I wanted to spend a quick minute and give a shout out to April and Autism Awareness Month, the day is technically April 2nd but thankfully we’ve started dedicating a whole month. I have been so blessed and honored to have spent the last 6 years getting to know and support children on the spectrum and thought it fitting to share a tiny bit of what I’ve learned with you this month.
I went into the field blindly when a friend of mine was in need of some help in her center and I was in need of a life change. When I walked in the door on my first day it’s safe to say I knew the word Autism and I knew a puzzle piece was the symbol most often associated with “it.” I was clueless!
Here’s a crash course for those looking for a little more insight:
Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is defined by the Dictionary as “a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.”
Autism Speaks says “refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.”
Autism Society “refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.”
But my FAVORITE is from the Autism Awareness Centre– Autism is a spectrum disorder. The symptoms and characteristics of autism can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe. Although autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors, children and adults can exhibit any combination of the behaviors in any degree of severity.
There is a famous Quote:
It is important to remember that those on the spectrum are each individuals, with different experiences- just like a snowflake, no two are the same.
You might be surprised at what someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder faces but here’s a cool diagram to show you how complex this disorder can be…what if you had one of these? Or two? What if all of these affect your daily functions?
Are you overwhelmed? Me too and I’m an outsider with just a visual to understand.
Autism presents itself in so many ways. I found this site that sums it up really well from The Help Guide.org
If you don’t have time to check it out yourself, here are the most common signs/symptoms as defined by them directly:
Social behavior and social understanding
Basic social interaction can be difficult for children with autism spectrum disorders. Symptoms may include:
- Unusual or inappropriate body language, gestures, and facial expressions (e.g. avoiding eye contact or using facial expressions that don’t match what he or she is saying)
- Lack of interest in other people or in sharing interests or achievements (e.g. showing you a drawing, pointing to a bird)
- Unlikely to approach others or to pursue social interaction; comes across as aloof and detached; prefers to be alone
- Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings, reactions, and nonverbal cues
- Resistance to being touched
- Difficulty or failure to make friends with children the same age
Speech and language
Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder struggle with speech and language comprehension. Symptoms may include:
- Delay in learning how to speak (after the age of two) or doesn’t talk at all
- Speaking in an abnormal tone of voice, or with an odd rhythm or pitch
- Repeating words or phrases over and over without communicative intent
- Trouble starting a conversation or keeping it going
- Difficulty communicating needs or desires
- Doesn’t understand simple statements or questions
- Taking what is said too literally, missing humor, irony, and sarcasm
Restricted behavior and play
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are often restricted, rigid, and even obsessive in their behaviors, activities, and interests. Symptoms may include:
- Repetitive body movements (hand flapping, rocking, spinning); moving constantly
- Obsessive attachment to unusual objects (rubber bands, keys, light switches)
- Preoccupation with a narrow topic of interest, sometimes involving numbers or symbols (maps, license plates, sports statistics)
- A strong need for sameness, order, and routines (e.g. lines up toys, follows a rigid schedule). Gets upset by change in their routine or environment.
- Clumsiness, abnormal posture, or odd ways of moving
- Fascinated by spinning objects, moving pieces, or parts of toys (e.g. spinning the wheels on a race car, instead of playing with the whole car)
- Hyper- or hypo-reactive to sensory input (e.g. reacts badly to certain sounds or textures, seeming indifference to temperature or pain)
When you are graced with caring for those with ASD please remember:
Sensory issues are usually happening. Sounds, touches, smells, vision are all heightened. Be sensitive to what triggers your little one. A tickle or high five may be your thing but it may have the opposite affect if you hate touches.
Reinforcement is a must, and in my opinion positive is always best! Let them know what it is they are doing right…even if you can’t cheer loudly, a thumbs up and smile can go a long way.
Allow for think time. With so many things to take in around them, sometimes it takes a minute longer for them to speak their mind or answer a question. Let them have a chance.
Give choice when they are available and make statements when not. Sometimes we can choice what to do with our time, do we want to go to the park or play a game? Other times we have a list to follow, we need to clean our room and finish our homework. Make sure it’s clear, don’t ask a question if you aren’t willing to accept the answer. Do you want to clean your room? No! Now what?
Use the “first, then” method. First we do homework, then we go to the park. First we finish our dinner, then we get dessert. Knowing what is happening, and in what order is an effect tool for planning and calming anxiety.
This poster seems to sum up all the most important lessons I’ve learned!
Go Blue for Autism!