Saturday, May 30, 2009

Autism and Addiction

The truth is that anyone can wind up with an addiction. There are plenty of substances, activities, or behaviors that can become addictions. An addiction is a false need for something that consumes your time, money or both. It's something that isn't been controlled enough and is consumed or used inappropriately and too much. There are a multitude of studies out there for what kind of people are most at risk for addictions to drugs or alcohol, but what about addiction in general?

High functioning autistics are highly at risk for addiction. I'm addicted to soda. If I have a pack of coke or mountain dew in my fridge, I will fight a serious temptation to drink it all in one sitting. Can after can or bottle after bottle. I can't take the risk of drinking those anymore. I found the taste of a cold coke to be very satisfying and I loved how the carbonation felt going down my throat. For that alone, I would drink and drink and drink. If I ran out, I felt anxious to get more. That's an addiction.

So how do you separate an autistic interest or tendency from an addiction? It entirely depends on the subject matter at hand. It's still a fine line. Autistics have a tendency to have one or two interests and find it difficult to talk about anything else. If one likes cars, and it's their special subject, they will likely be able to tell you anything you do or don't want to know about cars. That, by itself, is not an addiction. Should they start buying toy cars to the point of forsaking all else, that may be an addiction. One of my tendencies is in personal and home security, but I'm not addicted to setting up my home with bars, cameras and laser eyes. It would be easy for an autistic like me to take so much interest in home security that I turn my apartment into Fort Knox.

Not only is it important to teach our children with autism to have multiple interests, but to watch what they get into so that they can maybe avoid overdoing it to that point. Trying new things is great, but we can create a monster if we don't teach moderation right along with that new experience.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Raising Denver Part 7: The Present

It's taken trial and error and lot's of work, but now we have a routine. Denver is on medications to help him slow down and concentrate easier. They work for him. When making choices about meds, check out my blog on to med or not to med. We keep his routine as predictable as possible and even then he can get picky about some of the strangest things.

He used to be very picky about who read him a bedtime story or helped him get his toothbrush ready. He's a bit more accepting now. He can still be very touchy about some things, often at random. He can have a meltdown once in a while and that requires letting him hide in his blankets until it passes. Most of his fits can be stopped now with some basic behavior techniques. Before his meds, that didn't happen and we arrived late to school because of it.

As with the beginning, Denver takes his challenges head on. Currently that is the challenge of living through the divorce of his parents. He doens't fully understand why Mom doesn't live with us anymore, but he's taking it in stride. He's doing great things with his school work and I believe we have him on the path to some success.

Being an autistic Dad has given me some insight to him as well. I can relate to much of what he goes through and why. I know why he behaves in certain ways when the behaviors happen. I also know he responds best to a calm response, even if it seems he doesn't want to listen.

There's no such thing as a perfect parent and I make my share of mistakes. I correct what I can and keep going forward. Denver can trigger my autism by flashing things close up to my face so I have to turn my head away. Or he'll make one of his blaring or high pitched sounds that make me cringe. I do my best to explain what he's causing and he now knows that high pitched squeaking hurts my ears. So he comes up to me from time to time and says "squeak squeak". That earns him an explaination in how it isn't funny to do things that hurt others, even as a joke. Poking at others for their reactions is a noted Asperger's trait. Maybe because we are trying to experience the things we don't always feel.

I'm sure I trigger him as well, that's just something we have to learn about and get around. For example, if I sing a silly song at him it angers him very much. I'm not sure why really. But he hates it. Maybe I'm a really bad singer? I will say that observers have told me that we operate together really smoothly. I do try my best and I appreciate hearing that. It's quite uplifting, even if it doesn't show on my face.

Recently I was thinking of an old comic strip storyline called Lone Wolf and Cub, set in Feudal Japan. The story of a wandering samurai who's wife died and left him a child. He keeps the child with him on adventures and goes about cutting down obstacles in the form of blade wielding enemies. Through it all, he protects and raises the child. I'm no sword toting warrior, but in our world these days there's a lot to protect yourself from. When you're a single parent, you have to watch out for your child while balancing life itself. It's a challenge, especially when you're both autistic. So there is room for comparison to that old comic strip and we'll face each day, together, like Lone Wolf and Cub.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Raising Denver Part 6: Self Discovery

In this series, I mentioned that my diagnosis directly resulted from my son's diagnosis. This news set a series of resolved issues that changed my life.

