Just “Doing Something”: A Tale of Autism

 

I was half a mile from home when my cell phone rang. “Hello?”

“Hi Mom. Are towels made of cotton?” My 13-year old and his questions. Always, questions.

“Yes usually, why?” I replied.

“I was just wondering.”

“Are you done with your math yet?”

Silence.

“So you’re not done with your math?”

“Not really. No.” As if I didn’t already know the answer to that. “Well I’ll be home in 2 minutes so get to work.”

“OK Bye.”

Just "Doing Something": A Tale of Autism

I clicked off my speaker phone and made my way home. I walked in to discover my son in the laundry room.

OH. Cotton towels. He was moving them from the washer to the dryer. Isn’t it funny how often we jump to conclusions? I really had thought my son was just stalling on his schoolwork, which is NOT unusual for him, but he was doing something.

That makes it okay, right?

But he’s always just doing something. 

Just checking the mail. Just feeding the dogs. Just getting a pen for me (because he heard me say something about not having one in the kitchen.) Just….

Always just SOMETHING. And it’s always so he can avoid something else.

Here’s the thing. He has Autism. He is attentive to a fault. The boy cannot simply turn off input. Any input. He knows what is happening in the house at all times. He hears all conversations (and acts on them, even if he was not asked to.) Due to this, he is probably the most distractable kid I’ve ever had, and we had six. 

He’s a joy and a challenge, all bundled up in a tall (taller than me!) boy with a gentle disposition and sweet brown eyes. The boy who is so innocent he honestly still believed in Santa and the Easter bunny until just the past few months. (I’m off the hook! Wahoo!)

How do you teach a kid what he needs to know to graduate high school when he can’t keep his rear in a chair or his head on any one subject for more than five minutes? How do we bring this young man through these last few years, assigning credits and accumulating work that proves his transcript, when he is limited to keyboarding ALL written work?

Welcome to my world. But I know it can be done.

I know it will be done, by God’s grace and provision. I have never been so nervous about taking on a high schooler as I am with this boy, but God’s plans for him will beat mine every time.

April is Autism Awareness Month. Do you love someone with Autism?

The Momma Knows

Dawn (22 Posts)

Dawn is still happily homeschooling after 16 years. She teaches her two sons, 13 & 11, enjoying every minute of "the second time around". She lives in Eastern Washington with her husband, the youngest 2 of their 6 kids, and an assortment of barking, squeaking, and clucking critters. She writes at her homeschool/parenting blog The Momma Knows and her new chapter, Dawn Marie Perkins. You can also find her on Twitter @DawnMPerkins, , and Pinterest.


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5 Quick Tips for Taming Emotional Intensity

Emotional Intensity
Do you have a child who struggles with emotional intensity? I do.  There are a variety of reasons why children can lose control of their emotions. Some of these include but are not limited to these reasons:

  • feeling out of control
  • fear or anxiety
  • a sense of unfairness
  • feeling that they are not being heard

I’ve come to learn some things as I have worked with a child who struggles in this way. I’ve learned to listen with intention when he is sharing something with me. I also learned to understand that while his response to certain situations may seem unreasonable to me, they are in fact both true to his perception and true to his heart. Being so inconsiderate as to dismiss his emotions as invalid would end up leaving him feeling as if I don’t really care about him.I never want him to feel that way. I want him to feel loved and nurtured.

Loss of emotional control can present in several ways. We generally think of overwhelming anger, but you might also see episodes of  uncontrollable and unexplained tears. Rocking, shaking or spinning can signify stress or even excitement. Over-excitement which may look like hyperactivity can lead to various other forms of emotional intensity, from joy to sorrow, or from excitement to anger, with little warning. Often it seems to me that these episodes come from times of over-stimulation. 

Whatever the loss of emotional control looks like for your little one, you as a parent must remain in control and find ways to teach your child to do the same. So today I’m sharing my  5 quick tips for taming emotional outbursts regardless of what form they present themselves.

