Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thought bubbles and speech bubbles: Autism Awareness

My son Dominic, who is 8, has autism.

This is not a post about his diagnosis, or his journey. Since April is Autism Awareness month, I thought I'd share some of where he is right now to spread awareness of autism, and hopefully to open up conversations with your neurotypical kids.

A few weeks ago he climbed on my lap to talk with me about trying to talk with kids at school. He was having a hard time, and he didn't know what to do. He wasn't really asking for advice. He's not there yet, but he's beginning to recognize that he doesn't "get" social interactions, which is heartbreaking for me. For him, he's still stuck in "What can I do?" when what he needs to think of is "What do other people need?" (I know that may sound defeatest, or even that I'm not supporting my son, but a good part of learning to function in society is learning to be attuned to other people. Which is exactly what people with autism have difficulty with.)

To help, I told him that he need to learn the difference between private conversations and public conversations. He could enter into public conversations; it's considered rude to enter into private ones. The trick is figuring out which conversations are private, which is not easy, since people hold private conversations right in front of others. (I'm blaming this on cell phones, which make us think we're the only one hearing the conversation, when that's true only of half of it.) My son's working on something similar in his social skills group: learning the difference between thought bubbles (what he can think, which is just about anything) and speech bubbles (which is limited--you can't say everything you think). Heck, I think we all know some neurotypical people who need to learn that difference! It's tough, especially for people with autism.

To remember this conversation, I made this page (click the image to read the journaling):

I used the Studio Calico March kit Story Hour, appropriately enough. Here's some design info:

I wanted to use a big ampersand, so I took an old Basic Grey chipboard one, traced around it, painted it, then outlined it. I then placed letter stickers  over it and sewed them down.  

I like adding stickers in a bunch, along with other embellishments (here, buttons, brad, and flower) to get at some of the ideas behind my page and add some emotion. Since this was a people page, I added red, which is my color for people in the Big Picture class Twelve.

I used the paper upside down, but I don't care. I needed the big design on the bottom, not the top, and the words/numbers were barely visible, so OK. More stickers and embellishments that mean something.

Thank you for reading about my page and about my son. If I can give you any words to raise autism awareness, it's this: when your child talks about a child at school that seems "weird" and says or does odd things, try schooling them a bit. Perhaps the child has autism and doesn't know any better, and will take years to learn how. Teach kindness and patience. Believe me, that means a lot.

Here are some resources that I've read and seen that I recommend:
  1. Thinking in Pictures and Animals in Translation 
  2. Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew
  3. Temple Grandin. This film does a remarkable job of visually representing how some people with autism perceive the world.
  4. Look Me In the Eye. This book's chapter on small talk is one that I know Special Education teachers of older students with autism use with their students.
  5.  The Journal of Best Practices. Confession: I haven't read this, but I heard the author speak on NPR, and I look forward to reading it.


Marg said...

So touching and heartfelt. My hats off to you. Dominic is one lucky guy to have you for a Mom!

Andrea said...

Thanks for the great advice. I think this was something great to document. I love how you stitch through your titles. The pic of Dominic is adorable.

sixtyschild said...

Jennifer, very inspiring, not just the adorable LO and the subject you chose to scrapbook about in such an amazing way, but the whole conversation with Dominic. I too have a child with Autism, well actually Aspergers Syndrome, but now she is 18 years old, the social cues are really difficult and in your quote I don't see that as defeatest either... (I know that may sound defeatest, or even that I'm not supporting my son, but a good part of learning to function in society is learning to be attuned to other people. Which is exactly what people with autism have difficulty with.)
The hardest thing for children who have Autism is picking up on those social cues, My daughter still finds the whole public versus private thing very hard and making friends is really easy, but keeping them is another story as people don't understand ( or want to understand her uniqueness) and consider her selfish. yes she forgets that not everything goes her way all the time and she should share, let her friends choose the games, where to go and what to do not just her. And no matter how many times we talk about these issues, she still forgets to be considerate of others and their feelings. So good on you Jennifer it sounds like you are doing an amazing job being mommy to your gorgeous boy! I applaud you! ( Jo~Anne or sixtyschild from ClubCK!)

soapHOUSEmama said...

Such a lovely and heartfelt layout! I agree - he is blessed to have you!!!!

Jennifer said...

Beautiful Jenny. Your closing paragraph was needed too, for me, someone whose boys do not have autism, but to teach them compassion.

Mary Ann Jenkins said...

A beautiful layout in so many ways. Thanks for sharing not only your artistic talent but your sweet words to your son.

alisonm said...

Jennifer, as a family, we still struggle with this issue everyday. At 26, Roddy has a difficult time between private and public conversations, mostly giving out too much information on any topic. It's hard and we only wish he had been diagnosed earlier so that a we could have developed a program for him. I would love to talk to you about this some time.