I am not a psychologist or behavioural specialist or a Psychiatrist.
(I'm not Elmo either but he is here for a reason)
So, I am not going to talk about the triad of impairments or assessment scales etc etc.
What I can tell you is that Autism is a sensory disability in which everything a person sees, hears, feels, tastes and smells is distorted.
They may see every strand of hair on your head individually with more detail than a dandruff commercial, hence the need to push your hair off your face.
They may taste food in individual components that make the slightest change to the recipe seem like an entirely different food.
Touch can be too light to feel or too intense to bear, or both!
And sound most unfortunately can be very distorted, either because they hear everything and cannot tune in to what’s important, ie. your voice, or because they only hear the higher sounds or the lower sounds that are in their environment.
There are a myriad of variations on these “Unders and Overs” and no two children are alike. (Believe me I have a sample of two!)
So, imagine if you like, that having autism is a bit like being in a very busy foreign capital city where you don’t speak the language and everyone is too busy to give you directions.
You can’t read the street signs and you cannot understand what people are saying to you, or even pick up on any kind of pattern in the words they are using, as everyone talks too fast.
The traffic is loud, it is really hot and you want a drink; but you don’t know how to ask for it and nobody can understand you.
Eventually you are going to recognise which shops are likely to have drinks for sale, but you will probably going to feel more comfortable going into a place where you can get it yourself.
When I travel to places where I don't speak the language, I quickly learn the written word for supermarket (Alimentari, Supermarche, Supermercado)
And the sign or word for Bathroom:
However, it takes me a long time to pick up on what people are saying as they speak their own language so fluently with an accent, that can make no sense to my untrained ear.
So I go where I can get things for myself
until someone has the time and patience to teach me "Please may I have THAT thing - Thankyou!"
That is how our kids feel.
That is why it can be really hard for our kids to say their first words, but really easy for them to type "Elmo" into a search engine on the computer!
And they are often not going to see the point of learning to imitate you speaking.
(my in laws have been going to Spain for about 30 years and have NEVER spoken Spanish once)
You See: When a child with autism looks at you out of the crib, they are being bombarded by such a range of sights, sounds and sensations that they are not going to pick up on your reactions.
They may appear to have picked up a few words, which they use randomly, but will not necessarily; notice your reaction to the words.
A typically developing child will realise that you react and praise the first time they chance on a sound like "mamama", and do it again. The child with autism may be distracted by the fantastic prism the light is making through the window, or the pins and needles sensation they get whenever you lift the quilt off, or the sound of the leaf blower down the road which you cannot even hear.
Anyone who has tried to carry on a conversation in a busy room, with several people at the same table, with perhaps a band playing or some kind of noisy sport playing on a widescreen above them, can imagine how difficult it is to focus and pick up on what is being said.
Then multiply that and add fear and anxiety caused by not knowing how long you are going to be there, and where you might be expected to go next.
Now imagine that the people you are trying to listen to have started using signs or subtitles, a visual cue that you can follow while learning the sounds. The t.v is turned down or off. The band have gone for their break, and the loud mouthed guy roaring at the football has gone home.
Slowly you will begin to pick up on a pattern to the language, and equate certain sounds with getting your needs met. You can repeat these sounds: "Coke!" or "Beer!" and someone will bring you a refreshing drink.
"Pizza" and "Chips" get you something nice to eat. Suddenly you are finding this talking thing a bit more rewarding, worth repeating.
That is how we must breakdown the skills our kids need in order to communicate, so they can learn.
But they don't all like Beer and Chips.
Some of them will want to listen to the band again, and some of them will be more interested in sorting through or tearing up the coasters.
The point is that it will take intensive analysis to understand what is important to each one, and how to use that to get them to learn all of the skills they need to participate in the world, as independently as possible, on their own terms.
I myself would be delighted if my local pub gave up showing Football, and instead put on a little Charlie and Lola or Arthur, but I suspect the other patrons might object.
However, you could probably come up with another reward to get me to participate in the social engagement,
Originally posted by Lisa Domican to Irish Autism Action Blogspot - on December 8th. All text is copyright.