Saturday, November 14, 2009

Special Moments, Gratitude and Autism

As I headed to our monthly team meeting with my son's teachers and therapists, I didn't have much on the agenda. This year, the team's open communication and investment in my son's progress is a comforting feeling. I was more concerned about how my son will react (after the meeting) when I see him for the annual Thanksgiving turkey trot around the school perimeter. This event is simply created to help food pantries with their food supply. Each child who participates brings in 1 canned good to help. Little did I realize that the day was going to bring with it many surprises.

The team meeting went well. After, I waited for my son's class to gather outside, and saw the shine of a familiar dimple. My son was reserved (as he usually is upon seeing me at school) and didn't want me to make too much of it. In seeing the shine of his dimple, I knew he was a little excited for our "race". The gobble sounded and off I went to run with my precious little turkey. He is fast! In weaving in and out of children, I had a tough time keeping up with him. It was a bit brisk, but that just added to the silliness, as I could feel the cold air creep into the cavities of my lungs. Still, I forged forward, kept up pace, and kept reminding him that I was behind him. Did I mention that I was only one of 4 mothers taking part in the run? With all the other parents on the side-lines, I felt a bit foolish, but I was not going to let my guy down. When my child runs, I run with him. When my child laughs, I laugh with him. When my child loves, I love with him. When my child succeeds, I succeed with him and when my child falls, I will fall with him. Through my actions, I hope my children can hear my message. It was a great moment for both of us.

That's not all folks! I left the school, after the turkey trot. The afternoon provided me the opportunity to look at my e-mail. Many times, e-mail does not convey your true feelings or tone. These non-verbal ques are missed because we are not speaking directly to the person who wrote the e-mail.
I knew something special was up when I saw my son's special ed teacher in my inbox. I quickly opened the note and read (in the excitement it was meant to portray) that my son read his very first book independently. What is even more precious, is that the book happened to be called, Pam's Pals. My name is Pam and I am certain that my little "turkey" that day was enamored by that fact. Not to take anything away from him, but I felt he dedicated his efforts to me. Tears flowed. Such a proud moment.

I said it was a great day. He wasn't through with his greatness... After speaking to my son's paraprofessional for a couple of minutes, she told me this story:

"I have a story about a hand painted tree hung in a hallway of an elementary school to share with you. The children painted leaves to decorate the tree. The leaves were painted all pretty watercolors and looked like real autumn leaves. Every child was asked what they are thankful for and it was to be printed on the leaf that they painted with care. As the para was hanging the leaves in the hallway on the tree, she was reading the usual things that you expect a kindergartner to say... I am thankful for Mom...I am thankful for Dad... I am thankful for my family...etc. One was "I am Thankful for my I-POD", and I almost didn't want to hang it. But then, what appears is a beautiful autumn leaf, carefully painted in watercolor, and it said "I am thankful for Rainbows". That sweet inscription was from your son. You are truly blest."

During this season for giving thanks, "I am thankful for Rainbows". Each color of my rainbow includes: Red:my son, Orange:my daughter, Yellow:my husband, Blue:family, Green:teachers and therapists, Purple:friends.

Happy Thanksgiving! Gobble, Gobble

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Common Sense is different for those with Autism

Society uses the term "common sense" to explain people’s natural and innate actions. Everyone is supposed to have at least a little common sense. It is a gray area to know exactly what common sense is, but it usually equates to good judgment or normality. If a person lacks this characteristic, jokes soon follow.
Common sense can be anything from wearing a coat when the weather is cold, looking at someone when they are speaking, or walking to move from one room to the next. After all, why would you do anything else? It just doesn't make common sense.

A child with autism spectrum disorder experiences, what most of us view as, common sense differently. Texture sensitivities often lead to clothing battles, especially after the weather turns cold. When faced with the choice, common sense for those with autism or "autism" sense will choose the one with the least amount of discomfort, many times preferring the cold to a coat. If you think about it, that does make common sense. When faced with a decision, my choice is based on a weight scale of the least amount of negatives attached to each choice.

Likewise, during a conversation, social challenges make the simple act of eye contact distracting to a person on the autism spectrum. Autism sense requires that individual to look away from the person for the ability to maintain engagement and hear what is said. In other instances, many children with autism have a constant desire for input or feedback to keep focused. Autism sense means taking every opportunity to get that feedback by jumping or running, as the mode of choice, when moving from room to room.

Autism sense is the natural and innate reaction of children on the spectrum with autism. On the surface, one may label it as a lack of common sense. In reality, understanding the reasons behind such behaviors can be the most common sense of all.