As a child, I hated myself. I blamed myself for the abuse I received and the failings I endured in social circles from so very young. As I grew up I thought I must be some kind of chronic bad luck in human form. Nothing worked right for me, ever. When I started working jobs, I lost them or found I just couldn't handle them. I tried to go to colleges, but didn't understand what I was looking for or getting into. I was walked on, duped and scammed. I lost hope on daily basis.

In relationships I did no better. In my first marriage I had anger problems. I never hit anyone (except myself since I was still having the tourette-like self damaging seizures) but I would yell and scream in arguments when really not necessary. Everything frustrated me and I could connect through very little.

All my life, I've asked myself, "why?". Then, through a little one who had no idea he was a hero, the answer came. As I studied the effects of Asperger's syndrome on my life, with guidance and doctors assistance, I learned all the answers I could ever hope for. I can look back now and tell you exactly what made me lose jobs, become a bully and con magnet, and even lose relationships. I can do this, because now I know myself. I can now tell you just how lost a person can really be when they don't know themselves or what affects them.

For all I went through, I am still one of the lucky ones. I could have been any kind of criminal you can imagine by simply taking random paths in life as many of us do. That's how my life happened, it happened at random and with little control. Sure, I had ideas of what I wanted to be, but I had no clue how to get there. Because of that, I wound up in relationships that didn't match me. I built up colleged debts on things I would never use. Even when I joined the Army, it was on a whim. I was out of control because I had no support to teach me about my conditions and what they could to to me.

Could my life have been different? Certainly it could. I think the abuse would still have happened, but my thought processes would be with a different understanding of how I felt and saw the world around me. Now I see this as possible for all our our children who have autism, bipolar, ADD, ODD, and any of the other combinations of disorders that afflict our society in growing numbers year by year. We must teach them about themselves.

Take a child with peanut allergies. What do you think his chances in life are if he manages to somenow never learn that he has that allergy? Consider that the parents never ever eat anything that has anything to do with peanuts. Once he's on his own (I know it's virtually impossible to go through life with such an allergy and not discover it before you're five), how long will he make it in an now unprotected fashion? He can't. The same is very true for our children who grow up never understanding what is happening in their bodies from these disorders. Their lives become random and often chaotic.

So look to your children, teach them about themselves and how to control their conditions. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Raising Denver Part 5: Messes

Potty training. My three daughters had small challenges when it came to this, but Denver topped them all. You wouldn't think in a million years, looking at him now, that he used to smear. Feces play is it's own phenomenon, and is very common in spectrum kids. It's a matter of texture more than anything and it's mind numbing.

We tried to keep him from doing it with different kinds of pajamas or plastic pants. All failed. The messes were never small and once or twice required hours of work to remove. We found one-piece jammies that stopped him until he learned zippers. That's when we started using safety pins through the loop of the zipper to keep that from happening. How could such a sweet child do some thing so grotesque?

Texture, like I said before, its all about how the texture is in the fingers. Children of this bizarre habit don't find discomfort in a messy diaper. Rather, they find fascination. The strange texture and the fact it leaves a mark enthralls and almost entertains. To truly understand, you have to stop thinking of the material as what you know it is. Your child has no clue or not enough understanding of what a toxic substance is. Autism causes the nerves for sensory relation to be hyperactive. Add all of that together and you can see how a toddler can be so amazed.

Getting Denver to stop simply took time and him finally potty training. Unfortunately potty training was not on his list of things to do. We could get him to sit on his potty chair for a short time, but sitting still for very long or at all just didn't work. We discovered that the flushing of the toilet scared him as well. There's a cool hollow feeling to a commode that I've discovered some autistic children don't enjoy. I wondered if that could have been another reason for difficulty. There was also a negative experience with an automatic toilet in a store that set him back months.

So what finally got my son to use the potty? Other kids. Denver fully potty trained by seeing other kids do it. This won't work for every autistic kid out there and there are those who haven't potty trained until past 10 years old. It can be done however and that's subject for another blog.

Denver had another habit that put us in a difficult spot. He loved to dig holes. You might think that's no big deal except that he would dig those holes in the walls, mattresses, toys, clothes, and anything else. If something had a hole in it, he would make it a super hole. Nick in the wall? Now you can put your head through it. I tried to find better places for him to dig holes, namely outside. Dirt or sand kept him busy for hours. Sometimes he couldn't stop himself, nearly falling asleep on the spot because he didn't want to quit.

