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:
- Thinking in Pictures and Animals in Translation
- Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew
- Temple Grandin. This film does a remarkable job of visually representing how some people with autism perceive the world.
- 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.
- 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.