. He's also so very cuddly and just has a sunshine personality. Seriously, this boy can brighten anyone's day by his amazing smile. We're extremely lucky. It's that thing called Autism that can get in the way sometimes....
First, let's talk about Autism. It's a biological disorder that affects approximately 1 out of 100 children. Autism Speaks (www.autismspeaks.org) states there are findings that boys are more susceptible to autism, with 1 out of 70 boys who are diagnosed each year. And the cause? Well, there are different theories out there: genetics, environmental toxins... others believe that vaccinations have made children autistic. This is the area where research is being conducted and, in my opinion, needs to be heavily supported: http://www.earlistudy.org/. ; As for as symptoms to look out for, there are very specific areas: Communication Difficulties, Social Symptoms, and Repetative Behaviors: http://www.autismspeaks.org/whatisit/symptoms.php. ; Usually kids on the spectrum speak later (or some do not speak at all), have little/sporadic eye contact with individuals, have difficulty regulating their bodies (sensory processing disorder: http://www.sensory-processing-disorder.com/), and have other symptoms as well. Early intervention is so critical with these children. I strongly recommend seeking as much treatment as possible- as often as possible- when your child is young. I remember traveling 45-minutes away, 3-days a week for about a year to a speech therapist to help our son speak. This was when insurance didn't cover a dime.
What may be an everyday, typical task for you-- well, it takes me a little longer with a little bit more explaining to do. When you're off with the kids going to soccer practice, I'm off with my 5-year old taking him to Occupational Therapy to help him regulate his body (since his body has a difficult time processing things that are so common to our us -- touches to our skin, food textures, etc. To give an even better example of Sensory Processing Disorder- take something as giving a hug. Someone who has a sensory processing disorder may not realize they are squeezing the other person so hard that it hurts, since that person's body may be under-registering that type of touch.) On the weekends I also take my son to a Social Group, where he needs help understanding social cues and how to interact with his peers. We're so fortunate to have another little boy who is 3 years old who apparently is like a therapist for my oldest son. He engages his big brother into playing chase and board games. It's truly amazing to see how much my oldest son has accomplished.... from barely speaking at age 3 to now, where he makes jokes that has us laughing. He is now on a typical soccer team, and we're already planning summer programming to ensure he is constantly involved in different activities and engages with other children - to help him remain comfortable around his peers.
We're so fortunate that our son is mild on the Autism Spectrum, as other families have it much harder. I cannot even imagine how life is for other families. But what I can say is that it's an expensive, exhausting disorder, that you can probably only comprehend if you're living with Autism, everyday, just like we do.
Proud Mommy of Alex (5) and Aiden (3.5)