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  • Stories from the Spectrum of Autism: World Autism Acceptance Day
    Added by My Identity Doctor
     Note: While I have no objections to the use of the term “autistic” by those in the autism community, specifically Autistic Self Advocates, I will use person-first language in this post. I believe this is an individual choice and until instructed by a person with autism to refer to them as autistic, I continue to use person first language—where the situation warrants autism be mentioned at all!
    On a weekly basis, I usually interact with between 6 and 10 families that include a child with autism. I am a respite worker and have been working with the same family four years now, experiencing the development of their son with autism from the time he was nearly four to now, as he nears his eighth birthday. I also coach a Special Olympics team—this year, all 10 of my registered athletes have autism.
    Getting to know people with autism—both children and adults—has been the best way for me to understand all the variances that come with this diagnosis. While there are challenges, and of course these cannot be minimized, I believe that autism is a part of who a person is: they cannot be separated from what some may call a disorder, and the unique characteristics of autism and the lens through which people with autism see the world can benefit not only the person with autism, but all of us. I don’t believe we need a ‘cure’ for autism.
    Everyone with autism is different
    As autism can be seen as a character variance versus a disability or disorder, we can expect everyone with autism to experience different expressions. Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that people are affected to different degrees. Some people with autism are non-verbal, some have enormous vocabularies (and may even, as children, use words that are atypical for their age!). Some may show outward behaviours that suggest they have autism, others may not.
    According to the National Institutes of Health, autism is a developmental disorder—which means it is onset in early childhood, though it can be diagnosed at any age [1], especially in “milder” cases.
    Characteristics of autism
    Although there are variances in how autism is expressed, the core criteria of autism are [1]:
    • Difficulty communicating and interacting with others
    • Symptoms—communication and behavioural—that impair a person’s ability to function at home, work or school.
    • Repetitive behaviours—these can include hand flapping, rocking, interacting with toys or objects in a repetitive manner (such as lining things up), echolalia (repeating words or sounds) and recitation—just to name a few!
    • “Restricted interests”. People with autism often become very interested in one or a few subjects, sometimes to the point where it can become impairing socially. These special interests can be anything!
    I saved special interests for last on this list, because these can be anything!
    The kiddo I work with has, like many, an interest in technology—smartphones, iPads, iPods, computers and TVs. (This kid cracked both the parental control code AND his mom’s iTunes password on his third birthday to make in-app purchases of hundreds of dollars—oops!) But he also likes gadgets in general—he could independently make coffee by the time he was barely 4, and loves starting the microwave!
    Another teenager with autism I went to camp with last summer loves sports: every time we passed the stadium he’d say “Kerri! It’s Investor’s Group Field, home to the CFL’s loudest fans!”. I thought this was just a thing he knew, like everything else he tells me about sports (specifically the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Winnipeg Jets!), but a day and a half into camp I realized he’d read this on a sign! He also loves Thomas the Tank Engine, to the point where his mom texted me a Thomas reference to use to motivate him to go back and play in the rain!
    While special interests can in some situations be challenging—such as the time I worked at autism camp and a camper would recite movies, posing challenging at times to other sensory-sensitive campers!—they can also be harnessed for good. My teenage sports-fan camper above uses sports examples in school to understand and apply concepts to what he is learning—and (unlike me) he can have great conversations about last night’s game, which will serve exceptionally for “water cooler talk” or engaging with people when he begins to work! Surely, special interests can lead to positives where it comes to making like-minded friends, finding a career you are passionate about, and more.
    Communication and autism
    While there are lots of “symptoms” of autism (many of which I won’t describe in this post!), communication is the area that often causes the most concern for parents of children with the disorder.
    While my teenage camper, above, is very good at articulating his needs and engaging in conversation now, he has had speech and occupational therapy to help him get there. The almost eight-year-old I work with was, just over a year ago, nearly completely nonverbal. However, with the assistance of a Speech Generating Device (in his case, an app on his school iPad), we believe he learned the value of using words to communicate, and quickly began using certain words verbally as well! While he was able to get his point across (oftentimes by dragging me across a room and pointing at what he wanted!), having verbal language has helped him experience fewer meltdowns from being misunderstood. In the last six months, we’ve seen his sense of humour truly emerge, as he slyly looks at you and says “Kitty go school!”
    He looks at you expectantly, waiting for “Kitties don’t go to school!”
    “Kitty go office!”
    The first time he and I had this exchange, I said “Kitties don’t go to the office, that’s silly!”
    To which he replied by giggling uncontrollably and falling down onto his bed.
    While some people with autism do not acquire verbal language, it is very important to discover an alternative way to communicate to meet their needs and alleviate frustration which can lead to other negative behaviours. Sign language, apps, paper picture cards, and white boards are jus a few ways people can communicate non-verbally.
    Medical ID Jewelry and Autism
    Of concern to parents of children with autism, as well as to nonverbal adults or adults with limited verbal abilities, is their ability to communicate what they need, especially in unfamiliar circumstances. As stress or anxiety can impair a person with autism’s ability to communicate even if they are typically able, unfamiliar or emergency situations can pose problems.
    Wearing medical ID jewelry can help the person with autism not only get the communication support they need, but can also ensure parents are notified if the person has wandered off and become lost, or if communication issues are preventing them from receiving emergency medical care. Learn more about why adults and children with autism should wear medical ID and what choices might work for them here. If you already know all that, head on over to our shop.
    Published by My Identity Doctor on April 2, 2019


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