Finally, he gave us one more set of scares by jumping off furniture and objects. By the time he did this, however, he was starting to recognize pain. I'm glad for that, because we might not have caught this injury if he hadn't. I don't remember what his mother and I were doing in our separate sections of our home. I only remember the scream. I had never heard such a noise from him before. We ran to his room where we found him sitting on the floor. At first we couldn't see what happened, but then he showed us the bottom of his foot. He jumped off his bed and landed barefoot on a die-cast metal airplane. It put a hole in the bottom of his little foot about a fourth of an inch long. We scooped him up and took him to the emergency room. They cleaned him up, trimmed a little bit of fatty substance dangling from the wound, and put superglue on it.

We had to keep him from picking at that and he hated shoes, can you imagine? Well, I promise part six won't be anything so gross, but it's true that this is something families on the spectrum have to deal with. I hope it brings new light to the life of our spectrum families.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Raising Denver Part 4: Diagnosis

A trip to a child therapist gave us our guiding arrow towards diagnosis for Denver and myself. She noted key points in his behavior; eye contact, lack of responsiveness to questions, strange organization rituals, and lack of understanding for social boundaries. Yes, I know small children aren't renound for their social understanding, however, they still have an age appropriate level of behavior. She suggested the name of a specialist, the only one in the area we lived in.

Testing for autism is not a quick process. It's a series of tests and questionaires. The questions are many and are about things that we notice in his behavior and reactions to the world around him. Asperger's Syndrome, what was this condition? I had never heard of it before and I started investigating it myself. I can already tell you that I saw myself in my son in many ways and I started to wonder if this condition could be hereditary?

I asked the doctor we were seeing and she said Asperger's can be very hereditary. I asked if I could be tested and we began my learning journey that would redefine everything I ever thought I knew about myself. Two months after my diagnosis, my mother contacted me to tell me that she had been diagnosed with the condition herself. She didn't know I was even being tested on the matter. So far, all of my nephews show strong traits towards this condition.

At home, Denver continued to surprise us and we feared for his safety overnight. We were met with a serious dilemna. We tried baby gates. With just one, he climbed over it. With two, we had the same result. Three worked to keep him in until he learned how to dismantle the baby gates. I already mentioned in the last part that child proof doorknobs were useless too. Authorities said that locking a child in a room is a fire hazard and considered child abuse.

So, what do you do when your toddler is so smart it's a hazard to his health? What ever you have to and you just don't tell anyone else. Yes, that means I put a latch on his door and once he was asleep, he would be shut in until morning. The fact of the matter is that, if there were a fire, an autistic child wouldn't be capable of escaping on his own anyway. If you take sensory overload into consideration, they would retreat or shut down. Denver would have hidden in his blankets if we couldn't get to him. Do you think he would be easily found? There are a lot of reports out there that say otherwise.

In case of a fire, our mission was to get Denver and get out either via the window or a front or back door. Then we would head for the street. So we had a plan and the door was only latched over night. Thankfully, Denver grew out of his extra adventures and we could stop latching the door. Sadly, many a family struggling with just this have been charged with child abuse or neglect when they are only trying to protect their child from him or herself. Had they allowed the child to roam free overnight and it caused injury or death, well, lets just say the charges were the same where we lived. So, since do and don't have the same outcome, you may as well "do" and protect your child. At least then they aren't getting into the knife drawer.

Denver's room had lots of blankets and large soft plush toys. Everything was soft and safe, so in the night, he had little to hurt himself with if anything. If you think that was the biggest challenge or that Denver was done throwing us curveballs, you'll have to see part five, because you've got another thing coming.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Raising Denver Part 3: Disturbances

Somewhere close to three years of age, Denver started having terrible fits. In these fits he would savagely slam his head against the floor or wall until physically weakened. Then he would pause, whimper and do it one more time if we didn't get to him fast enough. The fits were inconsolable and we got scratched and bit for trying to calm him. Nothing that we could see seemed to cause these fits either. They appeared truly random. His vocabulary grew by leaps and bounds and while this was wonderful, he some heartbreaking things to say. On one occassion that I grabbed him up from a fit, he asked me; "Daddy, why can't I stop?" That cut deeply and told me something really was wrong, and even he knew it. We didn't know yet he had Asperger's Syndrome.

We took him to an appointment with our doctor and he even had one of his fits right in front of him. The fact that nothing could comfort him struck a chord with the doctor and he prescribed a foam helmet. That required a new appointment elsewhere for a fitting. In two weeks he had his red helmet. He chose the color himself. We also discovered one thing that could console him in these fits. We covered him with a blanket. It wouldn't be long before that would make perfect sense.

