Autism, My Personal Story
By Kathy Williams
This is the second article in a series of four about Autism
I write from my heart. I can’t help it; it’s who I am. I love deep. And right after Jesus my love runs deep for my family; most specifically for my grandson.
He has autism. He has been my drive to write these articles. I thought I knew enough about autism when he was diagnosed; but the more I learn the more I realize how much I don’t know!
My grandson, like every child with autism, has typical and atypical traits. He has helped me understand that if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. Everyone with autism is unique.
You want to know something?
We are ALL unique! God made us that way. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, according to Psalm 139. My sweet grandson is, you are, and I am, fearfully and wonderfully made in His image.
Really, is there anything better than that?
In this article we are going to address three typical behaviors of children with autism: Stimming, meltdowns and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
Stimming is “short for self-stimulatory behavior and is sometimes also called ‘stereotypical’ behavior in a person with autism”. Stimming can be flapping, rocking, spinning or repetition of specific words or phrases.
Stimming is basically an action one does to self-regulate when they are over-stimulated. You and I may also have stimming actions that we use to calm our own self when we are nervous or bored. Do you tap you pencil on your table or desk when you are thinking or concentrating? That is stimming. Do you bite your nails when you are nervous? Stimming.
For the child with autism flapping is the way they can settle their environment, like we tap our pencil. For some, they may spin or rock; all to self-regulate the world around them.
When we experience a new restaurant, we walk in and smell the food cooking, then we see the décor and then we may hear the sounds of the patrons talking and laughing. And is that music I hear coming through the speakers?
For one with autism, everyone of those sensations are felt at once. There is no shutting off the smell of the food and then seeing at the décor; they hear every sound and see every sight and smell every smell all at once. In order to process ALL those senses at one time, flapping is necessary, rocking or spinning is necessary to process each sense as they bombard the brain all at once.
Stimming is not a nuisance behavior; it is a necessary one. Embrace it! Flap with them, spin with them. If you do it and engage in their world, it will certainly help you understand it better!
Remember that new restaurant we just visited. It really is beautiful! And the food smells delicious! You can hardly wait to sit down and peruse the menu, chose an entrée and enjoy your meal.
Once again, the autistic child is experiencing every single one of those sensations at one single time. Their brain is being pelted with new smells, new sounds, new sights, new things to touch their sensory-sensitive skin. They hear things and smell things you and I don’t. It’s overwhelming.
The self-regulation of flapping hasn’t helped calm the senses from overload and meltdown occurs.
There is no magic formula for handling a meltdown. I can’t tell you what will work for every child and for every family.
But I will tell you what NOT to do if you experience this at a restaurant. DO NOT stare at the family experiencing this meltdown. DO NOT send condescending glances at the parents who are being the best parents they can possibly be to their child. DO NOT tell the parents that they should discipline their child for their behavior.
If you are a parent experiencing this DO NOT feel ashamed. DO NOT think this is something you can control. And most importantly DO NOT think this is something you caused!
Here is what you SHOULD DO: Ask if you can do anything to help, if you are close enough. UNDERSTAND that every child is different, autism or not, and new places can be overwhelming. PRAY for the family of you feel uncomfortable reaching out to them. And most importantly BE KIND! Give the family space and BE KIND!
As a parent, DO take a deep breath; DO know that no one knows or loves your child the way you do. DO know that others should trust the decisions you make for your child in that moment.
I have experienced my grandson having a meltdown. My daughter and son-in-law do a fantastic job of handling Joe when he is upset. They have learned their son and they know what works for him to calm him down. They speak softly to him; they stroke his arms, sometimes his back and legs too. Other times nothing works, and they must let him work it out on his own. They know the restaurant is not the place if that is the case. But for those parents who are still trying to understand how their child processes new environments, and they stay in the restaurant because they don’t know what else to do, we need to BE KIND.
Many children with autism find something they love and must have everything and anything having to do with that one thing. I know one young boy who loves trains! He plays with trains, he has learned about trains, he has visited trains and train stations. He simply loves trains! Another loves Legos. He has more Legos than Legoland! He has Lego construction kits and he builds and builds and builds.
For you and me it can be annoying to hear about one single thing over and over again. But for the child with autism, dinosaurs are their world! Again, embrace this! Join the child in learning what you can about what interests them.
For me, this may be the simplest trait to “overcome”. You certainly don’t want to squash their love for what excites them. Help them learn more, know more, seek more and keep their interest alive in what makes them happy.
There are no answers for autism. That sounds bleak doesn’t it? But just because there aren’t any answers that fit every situation there are answers for each individual child, young person and adult with autism.
It’s our responsibility to find the answer for the child or children with autism in our own life and be the answer for that child.