Autism Awareness Month – What are you looking at?

Every so often you have the opportunity to step outside yourself and view yourself as others do. This kind of insight usually occurs when you least expect it. One of the [many] times this has happened to me, was on a fairly ordinary day. When I say 'ordinary,' I mean this in the way that 'ordinary' had become for us.

As I am the proud owner, [translation = temporary tenuous custody, at the best of times] of two autistic boys.

At that time, they were still on the smallish side, 39 and 45 lbs respectively, which meant that they were portable. Portable was convenient for me, because their legs only functioned on random occasions. [translation = incipient jelly legs] Added to which, they had a strong preference for being both high up and squished. [translation = the latter referrers to deep proprioceptive input, the former has yet to be formally diagnosed]

Thus if you lie on the floor screaming for long enough, preferably in stereo, you soon learn that your poor benighted mother will carry you. It is a good idea to reward your mother at this point by ceasing to cry, as this will ensure positive reinforcement and ensure that she is quicker next time. In you continue in this vein for long enough, before you know it you'll only need to squeak a bit and just like Pavlov's dog, she'll scoop you up. Easy.

If we then fast forward a couple of years after this kind of exposure, we can now clearly see the woman walking out of the occupational therapist's office towards us. As you watch, two slightly larger children, who have aged a couple of years since we began, scurry on all fours towards the woman, presumably the mother and scurry up her legs like monkeys until they are securely nestled in the waist area, one either side. You, the observer, note that they don't appear to be twins. On closer inspection you are fairly confident that one of them is larger, probably older, but neither has much to say for themselves and at least that dreadful screaming has ceased. You find it quite odd to see three heads aligned in such a manner that has not been posed by a photographer. You cast your mind back to consider when last it was, that you saw three such heads on the same plane?

One child sucks his thumb, or hand, now that you look a little more closely. The other one has his hands planted firmly over each ear. The woman wears dark glasses, as well she might, shame on her! Now where have you seen those three heads before? That's right! Of course! Those three little monkeys, see no evil, hear no evil…..

now don't you say another word!

Parent nil, “monkeys” win again. “This” could be me!

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Very nice manners but thick as a brick

Do you know what yours is? Did you know that such a thing, 'a learning style,' existed? You probably do. You probably do because you're an American, or alternatively, someone from the 'younger generation,' which would probably be around 'under middle aged.'

For anyone else, a learning style[s] is something that you should know a little bit about if you have autistic children. Also handy if you have the ordinary kind of a child too, because there are a variety of different styles available. If you manage to engineer a good match. Then your child's experience at school could be considerably more positive than it might be at the moment.

When I was youngster myself, born to a man with Edwardian parents, my father would help me learn my times tables. I would march up and down the kitchen to the irritation of my mother, chanting out the lines until I was word perfect. He would test me with spot questions. I'd snap that answer out like a bullet as I exploded in a jumping jack. I was star shaped and I would be the star of the class!
It was a dead cert.

The following day, I would skip along to school, the tables mantra was so easy. The test was administered in silence in those dark days of yore. Pupils [translation = students] sat at individual desks. When I say 'sat,' I really mean 'sat.' No wriggling please! Britain way back when. 'Sat' meant static too, although small movements of the writing hand, wrist and fingers was permissible.

I would sit and stare at my 'vocab' book, a dinky little affair the size of an envelope, with my lead pencil sharpened and at the ready, but could I write anything? My toes would tap the wooden floor, my fingers would twiddle rhythmically on the underside of the desk, but no, nothing.

“McEwen! Stop that right now!” What a choice? Remain and fail, or depart to be disciplined by the Reverend Mother?
I would probably manage a few figures,
but not the answers to the questions being barked
at us at 30 second intervals.

I would trudge home at the end of the day, with my vocab book hidden at the bottom of my satchel, [translation = school bag] written evidence of my 'thicky, thicky, dumb, dumb' status. My father would always manage to ferret it out and gasp as the illegible scribblings in red ink all over the page. The exasperation he experienced was close to my own.

“But you were perfect last night!” he would gasp. I could only respond as a goldfish does, mouthing words that I couldn't formulate as an adequate explanation.
“What are all these 'submission notes'? Were you being naughty? Again?”
[Ref 1] But I digress. Where were we? Ah yes, learning styles.

Visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic for starters. Does that help? Not particularly?
I'll give you an example. Junior learned about the life cycle of insects [translation = bugs] a few years back. They started with Bees on Monday, moved onto Butterflies on Tuesday and finished up with Mosquitoes on Wednesday. I ‘knew’ that he had no interest in this topic. On the first two days, he was encouraged to sit during 'circle time' for these lessons. He spent each of those 20 minute periods rolling around on the floor,
bumping into his pals and laughing hysterically,
much to the annoyance of everyone. One teacher sat with him,
not so much restraining him as trying to contain him, calm him,
quieten him down. Boredom was one thing, disruption was quiet another.

When he returned home on each day, he had learned nothing about these tiny little friendly creatures. On the third day, the poor teachers had run out of energy and chose to ignore him as he danced around the walls of the room, touching items rhythmically and giggling. He paid no heed to the lesson and appeared for all intents and purposes to be in his own little world. They didn’t know what else to do, so they concentrated on the rest of the class and let him go his own sweet but oblivious way. Since that was just prior to his permanent departure from that school, one can only sympathise with the poor people attempting to teach a class of 20 little ones.

That evening, after the free fall dancing episode, he lectured me in great detail, voluntarily without prompting. I knew more about Mosquitoes than is healthy for a person of my advanced years.

{Ref 1} 'Submission notes,'sent home to the parents advised them of omissions and commissions by the child during the school day.
This may not be the ‘best’ site, but the material is well presented, clear, with useful tips that aren’t all about flashcards.

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