On another facet he showed an interesting skill. We all know that kids get curious as they grow and start wanting to open cabinets and drawers to get to the treasures inside. Naturally we attempted to protect him from some of those treasures with child proof locks. They may have been child proof, but they weren't Denver proof. He took them apart with the nimble dexterity of a cat burglar. We had to change the style a couple of times and eventually got one that was just too hard on our own fingers for him. Still he would watch us intently any time we were near them.

He also showed a keen interest in the refrigerator in the middle of the night. We woke up several mornings to a keen mixture of foodstuffs on the kitchen floor. So we looked into making his bedroom more secure. Latching or locking his door was considered illegal in case of fire. It occurred to us that he would panic in a fire and we would have to get to him in any case. So we tried being crafty with child proof doorknobs. There's those laughable words again, 'child proof'. Yep, he took them apart with nimble ease. On one such morning, I staggered out of bed and to the kitchen.
"Daddy!" came a gleeful voice from above my head. I slowly looked up to where he sat atop the refridgerator. He held out a box of cereal with a beaming triumphant grin.

In part four I will tell you how we finally made it to his diagnosis and mine along with security measure that had to be adapted for Denver.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Raising Denver Part 2: Hurdles

Being 3 months early didn't slow Denver down one iota in weight gain to leave the hospital. The nursing staff remained pretty impressed with him through out. That's a comforting thought when you have a baby that can't leave the hospital until he weighs five pounds.

They only put him on oxygen once and that only lasted a few hours. I took a lot of time off work for my little man and my wife since she recovered from a c-section. By the time he finally came home they were having patience issues. Oh well.

We celebrated his home coming and spent lots of time getting used to a new schedule around the house. The first thing everyone noticed about Denver was his crying. He didn't. At least not as often as you would expect an infant to. This worried us but we forged forward and considered ourselves lucky to have such a happy baby. We checked on him more often but he sure made it worth it. He had to be about the most smiley baby I ever saw.

His little eyes would just light up whenever someone came to him. I'm still trying to find the photos so I can post them and show them to you. Even though he had reflux like my daughters did, and like I did, he didn't cry about that either.

As he grew he started into development toward crawling. Most babies roll first, not Denver. He started holding his head up and went to scooting, skipped most of crawling and started pulling himself up on things by 6 months. During this time, I did something really stupid.

Oh no! What could I have done? Well, we all teach our kids bad habits at some point in time. As it turns out, Denver and I liked to put our foreheads to each other (which made him giggle endlessly) and I would say "bonk bonk" (no I wouldn't actually bonk him, geez!) but he sure took it as a way to play. He became the head butting baby. His first word may have been Dad, but his favorite word was BONK. Out of the blue, if you held him too close, he would smile and slam his forehead right into your face. Yep, dumb Dad taught him that one and got to hear about it for months.

It was never enough to hurt him and that, at least, was a plus. As he started to walk, we noted that he always stayed up on tip toes. We didn't know at the time that this was a sign of things to come. He also developed hydrocephalis (water on the brain- and NO, not from headbutting people) but he developed past and overcame it. We had him in a little bit of therapy for the tip toe-ing but he soon moved past that too. He wasted little time on walking once he learned and jumped right to running.

Now a new problem presented itself. Denver wasn't responding to pain stimulus. He would fall, hit his head on a coffee table edge or a door and bounce right up and be off again. Not a single tear ever fell for the longest time. He was ticklish as anything, but if he ever hit anything very hard, until he was almost 3, nothing. It's scary when your child doesn't know if he hurts himself. You find yourself getting paranoid about everything he does.

Fortunately, today, that's not the case. He's seven now and knows pretty well, but in part 3 I'll show you just how scary it really got.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Raising Denver Part 1: In a Name

My son's name has a history. His full name is Denver Justice Wilde and he likes to make sure you know his whole name whenever anyone asks. He knows a little bit about the history of his name too and if you ask him, he might tell you. He is named after a dear departed friend I considered to be a brother. He considered the same of me.

In Denver Jr.'s family, the first son of a first son's name had to be Denver. It was the family tradition and reached clear back into the family's roots in old France. So, it's safe to say that the city has nothing to do with it. For that matter, when this tradition started, the United States hadn't been born yet.

Denver Jr. looked so very forward to passing his name on to another generation one day. That was not to be. We lived in Henderson, Nevada when it happened. He worked and extra shift in a video store for a sick co-worker. I found out about it when I went to pick him up at 11pm.

"Sorry, I'm doing an extra shift. It's good money and the other guy is sick."