1. Prayer Even the youngest of children can learn to do this. When I teach my son to pray I tell him that God loves him and wants to hear his heart. I tell him that he can tell God anything. I tell him that after he tells God the things that are bothering him that he should ask God to help him to learn to control the things he says and does when he is feeling this way. Even if you are not a Christian, teaching your children how to identify why they feel the way they do and determining to learn to change the behavior is invaluable to the life and well being of your child.

2. Redirection I learned this skill when I worked as a foster parent. It does not work with all children, but it is a wonderful tool to keep in your mom bag of tricks. Simply by re-focusing the child on something else you can help stem the tide of emotions in the moment. This can be done through humor, get them laughing and they soon forget their anger.  Another option is to try singing. This one works best for my son IF he is going to respond to redirection because he responds so well to music and rhythm. I am often able to alleviate anxiety or frustration through song. Offer to do something they love doing, by surprising them with reward instead of discipline they stop and refocus on the good thing about to happen. Again, this does not work with all children, but if it can work for your child, then you will have found a key to a more peaceful home.

3. Quiet Time Many times emotional outbursts come from too much stimulation. Especially in the video, television, and cell phone culture that we live in. But everyone, especially children needs quiet time. This doesn’t have to mean nap time, it means QUIET TIME. So put a book in their hand and tell them to go sit in the tree house and read for X amount of time. Try having them listen to quiet music or go on a nature walk with very little, if any, talking.

4. Softness Our children need softness in their lives. Whether it is gentle cuddling on the couch with mom, snuggles with a stuffed animal, or wrapping up in the softest blanket possible, softness brings a sense of calmness to a child’s spirit. That’s why a momma can softly stroke a child’s hair, arm or back and before long they relax and fall asleep.

5. Journaling Give your child a journal. Tell them it is theirs and that what they put in it is private and they don’t have to share it with anyone. Now, that being said here are a few guidelines.

  1. Respect their privacy, unless they show it to you, don’t look.
  2. Instruct them on how to use it, explaining that it’s a good place towrite or draw about how they feel.
  3. Sometimes, (I have to do this with my son) you have to prompt them on what they can write about.  I sit near, but not so I can see my son’s book and say “Write about the best thing that happened to you today, next write down where you went or what you did, write what the happiest moment was or the saddest, write what is making you angry, etc.”
  4. Don’t let them say the answers out loud to you, tell them to put it in their journal. Doing this teaches the child that just because they think it or feel it, it doesn’t mean they should always speak it. Some things should NOT be said. 

 

Know that you are not alone and that having a child who struggles with emotional intensity is not because you aren’t doing a good job. Know that some children simply process their emotions differently than other people. While you can’t change that, you can, as a parent, teach them coping skills which they can carry with them throughout their life.

Renée (12 Posts)

Renée Brown is author at her personal blog, Great Peace Academy. She is a homeschooling mom to her one amazing son, Jonathan and has been the wife of her Beloved Michael for 21 years. On her blog you will find discussions about her work as a homeschooling mom, her family and her faith.


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10 Autism Stereotypes Busted

10 Autism Myths Busted

April is Autism Awareness Month. This is the month that parents and professionals (though, my personal opinion is that the parents are the professionals) work to share more knowledge with the world about autism. Beliefs about autism are often based on movies such as Rain Man and The Boy Who Could Fly. While both movies (and many more) were great, they only show a glimpse into the life of one person with autism, and many times a very stereotypical picture. Just with other groups of people, those with autism are rarely a bundle of stereotypes wrapped up in one body.

My son, D, does not fit a lot of the stereotypes, though he most certainly has high functioning autism. In no certain order, here are some common stereotypes – busted.

1. All children with autism are non-verbal or have limited verbal abilities. This is sometimes true. However, there are also children with autism who talk…a lot…who have parents who wish they would hush sometimes. HA! However, even the kids with great verbal speaking abilities almost always have problems with pragmatic and idiomatic language. Meaning they have difficulty understanding language in social settings.

