Here at R and D we have the privilege of transporting many wonderful children who are on the Autism Spectrum. Each one unique, each one important and each one cared for by our drivers to ensure that they can get to their schools and centers.
Most of these kids can't tell us how they are feeling or what they are thinking so when I ran across this article, I thought it important to share. We hope that it will help you too.
10 Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew by Ellen Notbohm
(some text has been edited for length)
1. I am first and foremost a child. I have autism. I am not primarily "autistic." It does not define me as a person. Are you a person with thoughts, feelings and many talents, or are you just fat (overweight), myopic (wear glasses) or klutzy (uncoordinated, not good at sports)? Those may be things that I see first when I meet you, but they are not necessarily what you are all about.
2. My sensory perceptions are disordered. Ordinary sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches of everyday that you may not even notice can be downright painful for me. I may appear withdrawn or belligerent to you but I am really just trying to defend myself. My hearing may be hyper-acute. The tires on the road, the radio, the other cars, the noises the car make and you are trying to talk to me. My brain can't filter all the input and I'm in overload! My sense of smell may be highly sensitive. The exhaust, your perfume, my clothes, my skin, my blanket, so many smells at once and they are so strong to me. I bet you can’t even smell then. I can and I can't sort it all out. I am dangerously nauseated.
3. Please remember to distinguish between won't (I choose not to) and can't (I am not able to). Receptive and expressive language and vocabulary can be major challenges for me. It isn't that I don't listen to instructions. It's that I can't understand you. When you call to me from across the room, this is what I hear: "*&^%$#@, Billy. #$%^*&^%$&* . . . " Instead, speak directly to me in plain words: "Please put your seatbelt on Billy, it’s time to go home." This tells me what you want me to do and what is to happen next. Now it is much easier for me to comply.
4. I am a concrete thinker. This means I interpret language very literally. It's very confusing for me when you say, "Hold your horses, cowboy!" when what you really mean is "Please stop running." Don't tell me something is a "piece of cake" when there is no dessert in sight and what you really mean is "this will be easy for you to do." Idioms, puns, nuances, double entendres, inference, metaphors, allusions and sarcasm are lost on me.
5. Please be patient with my limited vocabulary. It's hard for me to tell you what I need when I don't know the words to describe my feelings. I may be hungry, frustrated, frightened or confused but right now those words are beyond my ability to express. Be alert for body language, withdrawal, agitation or other signs that something is wrong. On the other side, when I talk to you I may only understand that I am supposed to say something so I will repeat things I have heard. It doesn’t mean I understand what I am saying.
6. Because language is so difficult for me, I am very visually oriented. Please show me how to do something rather than just telling me. And please be prepared to show me many times. Lots of consistent repetition helps me learn.
7. Please focus and build on what I can do rather than what I can't do. Like any other human, I can't learn in an environment where I'm constantly made to feel that I'm not good enough and that I need "fixing." Trying anything new when I am almost sure to be met with criticism, however "constructive," becomes something to be avoided. Look for my strengths and you will find them. There is more than one "right" way to do most things.
8. Please help me with social interactions. I don't know how to "read" facial expressions, body language or the emotions of others, so I appreciate coaching in proper social responses. If I laugh when Emily falls, it's not that I think it's funny. It's that I don't know the proper response. Teach me to say "Are you OK?"
9. Try to identify what triggers my meltdowns. Meltdowns, blow-ups, tantrums or whatever you want to call them are even more horrid for me than they are for you. They occur because one or more of my senses has gone into overload. If you can figure out why my meltdowns occur, they can be prevented. Keep a log noting times, settings, people, activities. A pattern may emerge. Try to remember that all behavior is a form of communication. It tells you, when my words cannot, how I perceive something that is happening in my environment.
10. Love me unconditionally. Banish thoughts like, "If he would just . . . " and "Why can't she . . . ?" You did not fulfill every last expectation your parents had for you and you wouldn't like being constantly reminded of it. I did not choose to have autism. But remember that it is happening to me, not you. Without your support, my chances of successful, self-reliant adulthood are slim. With your support and guidance, the possibilities are broader than you might think. I promise you – I am worth it.
And finally, three words: Patience. Patience. Patience. Work to view my autism as a different ability rather than a disability. Look past what you may see as limitations and see the gifts autism has given me. It may be true that I'm not good at eye contact or conversation, but have you noticed that I don't lie, cheat at games, tattle on my classmates or pass judgment on other people? Also true that I probably won't be the next Michael Jordan. But with my attention to fine detail and capacity for extraordinary focus, I might be the next Einstein. Or Mozart. Or Van Gogh.........
They had autism too.
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