The Denver Autism Wheel

How do I “reach” my autie?

Posted on: July 7, 2010

“Autism” comes from the word “auto,” meaning “self.” Many people have the impression that people with autism are turned in on themselves, living “in their own world.” They don’t know how to reach into that “autistic” world and pull out the “normal” kid. I’ve come to believe over the years that practically nothing could be farther from the truth. Nobody is more a part of our world, our daily interactions with objects, experiences and events, than my Chris. He sees details in his surroundings that I miss. He is deeply interested in what is going on around him and very intuitive when it comes to reading expressions and intent in other people. The problem is that what he sees, hears and feels does not necessarily translate into expected or socially appropriate responses. That is the real difference between him and the rest of the world: the way Chris perceives and interprets his surroundings is not the same way typical people perceive and interpret their surroundings.

So: how do you reach out and get a response back? People with autism respond to everything around them, so you are getting a response. The question becomes whether the response meets your expectations. That’s the crux of autism. What goes in (conversation, sights and sounds, feelings, any sensory input) comes back out in unexpected ways. But it does come out. It’s a matter of adjusting our expectations to meet their responses. And, understand this: you are the one who has to adjust. You have to reach out more than halfway. You understand the expected response to situations, stimuli and other people. Your autie doesn’t, and he can’t unless you explain and demonstrate. And explain and demonstrate… You get the idea. What you learned organically about social interaction he will acquire only through practice because he doesn’t know (and will never know) that his reactions are socially inappropriate or unexpected unless you tell him.

I have heard many parents of children with autism lament that their beautiful child never says “I love you.” Does that child love his parents? Absolutely. I have no doubt that every child, no matter how severely affected by autism, loves his parents with all his heart. But it’s perception and the needs of others that makes the difference. How often have you said “I love you” and not really meant it? How often have you said it just because somebody says it to you? How often have you said it because it was expected?

And how often has your child with autism done ANYTHING just because it’s socially expected?

Unless you’ve drilled him and practiced, as with everything else, you’re not going to get a socially expected response. So how do I know your child with autism loves you? I just do. But, how do I KNOW? Well, he’s your kid. I love my child with autism. I love him with every particle of my being. I take care of him, read to him, hug him, feed him, straighten his clothes, help him with his homework, rub his feet when they’re hot at night. I do the things he needs me to do. Of course I do. I’m his mom, and he’s my child.

And Chris loves me because that’s what children do. They love their parents.

What? Come on: that’s way too simple. Nope. In the case of children, no matter what their circumstances, it is exactly that simple. You’ve heard stories of horribly abusive parents whose children still scream and cling to them as they’re being removed from the home. Children love their parents.

I don’t know about you, but that amount of power and trust awes me, and I want to do everything I can to deserve them.

Even if he doesn’t or can’t tell you, trust that your child loves you. And if and when he does tell you, know that he means it honestly, completely and sincerely, not just because it’s expected. Either way, take a moment, and let your child’s love fill your heart. See? There it is 🙂

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1 Response to "How do I “reach” my autie?"

Thank you for this! We had a similar revelation in our experience with our autistic son. He did (and still does often times) seem to exist in his own little world, and yet he seemed to notice so many details and little things about his surroundings. My step-grandmother recommended that I read Ron Davis’ The Gift of Dyslexia (I’ve heard a couple times that dyslexia and autism are similar in nature– right brained thinking). I loved it and ended up contacting a facilitator here in Colorado. She came to our home and observed our son. She had some great insight for us that rather than thinking of Kynan (our son) being trapped in himself and oblivious to the world, it was quite the opposite. He was trapped in the world and oblivious to himself and his individuality. He was caught up in his surroundings and unaware of his own body being separate from them.

We tried an “orientation CD” which consisted of him putting on headphones and listening to a regular interval symbol tinging noise for about 2 minutes. The way we got him to hold still and have something on his head for that long (God forbid) was to sit him on my lap and give him a pop sickle. The moment that sold me was when he got a brain freeze. Normally, he would have started screaming and maybe smacking his forehead where it hurt. Instead, he turned to me, made eye contact, and my non-verbal son said “teeth cold”.

Once he started orienting in his own body, he became more interactive. It wasn’t a miracle “cure”. We still have a lot that we’ve done and are still doing. He will always be marching to a different beat, but I believe this orientation was definitely a turning point that lead to more verbal communication and to his being more comfortable in his body.

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