Autism Awareness Day #2
Have you ever heard the saying – “If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met ONE person with Autism”? No two individuals with autism are alike. We are all born with our own personalities, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. People with Autism are no different. No two people with Autism are the same. They may have similar traits that are specific to Autism like flapping or obsessive interests, but each individual, just like neurotypical people, is unique!
From the moment James (now 8) drew breath he was offended by the world – the noises, the touch, feeding, the overloading input of the world! He was a fussy, unsettled, unhappy baby. He was impossible to soothe; he only ever wanted me; he disliked being on the floor; he was a breath holder from 8 weeks of age; he had terrible reflux and he was extremely sensitive to everything so nappy changes, temperature changes, even just waking up would upset him and send him into hysterical crying fits that would last sometimes for hours.
Thomas (now 6) was the most mellow, happy, contented little baby. He slept quite well as a baby; he fed well; he was happy to be passed around to others and he was happy enough babbling away to himself in his cot for short periods of time.
So for the first six months of their respective lives these little babies were so very different. Ultimately, James has a more severe diagnosis than Thomas, but right from the beginning their differences were evident. Both boys are on the Autistic Spectrum but both boys are so different.
James is the happy, flappy, let it all hang out kind of boy. Once he warms up, he’s quite socially outgoing and he likes people, in particular his peers. He loves a good laugh. He is extremely technologically savvy and at the present time loves “Clash of the Clans”, “Minecraft” and “Wizard 101”. He is amazingly visual which means Chris and I need to constantly be on guard – he will remember any password he has seen just once! Anxiety rules his life more than he would like. It’s not that he’s a “worrier” as such, he can just become so stuck on things that he can’t move forwards. He has ADHD which is certainly a part of his ASD “fruit salad” but not nearly so significant for him as the anxiety. He still suffers separation anxiety from me which makes pick up and drop off at school quite traumatic on a regular basis. James has recently discovered tennis which he is surprisingly good at. It’s surprising because he didn’t wave until he was about 3 and it took him months to perfect nodding when he was about 4 years old. He is rather uncoordinated (to say the least) and his motor planning is poor. For example, last night he wanted to proudly show me that he had learnt how to wink. It was akin to the Magnum PI wink in slow motion!!! Priceless! Although James didn’t really spontaneously hug or show affection until he was about 3-4 years old, he is now quite an affectionate little boy which I just love. He reminds me of an overly enthusiastic puppy at times! He is very endearing, loves to turn on the charm and is great to have around.
Thomas has extremes. On one end of the scale, he can be as ‘high as a kite’ and will act the clown. He will enjoy playing with his peers and has a real love of the outdoors. He has ADHD and it is a large part of his ASD “fruit salad”. But at the other end of things he can be rather withdrawn at times, preferring his own company. Tom loves the iPad and PC video games too but not to the same degree James does. Tom’s love is mini-figures!! He loves Lego mini-figures and has a plethora of other mini-figures from Star Wars characters to superheroes like Batman and Spiderman. When he needs his alone time he will just disappear into his room and set his mini-figures up in an organised fashion and he will create these involved and often extremely dramatic role plays for his characters. Tom is anxious too but he is contained about it. He holds everything in and tends to withdraw. I find this much harder than James’ “let it all hang out approach”. Tom has strong OCD tendencies – echolalia (which often manifests like a whole word stuttering), lip chewing, tics and other perseverant behaviours. Tom is not particularly affectionate so my heart just sings on the rare occasions he may take my hand or come and sit in my lap. He is really great company – very funny, very interested in things and intense.
So from birth my two ASD boys are so different – in behaviours, in interests, in strengths, in how their autism impacts on their functionality. When we have children, whether they are neurotypical or not, we note the similarities and differences between our children. We marvel that these siblings can be so very different even though they come from the same parents and have been raised in the same home environment. Siblings with Autism are no different. Often people make the mistake of making generalisations about individuals with ASD which can be quite offensive to parents or individuals with Autism. For example, I have often been asked – ‘Oh he’s Autistic? … Like Rain Man? … What is his special savant talent?” Certainly there are Autistic savants but it is a rarity not the ‘norm’.
Autism manifests itself in such a variety of ways in different individuals. At the end of the day, whether you have Autism or not you are born with your own personal characteristics that make you uniquely you. Autism is no different. “If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met ONE person with Autism”.