2. Children with autism are savants.  While it would be fun to say my son has a spectacular talent, it is rare for children to have savant syndrome. According to Health of Children, only about 10-25% of children with autism have savant syndrome as well.

3. Children with autism flap their hands and rock constantly. This repetitive behavior is called stimming. Stimming does often present itself with hand flapping and rocking, but it can also be nail biting, tapping fingers, repeating words or phrases, etc. Stimming at our house involves shredding paper, constant bouncing, and banging on things.

4. Children with autism lack empathy. There are times that D obviously does not care about how someone else feels or about how his actions make them feel. He is developmentally behind his peers in understanding the body language that expresses a person’s emotions. However, there are also countless times that he has shown empathy in the biggest ways. He works hard to read the person’s emotions and help when he is able. He often knows when I am not feeling well and will offer to help with the little ones or do things for himself when I would usually do them.

5. Children with autism are intellectually disabled. Yes, there are a large number of children with autism who are intellectually disabled, but it is not always the case. Many children with average or superior intelligence are also diagnosed with autism. Also, it is difficult to have a reliable score on an intelligence test that requires students to respond to verbal cues. Many times these children do not understand the cues, but also many times the students refuse to respond because they are not familiar with the test administrator. In our case, D was tested originally by a psychologist in a doctor’s office. He did not like the test administrator and even said, after the test, I didn’t like him, so I just didn’t answer some of his questions. The second time he was tested, he had formed a relationship with the test administrator and worked hard to do his best. His overall IQ score was raised more than 15 points with significant increases in certain areas.

6. Children with autism have a single obsession. I agree! D is always obsessed with cardboard – toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, cardboard boxes, and more. I currently have cardboard covering the living room floor. Yep, he does have a single obsession with cardboard. However, he also has other obsessions. They cycle through different areas of interest. They do generally always have something to do with music and dance, though. He perseverates on marching bands, children’s shows like Doodlebops and Wiggles, and currently he is sure that he will be the next TobyMac.

7. Autism meltdowns are a result of poor parenting. Often a meltdown might start because a child with autism is not getting what he wants in a situation. However, it is not because of poor parenting that it turns to a meltdown. It becomes a meltdown because the child is unable to internally manage the feelings and emotions that come from being told “no.” The difference is that a child having a tantrum chooses to act out and watches to see if the audience is paying attention. The child having a meltdown reaches a point of no return and has no concept of an audience.

8. Children with autism look autistic. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told, Oh, but D doesn’t look autistic. There are many physical symptoms of autism. Most cannot be identified in a person with autism by a casual acquaintance. The physical symptoms are more physiological, things such as digestive problems and difficulty with processing sensory stimuli.

9. Children with autism are fearless. Anyone who believes this has not met D! This child has an irrational fear of bugs, squirrels, inclement weather, and more. For two years, I had to drive him or walk hand in hand with him to the end of the driveway. Why? Oh, because he was sure that a squirrel would attack him while he waited for the bus. He also has a lot of fear of the unknown – changes in his routine, not knowing what the routine is in a new situation, etc. These fears present themselves as anxiety, worry, and if not extinguished, meltdowns.

10. Children with autism lack creativity. This is a yes/no answer. D is a very scripted player. He plays things that require him to reenact a show or a situation he has been involved in. When he plays, he and all of the others playing with him must be dressed in an exact outfit as the characters in the show/situation. He sings the songs and uses the same phrases as those characters, and the thought of deviating from what is seen on the TV screen is, truly and without a doubt, horrifying to him. Asking him to pretend his pants are green is similar to asking him to make his heart stop beating. He absolutely cannot handle pretend play. On the other hand, given a cardboard box, packing tape, and markers, this child can recreate the scene of his favorite show, build a school, build a model of the White House, etc. When trying to build or make something, D has creativity beyond my wildest imagination.

*Note: I have included links throughout this post. The links will take you to websites with more information about each topic. In addition to those links, here is a list of additional resources about autism. 

Lena H (10 Posts)


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