Day 30 of Autism Awareness Month. Are you aware now? Or will you forget until next April? Silly question, since I know that nearly everyone who reads this blog lives with, loves someone, and/or works with autism every day of the year.
Sometimes, though, even I’m not totally aware. What is autism? Well, it’s a neurological disorder that affects my son’s ability to communicate, to understand how to socialize, and to focus. It is often accompanied by sensory processing disorder which can be found with or without a diagnosis of autism.
My son is four years old.
Which of the many things he does is autism? Which is being a little boy? How do I know the difference?
Here is a basic list of signs of autism:
Impaired social interaction such as inability to use speech for conversation,
Inability or impaired imaginative play;
Failing to respond to own name;
Failing to make eye contact;
Repetitive language (repeating the same word or phrase over and over);
Rocking, hand flapping, spinning, tiptoe walking;
Intense interest in very few subjects;
Preoccupation with certain subjects or objects; and
Adherence to routines.
(Taken partly from http://1.usa.gov/lzhTnb )
My son fits most of these criteria, but how often, when he does these things, is it autism versus being a little boy? Sometimes, he does not respond to his name being called. We all do that. Which times are him being a little boy and which are the times when it is the autism?
Usually, I think it is the autism is when it is accompanied by self-talk or a certain way he cocks his head to the side like he is pondering some huge problem. The times I know it is not is when he is asking me to give him something, looking me in the eye and when I call his name to listen, he continues to pester me for the object. That’s the little boy.
The times that he is watching that last marble head down that racer, or that funny part on Spongebob, when he answers without eye contact? That is the little boy. The times that it is all quiet and he doesn’t answer while avoiding eye contact, or he answers and looks out of the corner of his eye in the other direction? That’s the autism.
The little one needs to know where he is going for the day. That could be any child wanting to know what he will be doing or where his parents are taking him. Changing the plan he thought was where he was going, and getting a meltdown? That’s the autism.
Having an intense interest in cars or trains or video games? That could be any boy. Refusing to play with any toy other than a particular video game or car? Autism. Using the car to race along the floor or around the house? Any boy. Holding the car upside down and watching the wheels spin? Autism.
Rubbing a towel on his face to wipe it dry? Well, that’s anyone. Rubbing the towel after it’s dry over his lips for the sensation? That’s sensory processing disorder. Covering his ears for a loud sound is a normal reaction. Covering his ears for a loud sound while screaming and crying is sensory processing disorder.
Autism is often accompanied by sensory processing disorder or SPD, which is where some aspect of the ability to process sensory inputs is impaired or absent. SPD can occur without autism.
My son’s SPD sensitivities are sound, touch around his mouth (oral lack of sensitivity) and knowing where his body is in space. Each child manifests autism and/or sensory processing disorders in their own ways and all those ways are different.
It’s hard to believe that April has come and gone so fast. I’ve learned so much in just the last 30 days that I’m feeling a little bit more aware myself. The end of this month makes one year since my son was diagnosed.
I’m still learning every day and recognize I still don’t know much about my son’s disability at all. I will keep reading, trying new things, and making mistakes. I will correct them and moving on to the next lesson. It won’t stop with the end of April. Autism is forever.
And, I know I won’t be the only one who will keep her big blue light bulb burning all year long. It won’t waste any energy. It’s powered by love.
(I’m leaving my background color blue – I’ve grown attached to it.)