Fine by me, we could use the money since we were about to get a new apartment to officially start of our Las Vegas living and adventures. We called ourselves the DnD Brothers and we had big plans. I bought him three Mountain Dews and got him some change for the night shift and went back to his grandmother's house where we were staying.

That morning, his father woke me up and asked if I was supposed to be picking Denver up. I had expected a phone call to wake me at seven am sharp but that didn't happen. The only thing I remember was waking up at five a.m. with a strange feeling that I should get in the car. I dismissed it and went back to sleep.

Denver Sr. and I drove my car out to the video store. We could see the yellow tape cordoning off the parking lot and building from blocks away. Denver Sr. caught on right away, but I didn't. Denial? Hope springs eternal? I don't know. Maybe the thought was just too much to consider. It took me innocently asking an officer how long they would be questioning my brother before I was given the messsage.

"I'm sorry, sir, but you won't be taking him with you anywhere. He's gone."

Gone? I fell back against my car and felt reality pulling away from me. I couldn't believe it was even possible. I had just seen him before midnight.

Two thieves, high on drugs, robbed the store in the early morning hours. A man and a woman. I still know their names, but I won't waste space with them right now. Since I was one of the last people who saw him alive who knew him, I faced his killers in court for two years. I identified my brothers body for the State of Nevada. They rot in prison to this day.

Needless to say, the tradition broke, but I decided not to let it stay that way. I told Denver Sr. that I planned to start the tradition anew. True, it would not be of the same family "blood", but family none-the-less.

I had three daughters and earned a stepson before he came and my wife agreed that his name would be Denver Justice.

He made quite an entrance into our world, three months early, two pounds, lobster red and screaming with quite a set of lungs for his little size. I've seen all my children come into this world and each one had their own way of making their presence known. Denver's was the loudest.

That was just the hairline beginning of my adventures with this little man. Oh how I had no idea what I was in for.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Autism and Trauma Part 5: Sensory Issues

In these blogs on autism sensory issues get talked to death. If you've been following my work you've got a pretty good grip on how sensory issue can be with autism. For that matter, it's likely our most driven issue.

Now that we are talking about issues of trauma, can sensory overloads or issues be trauma inducing and, thus damaging. The answer is absolutely yes. Sensory overload as trauma is a no brainer to me (ugh to the pun). I find overloads to be highly traumatizing and seek to avoid one at any cost. There are sounds and events that can put us on the edge of our seats and drive our behavior over the edge.

For me, one in particular is the squeaking balloon. It can bring me to my knees with actual pain in my eardrums. One that's even worse happened in my van. One of my windshield wipers came loose and cause metal to scrape across the windshield. The ear piercing shriek it made caused me to shriek right along with it. I couldn't drive. I just sat there and shivered as the pain slowly faded. I never heard anything like that before. Now I constantly have to check my windshield wipers, like I'm hypnotically compelled. I never want to hear that sound again.

As if senses that have intense occurrences aren't enough, we have that pesky high startle reflex. If something happens intensely and suddenly enough, it will mark itself in our minds forever. My son can't stand loud sounds. They scare him even if he knows they're coming. When I get startled, it leaves me shaking and gasping for breath. That might seem funny to some prankster but it's painful and no where near as fun for me. For that matter, it's dangerous with some of us. I went through a period in my life where someone jumping out at you meant they wanted to hurt you. I'll just let you think about that for a second. I have fairly good impulse control, but I have pulled a judo throw or two on the unsuspecting joker who thought suddenly grabbing me would be fun.

Bottom line, if you know someone is autistic at all, don't scare them.

My son hates being startled too. Yes, I once forgot my own rule and snuck up on my son to tickle him. He was very angry with me. So I don't do that anymore. My bad on that one.

Some other sensory issue that can cause trauma would be; bright blinding lights, fireworks, gun shots, engine backfires, strong flavors or aromas, and some times even the sight of things related to them.

So, how do I deal with sensory issues that bother me that much and still get through general life? I learned meditation techniques. I strongly advise them for any high functioning autistic or any who could possibly learn them. This helps me to rearrange my focus so I can get past some strong odor or sight of something that upsets me. I learned them to deal with flashbacks from PTSD and they help me a lot with sensory troubles. I also learned several martial arts techniques that use similar methods.

On those, there are lots and lots of books and internet information. I strongly suggest them all. It is possible for us to work through sensory trauma with time and positive reinforcement or practice. You have to take some of these things in small parts and work with gradual increase. Sometimes, therapists may be needed to assist with stronger traumas that interrupt general living.

Environment is also a crucial factor. If you can't handle loud sounds, you probably shouldn't live near loud places like airports or railroad yards.

