A Practical Guide to Autism-Part 4
By Kathy Williams
This final installment of our four-part Autism series will cover the second part of the presentation from the 2019 CDEA Conference I lead called “A Practical Guide to Autism”. In this article we will cover the last half of that presentation. For the first half, please visit CDEA’s previous newsletter.
As a quick overview, we have been using the letters in the word “Autism” to describe attributes individuals with Autism may have. Remember Autism is a broad spectrum and no single set of characteristics applies to every person on the spectrum; however, there are aspects that can be similar across the board. In the last article we looked at the first three letters: A-stood for ABILITY, rather than disability; U-stood for UNIQUE; and T-stood for TERRIFIC.
Children with Autism are Ingenious
Most every child with Autism will have a behavior known as stimming. Stimming stands for self-stimulatory behavior and it is simply a behavior consisting of repetitive actions or movements of a type that may be displayed by people with developmental “disorders”. I believe this is an “INGENIOUS” way to handle themselves when they are possibly overstimulated or over-excited.
Many times, we can have a negative reaction to a stimming behavior we may see, whether out in public or in the classroom. But I want to challenge that reaction a little bit. How many of you tap a pencil when you’re thinking? How many of you twirl your hair when you are bored? How many of you have found yourself rocking back and forth in the line at the grocery store? That is stimming!
Stimming occurs when the child is happy; when the child is overwhelmed; when the child is bored. Stimming is not something we can stop. What we CAN stop is the negative thoughts or feelings WE have when we experience a child stimming.
When you see a child stimming, either in public or in your classroom, your reaction matters. May I suggest when you get frustrated by that child in your classroom who is stimming because they may be overstimulated or overly excited, take a moment and JOIN the child! If they are flapping their hands—Take 10 or 15 seconds and flap yours. TELL them how good it feels to get all that negative energy out! Laugh or smile while you join them.
Meltdowns are totally different than stimming and handling those are tricky. But if you engage with the child and JOIN their world, you WILL make a difference!
Children with Autism are Sensitive
I don’t mean they are sensitive in the way that you have to be careful what you say so you don’t hurt their feelings. I mean they are sensitive to every single SENSE they have in their little bodies!
We take in information through our senses—sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. As we experience something new, we can process each sense separately. Children with autism cannot separate their senses.
When a child with Autism visits a restaurant for the first time, they experience all kinds of new things …ALL AT ONCE! They see ALL the people; They smell ALL the food— ALL at once! They hear ALL the noises; They are aware of every texture touching them…their clothes, the chairback that they are leaning against, the table; and then they may taste food from a place they’ve never eaten before…even though it may be food they have eaten before they have never eaten it from THAT restaurant.
That’s A LOT of information for a little one to process at once!
Think about just ONE of the senses…hearing. When we go to a restaurant we can engage in conversation with the people at our table, while there are other conversations going on around us. People with autism hear it all…at once, with no filing system to process the different pitches of people’s voices, the different tones, the different words and phrases and laughs and snorts being heard. And that is only ONE sense…they have all 5 going at once!
We can’t change that…that is how God created their brains and minds. We must figure out how to make that sensory explosion not so overwhelming. And if it is too overwhelming, we can’t condemn the child for doing exactly what he should do and that is regulate themselves by stimming or crying.
Children with autism are marvelous!
They have been marvelously created by a loving and gracious Father. Some of my favorite scripture is found in Psalm 139:13-16:
13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
These verses apply to everyone of us-those of you reading this article, to every child in your center, and to every child born with an “ability” that we have yet to understand. If we would remember these words from the God of the Universe, as we teach each day…not only to the “normal” kids but to the weird ones too; then this world would be a much greater, sweeter and more exciting place!