Not just because my little brother is autistic, and not just because I used to teach autistic children back in a previous career.
Autism has been part of my life because the lessons I learned in that world matter.
Here are 5 lessons that particularly resonated:
1. “Please” and “thank you” imply that a request is optional.
One of the most difficult things for me to learn when I was going through my training was to leave what I considered good manners at the door. The autistic brain is a very concrete one which often makes manners and pronouns difficult to grasp.
This lesson has carried into my own parenting. I rarely tell my Little Bean “no” when she’s heading toward disaster — I tell her to “Stop.” It’s concrete and immediate, and so far, it works.
2. Grandmas are damn smart.
One of the first things you learn when you work with autistic individuals is the Premack Principle, or “Grandma’s Rule”. Premacking a child’s schedule means to start with an activity they are ambivalent about, followed by a disliked activity, followed by a like and so on. Premacking their child’s schedule is how the wise parent gets their kid through the day. We need to do “X” before we can go out and play. (See? Grandma.)
If you set up a storyboard about the things that will happen in an autistic person’s day with pictures, so much the better. Remember, you’re dealing with a precise individual.
3. Few autistic kids understand the concept of time.
Oh, they learn about time if you tie it to a reward – most of these kids are brilliant after all. But that intrinsic knowing that this is ten minutes and it takes that long to brush my teeth, wash my face and put on my clothes for school is almost always missing from an autistic kid.
Imagine how you’d feel if you had no idea how long you had to sit in a car or do something you hated – you get through activities you hate only because you know when they end.
4. Autism is like having all your senses hopped up on crystal meth.
Imagine the world if you sat in a restaurant with your over-sensitive senses sparking at warp speed. You’d smell the five different shampoos used by your surrounding diners, hear the clink of silverware, the air rushing through the vents, the hum of traffic outside. And have no ability whatsoever to tune all that sensory input out.
5. Positive reinforcement fixes everything.
In #4 above, I mentioned all the sensory input bombarding an autistic person in a restaurant. This can be overcome, it just takes some work. Whatever it is that’s important to you, break it down into small reinforceable steps and prepare to do each step many, many times.
Today is the 7th annual World Autism Awareness Day.
Every year, autism organizations around the world celebrate this day with unique fundraising and awareness-raising events. How will you celebrate?
- To tweet: Use #AKA (Autism Kindness Acts), #LIUB (Light it up Blue) or #autism
- To share your events and photos, today and through the month of April, go to http://liub.autismspeaks.org/welcome.
- If you see something lit up blue this month, share a smile and warm moment for the person who’s bringing awareness about autism to their corner of the world.
Has autism touched your life in some way? If so, did it teach you any lessons that really resonated with you? Share them down in the comments! Enquiring minds love to know these things here at More Cowbell!