Originally posted on Meet Other Mums.
Since it is Autism Awareness month in April, I thought I would give you a glimpse of some of the hidden signs of Autism.
We have been on our Autism journey now for over 7 years. Admittedly we didn’t know we were on the journey until 3 years ago. Still, not a day goes by that I don’t learn something new. Every single visit from a therapist, portage, and even school teaches me something new about Autism. We now understand so many things that we didn’t when they were so small. Things that caused a lot of doubt in our parenting styles, but things that also brought us to the path that we have chosen, i.e.: attachment parenting, baby-led weaning, Montessori education and an overall child-led approach.
When you read about Autism you read about the more obvious signs like social communication delays, sensory processing difficulties, social imagination and social interaction with peers. But what does these look like in real life? What does Autism look like at school? Is that “naughty child” naughty or is he struggling to cope in an environment that he is not taught to cope with. Does the “naughty child” perhaps need to be taught the skills to cope with every day, mundane tasks that other children find natural.
Now of course each person is unique and I can only tell you about our two autistic boys. I wish I knew what Autism looked like before we had our boys. And I wish that the public knew what Autism looks like, because perhaps then people will be less judgemental about how we “raise” or “discipline” our children.
At school autistic children may become very anxious. In fact, they can become so anxious that it hinders them to access the curriculum offered. Now there are a few factors that contribute to the anxiety. The social expectations of their peers and teachers. Sensory difficulties in dealing with so many humans around you all with different smells, sounds, touches.
But for me the worst part of anxiety at school is struggling with auditory processing and auditory memory difficulties. Imagine you go to school and most of the day you don’t even know what is going on around you. Everybody seem to understand what is expected and seem to follow instruction.
How stressful must it be for a child to try and perform well and please his teachers, but he doesn’t even know what he is supposed to do because he was still busy processing the previous instruction when the class moved on to the next. I know it is really upsetting for our boy. He would like to be part of group activities, but by the time he has caught up, the time is up.
Then there are break time issues. Because of the lack of social skills, autistic children have to be taught to play. Understanding and picking-up on socially acceptable behaviour does not come naturally to our boys. It is hard work for them to understand what is and what is not socially acceptable. And they get so frustrated when things don’t go their way or their peers don’t follow their “rules”. Self-made rules are important you see. It makes our boys feel safe. Like they are in control so that they have a sense of predictability. Predictability is imperative for an autistic child to keep calm.
When they know what is coming, they can prepare themselves to cope better at what people, nature, and the world throws at them. Of course, as we know, this is almost never possible on a playground. Even with structured games with lots of rules, things doesn’t always go as planned. And this is when the stress levels rise and our boys decide to withdraw. It’s natural instinct. Survival 101!
The next problem they then have is helping themselves calm down. Socially acceptable self-regulation strategies also do not come naturally for our boys. Hence the chewing, sucking, and rocking behaviour that worries ill-informed people. It might look weird that the boys need to still suck or chew on toys at the age of 5 and 7 years, but believe it or not, chewing and sucking is actually the body’s way of calming itself. We were built that way! Calming and stress relieving strategies need to be taught to our boys so they know when they need to self-regulate before it gets too late.
It also seems that autistic children sometimes are quite strong in some academic areas and then really struggle with others. For our boys it’s maths vs. literature. Our boys are crazy about numbers and shapes, but it is really hard work getting a pencil or book in their hands. It takes an experienced tutor to work with the boys to access the curriculum and a “one-size-fits-all” curriculum is just not obtainable for our boys. We were blessed with two amazing teachers for both our boys. Teachers who see our boys as unique individuals. Not “naughty, high maintenance” children, but children with different abilities who need the curriculum delivered in a different more concrete way, and social experiences with mentors gently guiding them to reach their full potential.
Autism is colourful. And underneath the odd behaviours and strange facial expression, the non-verbal or funny tone of voices, there are incredible people just waiting to trust society to look at them and see the beauty in their souls. The colourful stories. The absolutely unconditional love. And the infinitely loyal friend our boys can be. All it takes is a chance. A second to be accepted for who they are!
Of course I am a bit biased. But trust me, if you take a chance, you are in for the most interesting, and most rewarding friendship of your life.