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Understanding Autism, Guest Post by Diane Christiansen

Posted on: May 9, 2014

Growing up, Diane Christiansen grew up with dyslexia. She’s now a published author who writes about children with special needs. She also speaks to parents and teachers about learning to celebrate those things that make our children different and her journey with her son and his ASD. Below is a guest post that she kindly wrote for me. Tomorrow I’ll share my thoughts of SNUB Club. Save the date: May 10!

 

Understanding Autism
by Diane Christiansen

Autism is a word that I thought I understood. I had taken a psychology class or two in college and I can remember documentaries about children with autism. Flapping of the arms, nonverbal and never attending typical school. But what I didn’t understand is that autism is on a spectrum which means that there many ways that it can present itself in a child. When my son was diagnosed with autism I was a little confused. He had sensory issues from the very beginning. No parades (too loud), no restaurants (too smelly) and a very limited diet (too strong). But autism? Whenever I speak to a group that has a limited understanding of this neurological difference, I always start by telling the story of how my son, Jackie, came to be diagnosed with autism.

DianeChristiansen_SonIt was the summer before second grade. Jackie had begun to have trouble making friends and crossing over from parallel play into a social setting. So, I made the decision to sign him up for camp. I thought that just a few hours a day, making new friends, playing games and being outdoors would do the trick to get him on his way to breaking that barrier. I dropped him off on the first morning and hovered a little before I left. He seemed fine, as one of the counselors came to take his hand and lead him over to the playground. All was well…until I arrived to pick him up.

I arrived early and immediately saw that something was wrong. Jackie was perched under a tree away from the group, biting his fingers raw. When he saw me he began to cry and then yell and then run around in an uncontrollable rage. It was the first time he had really experienced rage like this and I could tell he was in complete internal chaos. I ran to him and he told me the ugly truth,

“The kids here are mean. They’re trying to kill me. They want me to die!” The mother tigress began to stir within me and I quickly began to search for the counselors as well as these terrible bullies that had been tormenting my son. I was expecting expulsion from the camp, an apology and a promise to keep a better eye on things but that’s not what happened. I found the head counselor and in a panic asked him what had happened. He told me that they had set up the field for dodge ball (a sport that should be banned) and when the campers had begun the game, Jackie didn’t seem to understand. He tried to run away and so he was the first victim of flying balls. In his mind dodge ball wasn’t a game, it was a large group of kids trying to attack him. He couldn’t see that everyone was smiling and having fun. He couldn’t see that the others were trying to include him. He couldn’t read facial expressions or deal with the sensory overload of being hit repeatedly with small plastic balls. He was terrified.

The day ended with ice cream and extra television time for Jackie and I realized how lucky I was and how I could no longer assume that Jackie’s reality was accurate. As it turned out, the head counselor’s full-time job was working with autistic children and so he was able to give me a lot of information. Two weeks later we had our diagnosis and, believe it or not, I was relieved. I knew from that moment on, that I would be able to help my son, that these problems that we had been dealing with for years, had a name. Missed social cues, anger issues, latent speech, and yes, some flapping of the arms on the playground, were all a part of who he was and is today. He’s an amazing kid who has a brain that works differently than some, but who is loyal, funny, creative and a little stubborn. He’s a kid with autism, but mostly, he’s just a kid.

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2 Responses to "Understanding Autism, Guest Post by Diane Christiansen"

Thanks for the reblog!

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