This concludes my series on how trauma affects the autistic. Though traumatic events are hard on everyone, it takes a little extra understanding for how such smaller things can affect us on those large levels. My next series will involve the adventures of Denver. I plan to include how I, as an autistic parent, have viewed parenting with my little hero. I hope to see you there.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Autism and Trauma Part 4: Crime and Loss

I wrote some time ago about my son's missing toy dog, named Nunya. It was his very favorite and once in a while he brings it up and can't let it go. It brings him to tears that we can't find it. I can only reassure him that perhaps it's in a better place or some spot we just haven't been able to reach. I don't know how his little stuffed dog vanished, but it's gone. I've taught him that sometimes we lose things and there's really nothing we can do about it. It is a lesson I will have to reteach him and reinforce for years to come. It will nearly always be over the same lost toy. That's how hard it is for an autistic child to let go of a lost object. It's traumatizing and requires additional support and teaching.

That's not to say that loss isn't difficult for the typical child or person, it's just harder at much simpler levels than it takes for a typical child. Traumatic loss can break an autistic's world and cause regression and depression. Not good things for our kids to have on any level.

The response for this is redirection, reassurance of positive things and possibly even therapy. It's important to be quick to teach and react so that you can start working on corrective support right away.

Even worse is the nightmarish idea that any of our children could be the victim of a crime. I know of one case where I cannot give names. The autistic child was molested by a teacher. What made this case particularly difficult was the fact that the child was already fairly non-verbal. Victimizing a child is a heinous act, moreso to me, when it involves a child with disabilities. The truth could still be found however in therapy, doctors assistance, and parents who know their children. His behavior changed enough that they knew something was wrong. What about those who are even less functioning? How much function do you think they will gain?

If you said they will lose function and may regress into themselves, you got the bull's eye! Children with most forms of autism, even if high functioning are considered gullible and may not realize they are in danger. They are twice as likely to believe a stranger's lies even if told not to. That's why you have to reinforce all teachings here more than with any typical child.

Everywhere I go, I reinforce with my son that he must stay right beside me and I often have a hand on his shoulder or I hold onto a portion of his shirt in my fingers. I don't do this harshly, rather lightly. If I feel his clothing slip from my fingers, I know I need to see what he is doing. My own high sensitivities help me to keep an eye on him and register even the slightest movement he makes. I never allow him to leave my sight alone with anyone I don't know. Even in my local Doctor's office, that is small and highly trustworthy, I'm nervous if he's out of sight. Overprotective? You bet I am.

Even so, there is always the chance of something happening to our children that is out of our control. We have to make sure that we are there for our children no matter what. Take reports seriously and investigate them. Get them proper treatment and support with fire alarm haste. Early intervention and support are key in treating trauma for crime victimization.

While this isn't as common as bullying, it's damage capability cannot be ignored.

Part five is the last part of my blog series on the effects of trauma on autism. I hope that you can see the differences in the types of trauma and how they can affect the autistic so much faster and harder than with a typical person. In the same manner it is also more difficult to treat because of the social disabilities that they have. It's hard enough to understand the social world around us, but hurt us with it and it's just that much worse.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Autism and Trauma Part 3: Abuse

When I put my son in time out from some discretion or choice he makes, he takes it straight to the heart. I have to constantly work at teaching him that time out is not a personal attack and is not meant to personally hurt him, rather teach him that actions have consequences. I use myself as an example when explanation time comes.

"Denver, you know that hands are not for hitting. If Daddy hit someone, what do you think would happen?"

"You would go to jail."

"That's right."

"Am I going to jail?"

"No, little boys and girls get time out for hitting. So hands are not for...?"

"Hands are not for hitting."

"Very good, thank you." I have him apologize as well, give love and let him go play.

Hands are indeed not for hitting. Sadly that is a message some parents miss. Why do they abuse their children? Anger problems, drug or alcohol use, or even past abuse of their own, all have parts to play. If I didn't work so much at teaching Denver the reasons for consequences, his autistic mind would have him believing that he is being punished because he personally is some sort of failure. It's very black and white thinking and highly common for Asperger's children and many others on the spectrum. He would think he was being abused if allowed to think that way long enough. Imagine (I hate to) what actually hitting one of these children can do.

Child abuse destroys the one place that all children should feel safe and loved, home. It removes any safe haven and turns sanctuary into prison.

My stepmother's glare could burn through solid steel. She often ambushed me to scream at me for something I did, scaring me to death. She put her hands on me too. She shook me, dragged me down a flight of stairs, screamed in my ears and that wasn't all.

