Autism is a spectrum of disorders. It is usually not diagnosed until a child is around the age of two. If the child is not severely affected, the diagnosis may be made much later. Parents, teachers or child care providers will notice that the child is “different”. Most of these children have communication problems. My autistic son developed minimal language, and then regressed. For a while I thought he was deaf. But his hearing turned out to be fine. He did not start with real speech, however, until he was six. This was a very difficult time.
These children do not tend to fit in with the rest of the class. They do not “play with others”. They will sit next to other children, but play by themselves. They do not make friends well or normally. They cannot imitate others well. Many have defects in either fine or gross motor skills. My son had both. For example, he had trouble with holding a pencil or cutting with scissors (fine motor). He also was delayed with walking and had trouble going up steps (gross motor).
Autistic individuals have many sensory issues. Your child or adult will have their own individual sensitivities. My son has several. He has certain foods that he cannot stand the texture of. When he was small, he would simply toss them on the floor. We learned to put another plate or napkin next to him to catch these foods. He also cannot stand another child crying. When he was little, he would lash out at anyone nearby, or go hit the child who was crying. This caused lots of problems. I have taught him to come to me with his questions and we discuss the person that is crying. We sometimes discuss it for quite some time while I am removing him from the situation, but he doesn’t hit anyone anymore.
Most autistic individuals find that routines in their daily life help them feel safe and secure. The routines help them function more effectively in their environment. They stimulate their connection to the outside world. The predictability relieves anxiety and uncertainty. It gives them some control over their environment. Higher functioning individuals can plan by the day of the week. My son knows which day his brothers go to scouts because we get pizza when they come home. He also treasures our Friday trip to the bulk store where he helps me shop. He is learning to pay at the register and help load the car.
Some people use pictures to show the child what the routine for the day is going to be. It helps them process what is going to happen for that day, and what is going to happen next. You can laminate your own pictures and use Velcro to stick them on a board. Have the child put the pictures up, or put them up yourself.
When the routine is broken, many autistic children have behavioral problems. They may scream, throw tantrums, rock, or injure themselves. You need to look for patterns with your individual. We have learned not to introduce certain routine changes too soon. My guy will then worry about them until they actually happen. For example, my Mother passed away and we went to her funeral. This was somewhat disturbing to him, but he only had a few days notice. She was cremated, and her ashes were not interred for several months. He knew about this for several weeks, and got very worked up about this part. He did not want to go to this ceremony. He was agitated the day before and wouldn’t settle down to sleep the night before. He told me that he would “miss his house” the next day and wanted to stay home. I promised him that we would come back before the day was over. He was upset that he would “miss a day of summer vacation”. That was a little bit harder. I had let him skip the last day of school, so I told him he had taken an extra day of vacation, but that wasn’t working. It wasn’t a great night.
We have lots of difficulty with his behavior as certain holidays and vacation times approach. He gets really excited when the end of school is coming. My favorite is how wound up he gets at Christmas time. This last year, he was 15, but in some ways he was still a little kid. He wanted presents. He’s not really fond of shopping for them. He doesn’t like wrapping them. He loves to open them. It doesn’t matter whether they are his or not. He knows the shape of certain things, like video games or books. So he will open those first. When he is finished with his, he wants to open mine and his Dad’s. That’s OK. The look on his face when he’s doing it is worth it.