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5 things you might not know about a child with autism

5 things you might know about a child with autismI was in my teens when Dustin Hoffman starred as an autistic savant in the movie Rain Man.

That was my first introduction to autism and about the extent of my understanding of it for the next 20 years or so.

So when the autism word was first mentioned with regards to my young daughter, it might as well have been a bolt from the blue because I knew nothing about it.

Over the past five years autism has been a steep learning curve and one in which I suspect the gradient is going to remain steep.

However here are some of the top five things I have noted so far, learned from the perspective of a parent with a high-functioning ASD (autism spectrum disorder) child.

5 things you might not know about a child with autism

1. Children with autism do not look different

One thing guaranteed to get that teeth gritting action happening in a parent of an autistic child, is the comment “but your child does not look autistic”. I have yet to comprehend why on earth general members of society, well meaning or otherwise, would expect an autistic child to look any different from any other child.

2. Children with autism are not necessarily disabled

The use of the word disorder does not necessarily mean that they have a disability – they just have different abilities reflecting the fact that their brains are wired differently from others. At the same time, this does not make them all savants either. My daughter loves numbers. The concrete nature of them appeals to her highly organised and logical mind. Plus she could count to 30 before she could say “mama”. However by no stretch of the imagination is she another Rain Man. It just means that possible career paths for her include IT or engineering.

3. No child with autism is the same as another

Just like no other individual is a clone, autistic children are not carbon copies of each other. They may share common traits but they can certainly not be painted in the same brush stroke. As with the general definition of a spectrum, autistic children come in all forms and varieties. Despite their need to see the world in black and white terms, I like to think of them as rainbow children as they certainly cover every colour of the rainbow.

4. Children with autism are capable of emotions

The stereotypical image of an autistic child is that of a quiet, withdrawn child who will not make eye contact, who does not know how to express emotions and who is not affectionate. On a good day my daughter is one of the happiest, bubbliest children with the biggest heart you will ever come across. She makes people smile and she freely gives her love. Just because in her case emotions were a learned process, does not make them any less valid. Similarly just because she can not necessarily interpret them like other people do, does not mean she is not capable of expressing or even recognising them.

5. Children with autism want to be accepted

They know they are different but they certainly don’t need their differences highlighted to the point of exclusion. Many feel pain from their exclusion. They still see what goes on around them and their mindset allows the very binary application of with and without. Similarly just because they don’t have the same level of social skills and may struggle in every day social settings, does not mean they don’t want friendships. I sometimes wonder if the need for friendship is in fact even more in important in their case, because through friendships they can feel accepted.

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2 Comments so far -
  • Mrs Tickle says:

    I am really saddened by this article and I truly wonder whether the author actually has a child with a diagnosis of ASD.

    I have a little boy with ASD. It’s been a long road for us in terms of getting him the things he needs in this life. Although I have lived with it everyday for a while now I’m no closer to truly understanding it but one thing I can do is tell it like it is when it comes to the realities of ASD.

    Firstly, autism is a disorder and it is a disability. And those two words are there to describe what is very real situation and one that is ongoing and unrelenting. People who attempt to flower it up with the fantasy that it’s just another way of expressing diversity are, in my view, entrenched in denial. I can understand that. We all want our kids to be normal.

    But alas, I can tell you this with unwavering certainty: my son IS disabled. And yes, the word disorder DOES actually pertain to a disability and it’s high time people accept this rather than whitewash it. My son is not neurotypical. He is not like other kids. He cannot function like other kids…not won’t, but CAN’T. I will not pretend and pass ASD off as some light coloured cloud of ‘being different’. I honour my child by refusing to do this.

    He is not a rainbow child. If there is any colour to describe him it would be grey. Sure, he can count and add up and subtract but he’s no engineer material. Only time will tell what his future will look like. There is no advance planning with my son. We live in the now because we have to.

    Secondly, my son doesn’t give a flying toss whether he has friends or not. He doesn’t notice. This is also a very real fact for a lot of kids with ASD. He’s too busy navigating his own world to give a toss about yours.

    Thirdly, where is the mention of the insomnia, self harm, tics, nappy dependency, explosive flights of absconding, the irrational and violent expressions of fear, the biting, spitting, mind numbingly painful screaming? Where is the mention of head banging, fidgeting, sensory overloading, food regurgitation and refusal, the methodical and fathomless mood swings?

    My guess is that the author’s daughter probably doesn’t have those. Well my child does. Bet you didn’t know that, hey.

    I can see here that the author is using her own child as a benchmark for all autistic children. But ASD is not that cut and dried. It is many things.

    This is why it is a spectrum disorder.
    And this is why it is a lifelong disability.

    The sooner we are all aware of that, the sooner our children will be accepted and get the full spectrum of assistance that they truly need.

    • Hi Mrs Tickle. Thanks for your comment and thanks for sharing your experience with us. We can all benefit from learning more about ASD and the many ways it presents. I am not the author and can’t speak for her – although her details are at the bottom of the article if you’d like to learn more about her and her family. Thanks again. All the best to you and your family xx

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