What is Autism?
By Lisa Domican, Parent of 2 kids in Saplings Rathfarnham
I am not a psychologist or behavioural specialist or a Psychiatrist. So, I am not going to talk about the triad of impairments or assessment scales etc etc.
What I can tell you is that Autism is a sensory disability in which everything your child sees, hears, feels, tastes and smells is distorted.
They may see every strand of hair on your head individually with more detail than a Dandruff commercial, hence the need to push your hair off your face.
They may taste food in individual components that make the slightest change to the recipe seem like an entirely different food.
Touch can be too light to feel or too intense to bear, or both!
And sound most unfortunately can be very distorted, either because they hear everything and cannot tune in to what’s important, ie. your voice, or because they only hear the higher sounds or the lower sounds that are in their environment.
There are a myriad of variations on these “Unders and Overs” and no two children are alike.
(Believe me I have a sample of two!)
So, imagine if you like, that having autism is a bit like being in a very busy foreign capital city where you don’t speak the language and everyone is too busy to give you directions.
You can’t read the street signs and you cannot understand what people are saying to you, or even pick up on any kind of pattern in the words they are using, as everyone talks too fast. The traffic is loud, it is really hot and you want a drink; but you don’t know how to ask for it and nobody can understand you.
Eventually you are going to recognise which shops are likely to have drinks for sale, but you will probably going to feel more comfortable going into a place where you can get it yourself.
That is how your child feels.
That is why they do not learn to imitate speech and ask for things, but instead lead you to what they want or build complex towers of chairs and climb up to get the things they need, rather than just ask for them.
That is why they often learn to read and count and do puzzles, because those things have a recognisable and consistent order; before they learn to say Mama or Dada.
When I travel I quickly learn the written word for supermarket (Alimentari, Supermarche, Supermercado) and Toilet (Servisos) but it takes me a long time to pick up on what people are saying as they speak so fast, often with an accent or variable dialect.
When a child with autism looks at you out of the crib, they are being bombarded by such a range of sights, sounds and sensations that they are not going to pick up on your reactions. They may appear to have picked up a few words, which they use randomly, but will not necessarily, notice your reaction to the words.
A typically developing child will realise that you react and praise the first time they chance on that sound, and do it again. The autistic child will be distracted by the fantastic prism the light is making through the window, or pins and needles sensation they get every time you touch them or any one of a number of sensory over and under loads. So they have a lot of distraction when it comes to imitation and learning.
And that's where the structured breakdown of the skills they need comes in. That's where they need an individualised evidence based education. That's where they need Saplings!