Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Sensory Spectrum

This is a little outside my comfort zone, but here goes. This is Autism Awareness Month...and I have spent a lot of time thinking this one over. How much do I share? I guess I've decided, a little bit of everything.

Autism is a big and scary word for many people. Whether you've thought about it or not, I am betting that you have an immediate picture that comes to your mind when you hear the word Autism; maybe "Rain Man", maybe someone in your past, a friend's child, but highly likely a worst possible scenario from the dictionary definition. What with all the stories about vaccinations causing it, if you are a parent, it has AT LEAST crossed your mind. (I'll save those arguments for another day...)

The spectrum of autistic tendencies is pretty broad, and the family of tendencies or issues can come in any combination. What characteristics make one child's diagnosis of "Autistic", may not be the same combination that results in another child's a matter of fact, because of the almost limitless combinations it's highly unlikely that it will present the same among multiple diagnoses. The number one tendency that is almost unavoidable, is a struggle with social interactions. It also often partners with sensory issues.

This particular diagnosis was higher on my list of "things I was afraid of" than, say, Downs. Seriously. For years, I figured I was pretty much on the cusp. Just shy of an Autistic diagnosis myself. Then my lovely mother went back to school for a School Diagnositian degree. At which point, I decided she was seeing monsters in every closet as it were, because she came home and informed me that she thought I was a poster child for Aspergers. I blew her off. Then I started looking at the definition and researching it, and I believe she is pretty much right. EVERY SINGLE screening test that I have ever taken (including Facebook's), puts me in arm-chair diagnosis of it. My obsession with reading and my uber social family have acted like my own personal therapy. In retro-spect, it explains a few things. If you knew me in elementary, middle school, or even high school; I can see you sitting there going, "huh"...

So, needless to say, I watched my kids for the same tendencies. Thankfully, Gabriel has always been freaky social like his daddy. Elise has A LOT of sensory issues. Did I say A LOT?? However, a secondary diagnosis of Autism for Down Syndrome is often tricky to get, because the red flags can be clouded by the developmental delays that go hand-in-hand with is a fairly common secondary, though. Amelia also craves social input, and talking...well, we're good...and I am still watching Charlotte... BUT, this is one disability that I am pretty familiar with.

Elise's first crush had Autism. Which was funny/tragic to watch, because she HAD to hug and kiss him all the time...and, yeah, he wasn't all that okay with that! This year she has another friend in her classroom with it. She loves him too, but not with as much adoration involved. (Jameson's mama is actually my guest blogger today. So, stay tuned!)

My heart goes out to the parents who fight this boogey monster every day. It's a tough one. Many things that you count on as a parent to offset the struggles of being a parent: the sweet exclamations of affection and the adoring snuggles...that is often missing due to this diagnosis. The sensory meltdowns that occur in public, the lack of a visible cue of the disability, makes the general public less understanding and less supportive than even Downs or other, more obvious, disabilities. Often, just the day-to-day communication, that we depend on to grow our relationships, is lacking or flawed.

To celebrate Autism Awareness Month, please take the time to educate yourself about it. Please learn enough to love the kids and adults with it. Please learn enough about it to support their parents and loved ones that live with it every day.

Some places that are a good start?

Autism Speaks

Dancing with Max

Hartley's Life with 3 Boys

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