Monday, March 11, 2013

"Trains are in my world," Autism observed by a mom.

In many ways, I am just like most other children my age. But in one special way, I am different. I have Autism which, basically, means that I think about things and process things quite differently than my friends who don’t have Autism; we call them, The Neurotypicals.

You see, Autism mostly affects the brain. Think of the brain like a big computer. The Autism computer takes in information meant for a Neurotypical computer and sometimes it gets scrambled in ways that it is not intended. Kind of like misplaced puzzle pieces.

The Autism computer has to learn its own way of processing incoming Neurotypical data, and often times the Autism computer gets overloaded or over stimulated, and it crashes. The ‘crash’ can seem to others like a big tantrum.

For example, I misinterpret facial expressions and emotions. I mistake someone crying for being angry. I may think that they are angry at me and become very frustrated. If you express an intense emotion in front of me, please do not take it personal if I walk away or respond inappropriately. The interpretation of this display of emotions may be more difficult for me to understand or it may be harder on my senses.

Loud noises or high pitched sounds might hurt my ears. I might even cover my ears in protest. Having Autism makes me very sensitive to many things. If the light is bright, it might bother my eyes. What might be normal to you may possibly cause me pain or distress. Like, the smell of a savory meal might cause me to gag. And, big waves on the beachfront frighten me. The sound of the waves crashing against the sand sounds so scary and so loud, I just want to run away and hide.

In my world, I like to know what will happen before it occurs. Predictability means a lot to me. I feel safe when I know what is going on ahead of time. This is why I am stubborn when it comes to changes my routine. For instance, If you give me apple juice in the morning before school, I will expect it every day and it will make me very upset when I don’t get that juice.

My mom lets me sit on the floor of our bathroom when I dress in the morning. I like doing this, it makes me feel calm. Sometimes, my mom uses a timer to remind me when my time is up. This has become my ritual.

I love to talk about trains, and I usually won’t notice when you are no longer interested in hearing about trains. I also like to arrange my toy trains in a certain order. Please do not be offended if I don’t ask you to join me when I am playing with my toy trains. I get upset when the trains are not in a specific order; I might yell and blame others for the trains being out of place.

My Autism brain likes familiar patterns. I get used to a certain sequences or chain of events, and I will insist on this pattern. This makes me feel secure. So, if we take a different route to school, please give me an advance warning. 

Speaking of school, sometimes my friends at school are excited to see me. I am happy to see them too, but when they shout my name or run up to me, I feel anxious. If I growl or hiss it is because I don’t know how to express my uncertainty; it is easier for me to act like my pets.

I enjoy humor, and I like to watch the same videos over and over to memorize funny phrases and scripts. I use them in conversations. It amuses me to do so. Saying the same things over and over helps me feel confident. You see, in my world of Autism, my brain is like a computer that gets overloaded when it has to process a lot of data that is unfamiliar to me. I am most assured when I can do things the same way and when I am made aware of transitions in advance.

Autism is a spectrum or a range of different challenges that sometimes cause tension for me in a world that expects me to be “normal”.  But, my normal is flicking my fingers when I am excited or spending hours engaged in my special interest: trains. I like to laugh, and I am not ashamed to laugh at a funny thought in my head or recite a funny phrase to myself.

What many people see as odd behaviors are simply ways that I cope with stimuli that is confusing or stressful. When I am unsure, I get aggravated easily and will lose my cool. I want things my way, and I don’t like to wait. But, I can learn to wait politely or deal with an alternate choice if I am coached, provided cues, and given positive reinforcement.

I learned that if I wait patiently for something, my mom will tell me that I did a very good job waiting. Or if I ask politely for something without prompting, my mom will give me a special treat.

I like positive praise; it helps reassure me, and makes me feel like I am a good person in spite of my differences.

Although I think in a way that is not considered typical, I still want to be loved and accepted. I appreciate acts of tolerance when I am in the midst of a meltdown. Please understand, often times it is something that I cannot prevent. It looks as if my meltdown happened for no apparent reason, but it didn’t. It is usually a build-up of emotions resulting from unresolved stress, confusion, and disappointment. And, like a pressure cooker, I explode. Afterwards, I feel a little better, but I regret making others that witnessed my tantrum feel uncomfortable.  

I like to know that I have supportive friends and people that love me for who I am. I can make positive contributions when others are aware of my limitations.

I can be a loyal friend when you share in my interests or allow me to share my interests with you. 

Autism is not a curse! I like to feel like I am special and well-liked. Give me an opportunity to be my unique self; this is how I flourish.