Autism is not the end of the world; just the beginning of a new one

Monday, 5 July 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Annemarie O’Hara

Children with autism are ‘special’; do not expect them to come to our mode of thinking and to connect the way we do. Their world is different and unique so summon the courage and patience to connect to their world, do what they do, follow how they react and think, it is breaking into their code, go down to their level and rise with them every step of the way. 

They have a very good IQ but they learn and retain things at their pace not ours. These children tend to revert back into their own world when something upsets them or if they are pressured, it is as though they cannot see or hear you and have a tendency to perform repetitive behaviour like stacking blocks or tins and dropping them then doing it again, or turning a plate and wriggling their hands while the saucer turns and then doing it again, or moving backwards and forwards; they can go on like this for some time and it is not deliberate, this is a pattern and part of them.

Parents have to be willing to sacrifice and be very patient and understanding, especially mothers. Many mums work hard to help their autistic children and have to sacrifice time and the idea of earning a lot more so that they achieve their most important and fulfilling goal which is to help their child overcome and have a future in society. It is a tough task but it is not impossible. You cannot expect counsellors and therapists to perform miracles, you have the power to succeed through your own efforts. 

Many autistic children have done well and overcome all because their mums gave it a 100% and took the time to connect with them with every ounce of love and patience and prayer. It is far from easy but not unattainable. Here are some simple points that have been tried and mastered.

Make eye contact with an autistic child, as he will not often initiate conversation himself. Looking an autistic child directly in his eyes will help gain his attention and establish the desire to communicate. Follow what he does, make notes daily as this gives you a guideline and helps you identify with him and his every expression, response, etc. Be literal. Autistic children often cannot understand figurative uses of language and are concrete in their thinking. Instead of saying, “The toy is over there,” say, “The toy is under the chair.” 

Improve memory and attention with scientific brain games. Autistic children connect well with visual games, colours and understand what is being said verbally if the words are broken down and explained with simplicity. Educational games to suit their minds vary from age group; they work well with shapes, interactive flash cards, sequence games, fun with word games, mix and match, and many others that help them focus and connect. 

Incorporate the use of sign language and gestures when speaking to a child with autism. An autistic child with severely inhibited speech development may respond to simple signs and may learn to use the signs himself to communicate. Signs and gestures may then lead to verbal communication.

Give praise. Autistic children should be awarded verbal praise often, especially for accomplishing a task, controlling outbursts and their efforts in communicating with other people. Avoid yelling or responding negatively to an autistic child’s tantrums. Communicate with him calmly using simple sentences, and repeat yourself if necessary. Warn an autistic child about any changes in his routine. Because autistic children crave structure and habit, the smallest disruption in his daily schedule can be agitating. Be sure to talk him through any changes to come. Give him time to absorb the information.

Feelings of a child with autism

(Something to help us understand what they would feel within them, their perspective of the world):

Blessed are those who stop and listen to my chatter. You may not understand me; but I love when people talk to me, for I long for companionship, too. 

Blessed are those who take my hand and walk with me when the path is rough, for I easily stumble and grow weary. But thank you, too, for letting me walk alone when the path is smooth, for I must learn independence. 

Blessed are those who take the time to tell me about special happenings, for unless you make special effort to inform me, I remain ignorant. 

Blessed are those who wait for me. I may be slow, but I appreciate your patience. 

Blessed are those who are not ashamed to be seen in public with me, for I did not choose to be born thus. It could have been you as well. 

Blessed are those who do not pity me, for I don’t want pity. All I want is understanding and respect for what I have learned as well. 

Blessed are those who notice my accomplishments, small as they may seem to you. I must work long and hard to learn many of the things you take for granted. 

Blessed are those who include me in their games, even though I may not understand the rules, I still like to be included in your activities. 

Blessed are those who think of me as a person who loves, and hurts, and feels joy and pain just like you do, for in that respect I am normal. 

Special Mums – you are not alone; your child is special.

(Annemarie O’Hara is the author of Enriching Our Lives, A Treasury of Tales and The Portal-Sword of Krynne. Adaptations taken from her current manuscript ‘A Special Drop of Love’. The author is a mother of a child with autism.)

(A contribution on behalf of ETD (CSR arm of TMC).)