This BLOG is the second of a three-part series about some of the efforts and techniques that helped my son, Andy, and me as we lived with his successful struggle with autism. We hope reading about them will encourage others to try them (if they have not already done so). Even more, we hope others will turn to the Suggestions page on this website and share their successes with others.
When Andy and I finished the first complete draft of our book about life with his autism (Andy Speaks; Mother and Son Talk About Life with His Autism), available on amazon.com, I sent a small sample of it to Temple Grandin, the well-known advocate for people with autism. I asked for her comments. She called to tell me about several things that might improve the book. She repeated one suggestion again and again. I must include loud and clear information about “what worked.” Without that, she said, all the rest of the story would be useless. I agreed, and wrote another chapter in which I included specific information about actions and techniques that clearly helped Andy. As I wrote that chapter, I realized the information in it belongs on this website. I divided it into three BLOGs; this is Part 2.
Of course, what I present here cannot be a complete guide to all attitudes, behaviors, and techniques that work for all people with autism. There can be no such guide, because—like all the rest of us—all people with autism are unique individuals. No two are exactly alike, and no two can be treated in exactly the same way in every situation. These are things that worked for Andy and me. As we walked our walk, I saw they often worked for others. I hope many, if not most, work for you.
Many people with autism have IDIOSYNCRASIES that seem totally irrational to the rest of us. One example is a boy I met who carried a length of string (about eighteen or twenty inches long) with him at all times. He kept it in his shirt pocket and, when stressed, he took it out of the pocket, held it in his right hand, and ran it through the fingers of his left hand. (His mother said she’d learned to ensure he always wore a shirt with a pocket.) Other persons must count to ten before they can perform certain activities. Or they have to spin around a certain number of times before they enter a room. Such idiosyncrasies should be tolerated and respected; mayhem can and often does occur if they are not.
Only slightly different from idiosyncrasies are MONOMANIAS—topics of great interest to the person with autism (and, quite possibly, of no interest at all to anyone else). The autistic person generally knows virtually everything known about as many aspects of the topic as interest them (not necessarily everything known). Some are creative about their interest, and express it in reports and other documents, models, and even movies. However, in many situations (especially at “social” events) the person with autism will talk about only the topic of his or her interest; they may openly refuse to talk about or listen to any conversation about anything else.
Some people with autism don’t possess the potential or ability to live an independent life when they reach maturity. A number of these persons live in group homes. Many go to jobs every day in workshops where they manufacture small items for direct sale or for incorporation in larger equipment. Most of these people are happy in their lives.
One GOAL of a significant number of persons with autism is to live a “normal” life, like “everybody else.” Some do become fully independent, with regular jobs, apartments, cars, and financial success. A few go to college and acquire degrees. I’m not aware of the statistics, but I’ve observed most of these people encounter many situations in which they’re told they will never be able to lead a normal life and they will not experience any of those regular benefits of independence and ability. I’m pretty sure a number of them are told they will not go to, let alone graduate from, college. I am equally sure each of them has benefitted from the ENCOURAGEMENT of at least one person, often several people, who believed in them and helped them in many ways as they followed their dream to success.
Whatever their goal, and no matter how improbable it seems, the person with autism deserves encouragement and assistance as much as does any other person. They never should be told, “You’ll never graduate from college,” “You’ll never get a job as an artist.” We say to their “normal” siblings and cousins, “My! That’s going to be a long, hard road; I know you can do it!” or “A job as an artist is hard to find; I wish you luck!” The teen-ager with autism needs the same EMPATHY, ENCOURAGEMENT, and ASSISTANCE. They need it most from those who matter most: their parents, teachers, tutors—those who’ve already helped them so much.
When you work with a person with autism, you can and should MAKE USE of any monomanias and/or goals of theirs. These provide excellent topics upon which you can build as subject matter for many educational activities, both academic and social. If models of cars is a PASSION: How many models of Chevrolets can you name? Fords? Toyotas? Add them all. How many is that? Subtract the models of Fords. How many are left? …. Look at the cars in the parking lot. Name the colors of the cars. …. Write the names of the colors. …. For an older student: Here is a map of our county. Write the names of the cities you might live in when you move away from your parents’ home. …. You get the idea!
I repeat: You are the most important person in your child with autism’s life. Be sensitive, be sensible, be sensational!