Stories about child abuse serve to turn our stomaches and they should. They don't turn her stomach though. She told me about eight years ago that it was her way of keeping control. Abusers don't seem to think straight, do they?

Abuse to an autistic is forever damaging and to many it can mean regression so far into their own minds that they never come out again. Abuse victims run high risk of being bullied or becoming bullies. If autistic, I can guarantee you they will likely be on the receiving end because they are already injured and different at the same time. Perfect targets.

So what can we do? For one, silence is the enemy. If you are concerned for any childs welfare you should immediately contact the police. There are obvious signs of abuse in bruises but abusers can hide those and you have to watch out for the other signs.

Is the child overly fearful of peers and especially adults? Do they become meek and humble when you talk to them? Perhaps they lash out in sudden bursts of rage when lightly teased or over very small things? Are they highly self critical other than autistic tendency? Do they associate things with home as alarming or any sort of emergency if they don't take some sort of action? For example, they lose a paper and panic because someone at home will be angry?

Physical and mental abuse aren't the only culprits to watch out for. Neglect is a major factor as well. Signs of neglect include dirty clothes, no change of clothing for several days, matted hair and chronic unclean appearance, low body weight and generally factors are mixed. Home conditions can give away neglect as well with cluttered and trashy yards and rooms. You won't always see this, but if you do, you should make the call.

Sometimes, people don't make that call because they are afraid the child will wind up "in the system". Well, I can tell you from experience that the system at least means someone did something. If you were being beaten, wouldn't it have been nice if someone at least tried to stop it? Not a good feeling.

Abuse stunts development in our children and spreads mental illness that they will have to deal with for the rest of their lives. They are at higher risk of being involved in drugs or crime or more abuse as adults.

While it's true that I avoided all those obstacles in surviving my abuse just as some others have, we are the lucky ones.

In part four of this blog series I will cover crime and loss, so be sure not to miss it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Autism and Trauma Part Two: Bullying

Bullying is killing our children. Don't believe me? Put the words "bullied to death" in your search bar or Google them and see what you get. You'll see a list that boasts over 32 million results for how children are being relentlessly tortured by their peers. You'll find stories of schools getting sued because they failed to protect a child on their premises, and he or she took their own life. Time magazine recently put out an article on two eleven year old boys who hung themselves because they just didn't know where to turn. They were accused of being 'gay' and harassed to a breaking point. So far as I found, those were neurotypical children. They were bullied because they were different. If our typical children find it hard to escape or let it go, how must that be for the autistic?

I survived bullying that has brought instant tears to the eyes of some of my readers in the past. For that matter, it shocked many just by talking about it. Much of what happened to me ocurred in the presence of an adult. Why didn't they intercede? They were under the impression that we were just being kids. A boy on the playground once looked at me strangely and said, "Here, let me fix that for you." Being an Asperger's child, I took him literally, having no idea what he intended. He put one hand on the back of my head and the other over my nose. He pressed suddenly and hard, blood erupted down my face. "There, that's better," he said with a smile. I went straight to the teacher on the playground. I don't remember him getting any more than a minor 'slap on the wrist'. No follow up was done and every day on the play ground after that, he would smile at me from a distance until I noticed him and then run away.

That was in elementary school around fifth grade. Junior High was truly a nightmare. I was singled out for just about everything I did or every reaction I had. Between every class I ran a guantlet trying to avoid being shoved into lockers, having my books taken away and thrown downstairs or in the garbage, being kicked and punched, or even shoved down the stairs myself. I walked home from school an average of twice a week with blood on my face from my nose or mouth. I had no safe haven and there was no justice.

"Why don't you just be normal?" the adults would ask sternly. So it was my fault that other kids wanted to brutalize me. I know today that isn't true, but that was the loud and clear message to me back then. Besides that, I could not be normal. I had autism, though Asperger's is a self masking condition and no one knew. The simple fact is this, I am not now, not then, nor shall ever be, normal. It's a word I have come to despise.

So, what can we do about bullying in our schools across the nation? Education is the answer. We need to teach our children that hurting each other, teasing each other, is wrong. Stop passing it off as 'they're just being kids' because that's just not true any more. Child cruelty is growing out of control by leaps and bounds. When a child as young as seven years old, decides to take his own life, you lose the power to say, "he was just being a kid".

Schools need to implement a zero tolerance policy with mandatory counseling for both bully and victim. Make that policy known in every single classroom. Get the kids involved. When ever bullying is witnessed, all the kids should point right at the bullying child and say, "Hey! NO BULLYING!". It's an instantaneous public and social response that puts the bully on the spot by his peers.

