Today's post was written by my friend, Krista Iverson last year for Autism Awareness Day. I felt it has such an important message to us parents on how to teach our children to interact with others in their otherness that I would run it again this year.
April 2, 2012
April 2nd is “Autism Awareness Day”. It also happens to be my son Josh’s 9th birthday whom, along with his brother Timmy, 10, has autism. I’d say that could make him the “poster child” for autism, but to be honest, I doubt that exists.
When our oldest son was first officially diagnosed with autism the doctor had told us when she hears she’s going to see a patient with autism she never knows what to expect to see come through the door. She explained the reason it is called “Autism Spectrum Disorder” is because of the wide range of symptoms seen in each child with the diagnosis. This is certainly true in our house in that what is a strength for one of our boys can be a struggle for the other.
One of their first signs they did have in common was communication delays. For quite some time it was pretty quiet in our house when it came to mealtime conversations. At age 2 the boys’ vocabulary was limited to single words and they wouldn’t use those words to interact with us. Our mealtimes became more like speech therapy sessions to get them to talk, and still are. Their speech therapists would tell us to keep talking around them to flood them with sounds of speech. They had us say each thing we were doing “I’m cutting the meat….cut cut cut…I’m scooping the food…I’m putting the spoon IN the drawer”. Exciting conversations around our table, let me tell you!
Our mealtime speech therapy now includes our 7 year old daughter, Marissa, who has become their model for conversation, maybe too good of a model! We are working on the art of asking others questions, which mainly consists of “What did you play at recess?” Timmy and Josh also have their own “conversations” with each other where they repeat phrases they must have heard on a video and then laugh. It makes no sense to us, but at least they are communicating with each other.
There are many days when it’s not so quiet in our house. People with autism can have sensory issues where they are hyper-sensitive to bright lights, loud sounds, textures, or change in routines. When their senses are on overload they become anxious, angry, or upset and have a “melt-down”—basically a crying, screaming tantrum.
Josh can especially get stuck in routine. This can be anything from not leaving the bathroom until the cap is on the toothpaste, the stool is in it’s place, and the toilet seat is down to only walking into the kitchen through a certain door.
He can also get upset when playing games with others such as tag or duck-duck-goose. He wants things done in a certain order and doesn’t like unexpected touch. With those games children are randomly tagged and he can become very upset, crying or sometimes hitting others. When this happens out in the community I find myself wishing I had an “I have autism” t-shirt on them so people would understand there is a reason for this behavior. As a parent I feel the stares and hear the whispers.
Our kids are fortunate to go to a school where they receive excellent programming for autism. The “typically developing” students are often paired up with them throughout the day and have become very comfortable with children of many different disabilities. These students are taught what behavior they might see, why they act as they do, and how they can be a good friend to children with autism. I have been able to witness first-hand kids asking my boys to play at recess, help them play 4-square and even let them get another turn if they lose. These students keep trying to talk or play with them—even if the boys don’t answer them—because they have been taught the reasons for those behaviors.
Many children do not have the same exposure to children with autism and don’t know what to say or how to act around our boys. If taught, however, this can become very natural for them. I’ve heard Marissa saying to other kids at church “Timmy and Josh have autism. That means their brains just work different!”
So how can you help your kids help kids like mine?
- Ask the child’s parents for tips on how to best talk and play with them
- Tonight at dinner talk to them to help them know how to ask questions about “different” children—not: “What’s wrong with him?” but maybe: “Why won’t he talk with me?”
- Ask them not to avoid kids that are “different”, but to learn how to play and talk with them.
- Encourage your child to be that child’s “buddy” in Sunday School or at a play date, offering to help in some way.
What a wonderful way that would be to teach our children to show God’s love to others!
Krista Iverson and her husband Tim of almost 15 years live in Dubuque, Iowa with their 3 children. Before having children, Krista was a Physical Education teacher at an elementary school and Athletic Trainer at Emmaus Bible College where Tim is a professor and basketball coach. She became a stay-at-home Mom after Timmy was born but continues as the athletic trainer part-time. For the past 2 years, she has also been substituting as a paraprofessioal at her kids' school where she enjoys working with children of varying disabilities, including autism.