Autistic Consultant & British Psychologist, Wenn, leading by example to empower autistic individuals and promote quality co-produced research

Parenting

Behaviour of Autistic Children

For some professionals autism and intellectual disability are seen to be synonymous terms that are interchangeable. This is not the case. According to Tonge, (1994) intellectual disability occurs in 70% of autistic children. This leaves 30% of autistic children with average or above intelligence whom, although suffering from severe communication and social deficits are not taken seriously by many within their community.

As I have said, most AS people find their sense of security in their rules, rituals and continuity of roles. Therefore, it is very distressing when life does not go according to our expectations. This is one reason why we manipulate our environment and the individuals that share it with us. However, when we feel safe and reassured, are need to manipulate decreases.

Bitsika and Sharpley (1996) found that families who were supported and who experienced 'hope' for the future, suffered less anxiety than those who were 'out there alone'. Understanding AS, being part of a support group, having autism friendly teachers and other professionals, are some of the key factors in promoting a sense of hope and vision for the future. I personally believe that parents and professionals will benefit immensely from AS training such as I am able to offer.

Communication, Some Helpful Hints

When relating to people on the autism spectrum (I prefer to call it diff-ability rather than disorder) it is important to remember the keys to understanding AS. Again, these are:
a. we are singly channeled (we either look or we listen, rather than doing both at once).
b. we take words literally: ("Can you make your bed James?"). Neuro-typicals mean "tidy your bed James", but a person with ASD might understand "Do you know how a bed is made?" to which the answer might be "yes" or "no", but it might not mean that James complies with the request, because he hasn't understood the instruction as it was intended.
c. we are not good at predicting consequences. For example: child picks up stone to throw it and is very upset when it lands upon another's head!
d. We do not like change, because of difficulties with predicting outcomes.

Therefore it is good to:
- Check out the autistic person's perception of what is being asked, demonstrated or said.
- Teach that behaviours, emotions and desires can have particular facial and bodily expressions. Explain what these are.
- Rote learn rules for specific situations (i.e. we hug family members, not strangers).
- Give time, whenever possible, to acclimatise to change and don't suddenly 'spring things' onto the person.
- When the individual is anxious: use music, space, reassurance, relaxation and breathing exercises, a calm voice and any other acceptable know anti-stressor.
- Place expectations into context via 'social stories'. This gives the individual a fuller picture of the 'what's', 'wherefores' 'whys' 'hows' and so on.

Learning to recognise overload is very important. Prevention is better than cure! Each individual is different and, therefore, will have different strengths, weaknesses and limitations. Ultimately it is in the individual's best interest to learn to recognise these themselves. However, until that happens it is up to the parent, teacher or carer to be responsible for this process.

When a child covers their ears, becomes increasingly restless, paces the floor, loses interest or simply moves away from you, then they may be already overloaded.

Our concentration span is very limited and we soon tire. Using subject material that we are interested in is very helpful and will facilitate longer interest. At school it was always difficult for me to learn about things that I was not interested in. I don't know why this was so. I just couldn't see the point. Temple Grandin talks about 'thinking in pictures' and I certainly am one of those people who does this. I have wondered if this might have some bearing on the matter. Maybe I lacked the connections to build appropriate pictures if the material to be learned didn't have a familiar component to it. Maybe, if I didn't have a picture for it I couldn't think it?

Carly, one of our courageous young adults, is taking charge of her responses to the hostilities of a world that typically does not allow for her type of cognitive processing. After years of not being able to speak, or to effectively communicate, she has made the computer a vehicle for sharing what is on her mind. This is allowing her to tell others how she feels and what she needs, thus reducing frustration and anxiety. Carly is very single minded and only responds to things she is interested in. This is in line with her autism and attention directives: A default style associated with the particular way our brains process information and associated cognitive attributes in autism. Carly may not speak but she sure is communicating! ICT could be the vehicle that allows so many individuals to communicate in ways that enable them, rather than disable. Please watch the video about Carly

Here's another reason why our youngsters should get into technology: Autistic kids learn to fly in cyberspace!

Demonstrating that our kids can communicate, even if they don't speak, has to be a good thing. Sometimes we get hung up on speech and forget that language might not be the only tool in the box. Helping our kids learn to share their thoughts, emotions & ideas as well as giving us a means to share ours with them, is every individual's right. Technology is a big part of the answer!

Have a look at this video, made by some young people. Avoiding autistic stereotyping and preventing misconceptions about autism and Asperger's Syndrome is crucial to gaining understanding and enabling us to fulfil our potential. We are all different!

Here are some writings from Joshua, a young lad with classic autism who doesn't use spoken language very much but communicates better through a key board and iPad. I think Josh gives us an insight into the thinking of AS kids who don't often speak and who find the world a very scary place indeed.

Alison wrote: "Hi Wenn... We have a son, Benjamin, who is 6years old & was diagnosed just over a year ago with high functioning autism & every word you spoke this morning gave us hope & clarity for a wonderful future. As a Mum I have to stop everyday & take time to think about how best to support him & myself with each day presenting a new challenge, but each day I say thank you for having him. He brings colour to my world that no other thing ever has. It's a journey together, working it all out, understanding, grieving, laughing, crying& growing together, a world I do not always understand or indeed make any sense of but none the less a journey well worth taking. Thank you for your inspiration & understanding & the world is definitely a better place for people like you in it. Alison"

SOME USEFUL REFERENCES

Al-Mahmood, R., McLean, P., Powell, E & Ryan, J. (1997) 'Towards success in tertiary study: With Asperger's Syndrome'. Commonwealth Department of Education and Employment Training and Youth Affairs. Melbourne, Australia. (to obtain copies of booklet: phone: 03 9344 8030)

Attwood, T. (1998) Asperger's Syndrome: A guide for parents and professionals. London:Jessica Kingsley Publications

Attwood, T. (1992) Professionals section 'Managing the unusual behaviour of children and adults with autism' Communication, Vol 26 (2) UK.

Bitsika, v., Sharpley, C. and Efrimidis, B. (1997) 'The influence of gender, parental health, and perceived expertise of assistance upon the well-being of parents of children with autism' Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 19-28

Bourke, K.M. and Richdale, M. (1994) Pervasive developmental disorder, behavioural problems, family stress and level of support. Unpublished thesis. RMIT, Bundoora.

Frith, U. (1992) Autism and Asperger Syndrome. London: Cambridge University Press.

Harchik, A.E., Harchik, A.J., Luce, S.C. and Jordan, R. (1992) 'The special educational needs of children with Asperger Syndrome'. Educational Research Info Autism Group, University of Hertfordshire. Paper to Wakehurst Study Weekend on Asperger Syndrome. Chester, UK.

Jordon, R.R. and Powell, S.D. (Sept. 1992) 'Remediating the thinking of pupils with autism: principles into practice'. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities, Vol. 22:3, New York: Plenum Publishing Company.

Rimland, B. (1993) 'Developmental Disorders: the autism continuum' Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 4, (23) 71-85.