Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What Autisim means to us

We have known from Day one that Griffin was "different."  We joked from his first weeks that he was bi-polar.  Happy one minute, screaming his head off the next, not sleeping.  As he got older we started to notice other things.  Had we known what to look for, we probably could have had him diagnosed years ago.  As it is, we're on a waiting list to see a developmental pediatrician, who will give us the diagnosis we've all known to be true for years now.  Luckily, both Griffin's previous school and this school has made services available to G in the schools without an official diagnosis - a testament to how obvious this diagnosis is in our mind!

Autism is different for every single person on the spectrum.  You can't find a specific list of symptoms and check off each one for each person you meet with Autism.  ASD, or Autism Spectrum Disorder covers off a whole range of disorders - including "conventional" Autism, Aspergers Syndrome (also called High Functioning Autism), and PDD-NOS (Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.) The "big" difference between classic Autism and Aspergers is that usually people with Autism suffer from speech delays, or are totally non-verbal.

There is also a long list of other conditions that often travel along with an ASD diagonis - Sensory Processing Disorders, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, OCD, seizures, anxiety, bi-polar...the list goes on.  Sometimes it feels like the deck is stacked against us, but there are lovely blessings included with a diagnosis as well.

There is not one checklist of symptoms/traits of Aspergers, but someone with Aspergers may exhibit some of the following:

-Have trouble understanding peoples feelings or expressing their own feelings
-Avoid making eye contact
-Have a hard time understanding body language
-Want to be alone, or want to interact, but don't know how
-Talk only about themselves, or their special interest
-Speak in unusual ways or have an odd tone of voice
-Have a hard time making friends
-Be very nervous in large groups of people
-Be clumsy or awkward
-Develop odd or repetitive movements (called stimming)
-Have unusual and strong sensory reactions
-Have narrow, sometimes obsessive interests
-Have rituals they refuse to change
-Described as being "in OUR world, but, ON THEIR OWN terms"
-Highly frustrated by their social awkwardness/alienation
-Lack effective interaction skills — not desire
-Unable to appropriately respond to social cues
Described as “odd” or selfish
-Naïve and lack common sense
-Lack understanding of human relations and rules of social convention
-Are inflexible and incapable of coping with change
-Easily stressed and emotionally vulnerable

There are a bunch of things on that list that apply to our sweet G, but there are a few things that stand out strong - easily stressed and emotionally vulnerable, lack effective interaction skills, strong sensory reactions, have trouble expressing feelings - those are the biggies.  Some things we struggle with on a daily basis are clothing choices (Griffin won't wear certain fabrics, all the tags need to be out of his clothing, he won't wear hoodies or anything that is tight around his neck) and food choices (he is very particular about what he eats - texture, taste and smell are heightened) and meltdowns.  Meltdowns are basically a temper tantrum gone to the extreme - the tiniest thing can set off a meltdown.  

The other big struggle for Griffin is socially.  He desperately wants to have friends, but lacks many social skills that children of his age have - he often acts inappropriately in groups of people, saying or doing inappropriate things, partially because he gets easily overwhelmed by so many people, and so much noise.

Its not all bad though.  As a result of their strong senses, attention to detail, and their amazing memory, many people on the spectrum are considered "gifted" in certain areas.  Coupled with their extreme honesty, gentleness, perfectionism, these people, including our sweet G, end up being wonderful, unique personalities with a whole lot to offer the world!  Most people on the spectrum end up discovering a "special interest" of sorts, often something math or science related, which they then proceed to learn everything under the sun about, almost to an obsessive point - but this time it can be a good thing!  Astronomy, meterology, weather, music, machinery, dinosaurs, geography, maps, space travel are just a few of the more common interests that ASD people develop.  Griffin has yet to find his "thing" but I look forward to the day that he does, and he can find that one thing that he shines at!

So that's what life looks like around here.  My hope this month is to provide some education and awareness to folks who aren't sure about what Autism and Aspergers means, and maybe some personal insight for folks that actually know us and our sweet son.  Tomorrow I'm going to talk about all the things that we do "different" around here, to make G's and our lives a little easier - most of them are little things, but things that make a BIG difference to someone on the spectrum.

Happy Monday!

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