The comments in response to my last blog post taught me something very important. See, I was operating under the assumption that we, as a society, were not aware of autism in all of its forms. But those who commented showed me that I was wrong. You are aware.
You are aware of autism. You just don't understand it. It's not something that directly impacts you, and so you don't really care about it all that much. And why should you?
Unless you are the caregiver or educator of an individual with autism, caring is rather inconvenient. After all, you are busy raising your typically functioning children. That keeps you pretty darned busy. You're helping them with homework and driving them to the mall or to soccer practice. You're diligent about keeping them safe and helping them grow up to be their very best. And that's exactly what you should be doing. That's what all of us as parents should be doing.
Autism? Well, you know it's out there, you're thankful that you don't have to deal with it and you plan on keeping it that way.
But we are operating under the assumption that you raising your child and caring about mine are mutually exclusive. What if I told you that both of us -- you, with your typically functioning child and me, with my child with autism -- could both do things together that would benefit the wellbeing of our children and that would enable all of our children to grow up to be their very best?
We can... if we want to.
Many of you asked me for solutions. I have several. Here are the top three:
1. Become trauma informed.
Individuals with disabilities experience stressors every day simply from painful sensory input, feeling overwhelmed and anxious and being unable to do what others can do. These stressors accumulate over time and do the same thing to the brain as does a major trauma such as sexual abuse.
When an individual experiences trauma, changes happen to the brain. These same changes can also happen in response to the brain receiving repetitive stimulation. And these changes can cause a child to show signs like hyperactivity, anxiety and impulsivity, behaviors that often appear as inappropriate and aggressive. But it's important to understand that these are either responses to severe anxiety or an attempt to stop something from causing them to feel anxious. People with autism aren't being malicious when they are aggressive. Their brain is simply initiating the "fight or flight" response.
2. Become a behavior detective.
All behavior has a function, meaning that it is done to meet a need. There are only a handful of functions. Behaviors can be sensory related in that an individual may be seeking or avoiding sensory input. Behaviors can be used to attain an item, escape a situation that is upsetting or gain attention. That's it. But once we understand function, we can get to the "why" of a behavior. And once we know why someone is doing something, we can make simple changes to the environment so that they don't do that behavior any more.
3. Become an interactive parent.
In my last blog, I talked about us being a village. Many of you with "normal" children stated that you didn't want to live in any village where my son and I reside. I hate to break it to you, but your chances of escaping this are dwindling. Institutions are closing. People with disabilities are coming home to their communities. Inclusion is the new normal and people who struggle with challenges are moving to a street near you.
This is your chance to get out there with your typically functioning child and teach them the skills that they will need throughout their lives. If you help them interact with the child with autism next door, you'll be able to make sure they are safe while teaching them how to handle disagreements. You'll show them how to help calm a situation. You'll model for them how to be kind and compassionate. And those of us with children with autism will be out there with our child making sure they aren't hurting yours while teaching them the very same things! And we can do this together.
And for those of you who are aware but don't feel that it's your responsibility to understand, I have a recommendation for you too.
Bookmark this blog post. You're going to need it.
Not only will someone with classic autism probably move down the street from you at some point in the not so distant future, but you have a very high risk of autism becoming a part of your family. According to the latest numbers provided by the CDC, about one in 68 children were identified with ASD. And when you find out that a child in your family has autism, you're going to want to give this blog post to the neighbors down the street who don't want their kids playing with yours.