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The ABC's of Autism
by Susan Perry
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

Susan Lynn Perry is a freelance writer and best-selling author of Procrastination Elimination. In her new book, Mother Cub, Ms. Perry shares the challenges and joys of helping her young son emerge from autism.

The ABC’s of Autism
By Susan Lynn Perry

When I was a little girl, I can remember my parents having these wonderful dinner parties with the other families in the neighborhood. The kids would all be in the game room, listening to their kid music and playing pool or darts or Twister. The parents would all be on the other side of the house in the dining and living rooms, listening to their grown-up music and socializing.

I can remember needing to get my father’s attention for something and just how hard that could be during one of those parties. I would timidly walk into the room full of adults, search out my father and try calling out “Daddy” very quietly. He and the other men would be laughing and talking loudly, chugging their adult drinks and giving each other a hard time.

I would then tug gently on his pants leg. The music was playing; glasses were clinking, and the telephone ringing incessantly in the background. My father may have known I was there, but he wouldn’t acknowledge me - instead theatrically punching one of his buddies in the arm while they disagreed about football teams.

Finally, out of frustration, I would start crying loudly. Suddenly, I had everyone’s attention. It was like magic. The music would quiet down. The chatter would quiet down. Everyone would be looking at me, and then I would get all embarrassed and confused, forgetting what had been so important to begin with.

I think this must be what it’s like for many children with autism, day in and day out. They are often easily over-stimulated, easily confused, and easily frustrated. Daily events can overwhelm them in even the most seemingly uneventful of situations. When this happens, we parents have to turn into detectives.

A lot of children with autism have a hard time filtering out all of the things coming at them at once; the music, the chatter, the telephone, the temperature, the feeling of clothing on their skin, the touch of someone’s embrace, the taste or texture of food in their mouths. It all comes at them at once and they will typically either act out or withdraw – depending on the child. You have to try and figure out which thing or things are too much for them to handle.

If you have a child with autism, or know someone who does, I think it’s important that you remember what I like to call the ABC’s of Autism: Affection, Behavior, and Commitment. You probably think I’m directing this to the child. I’m not. I’m directing it to you, the parent or caregiver.

Affection is something that most of us give easily and expect in return. A lot of our children have difficulty with this, so it’s very important that we remember to give more and expect less. The more we give, the more we will eventually get back. We need to give a lot to the child, for sure, but it’s also very important to show affection to all of those around us. Lead by example.

Behavior is something that often needs to be addressed with these children, but let’s not put it all off on them, folks. We need to remember that our behavior is just as important. As difficult as it is on those really challenging days (and I know you’ve all been there), try to keep your bad behavior in check. Even though it may seem as if these kids are not paying attention to us, trust me, they are. It can be very frustrating dealing with the idiosyncrasies of a child with autism, but you must resist losing your cool. Try to approach the daily challenges, instead, with a little bit of humor and I think you’ll be amazed at the positive results.

Commitment is the most important thing of all. We truly have to stay committed to these children. As tough as it is to make a home-cooked, nutritious meal, it’s so much better for our kids than the fast food stuff. As reluctant as you may be to get that child to yet another time-consuming, energy-draining play date, it’s imperative for their continued refinement of social skills. And as hard as it is financially to continue paying for nutritional supplements, doctor’s appointments, speech therapy and such, it will all pay off in the end.

With extra affection, good behavior and commitment to the health of our children, we can all be assured that we are doing our part in shaping our kids into strong, well-adjusted, social beings with bright futures in front of them. Once we tackle these three things, we can think about moving on to D, E, and F. But, let’s take first things first. Like a timid child at an adult party, we first need to help our children’s voices to be heard over the din.

Published: Jul 11,2008 21:13
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