I also suggest the book, Asperger's Syndrome and Bullying by Nick Dubin. He's an autistic author I have come to respect a great deal from his writing. You can find his books on Amazon. The school my son goes to has a beautiful program called 4>2 (Four is greater than two), or better said as 'for is greater than to'. It simply means that doing something for someone is better than doing something to someone. It is taught through all the grades of his school and powerfully advertised with bulletins on every wall. It's a system that has impressed me greatly.

If you see a need at your child's school to combat bullying. You must pull all stops. Print out this blog and show it to the faculty of that school. Print out the stories of lost children and use them as teaching aids as well. Find public speakers (like Nick Dubin and myself) to talk to the school and teach them about how bullying must stop and what can be done about it. Or take the podium yourself and share your own experiences. Help your school to implement a program. You can also demand that the school take steps to protect your child from an aggressor. If they absolutely will not take action after all these steps, you may have to consider the consult of an attorney. Our public schools are obligated to protect our children. This has now been proven by case law across the country.

I survived bullying in order to spread education on the trauma it causes. Even the most good natured teasing can be tough for our autistic kids, so imagine what outright bullying does. Take action, stop bullying.

Part 3 will be about abuse, so stay tuned and thank you.

Autism and Trauma: Part one

I know I've mentioned before that traumatic events are harder on autistics, but why is that? First lets take a look at what constitutes a traumatic event:

Fear: We actually have a very sensitive startle reflex that others have trouble understanding. They say, "why is it so easy to scare that guy?" and confuse it with a personality flaw. Depending on how hard we get startled we can face two-fold trauma of what startled us and public embarrassment.

Bullying/Abuse: Asperger's children are highly susceptible to bullying and can run into abuse situations easily as well. Since I am a survivor of both I can cite some definite examples. For one, since my behavior simply was not like any other child, I carried a large bull's eye with me every where I went. Even though I changed schools often, the outcome was always the same. My reactions made other kids laugh and some got downright cruel to get those reactions. Children without proper diagnosis, with parents that are frustrated with them and don't understand what is really going on, can submit a child to abusive situations, even if unintended. The trauma of feeling worthless or unloved still takes it's toll heavily.

Crime Victimization: Becoming the victim of a crime is highly traumatizing in it's own right. Add the oversensitivity and black/white thinking of an autistic and it's pure chaotic terror. Loss: Losing a family member, friend, way of life or even an object can induce traumatic effect.

Sensory Events: This often rides hand in hand with the startle reflex, however, can be harsh on it's own as well. Loud sounds that cause pain or discomfort (or other sensory effects of the same outcome) can create longlasting memory.

So, why are these so much harder on the autistic? Simply put, we are typically very late in developing the defense mechanisms to protect ourselves and cope with things around us. We find it hard to let things go even if they seem small to everyone else. Our needs of routine, sameness and predictability are as strong as our need of food, water, and shelter. It takes years of practice and learning to be able to handle some of the most basic changes in our lives. When you take someone who is so sensitive to their surroundings that moving and object two inches upsets them, what do you think the effects of moving into a new house will do? To a neuro-typical person, this is pretty commonplace these days and you can "get over it". To an autistic, it's destruction of everything they know.

So traumatic events can start with smaller events than would affect a typical person. With the impaired coping mechanisms, it may be impossible to let go of events that occur for much longer than typical. How, then, can we help with trauma of such a sensitive scale? With early intervention and constant support techniques. With Asperger's syndrome and high functioning autistics, it is possible to help get past some forms of trauma. It takes constant practice and reassurance, but it can be done. Take my son, for example. He had the misfortune of a dog biting one of his little fingers. He's now terrified of dogs. I take every opportunity I can, to introduce him to friendly dogs that we meet. Sometimes he'll touch and pet them, sometimes he won't. In either case, he gets to see a friendly dog with others, like me, petting it and getting positive reactions.

Naturally there's a lot to be said for timely counseling and interventions. Especially with bullying but that will be another blog. In my next blogs, I am going to go into each area of trauma and tell you how to handle them. So stay tuned, part 2 is in production now.

Living Autistic: Learning Comprehension

Back in my school days, I hated math. Not only did I hate math, I hated story problems even more. To this day, I can do math but it gives me a headache if I do too much of it. I often think that my brain simply doesn't want anything to do with numbers. Now, reading and writing I like. I get along great with that, but that's just me. When it comes down to our comprehension in school as students, we have to stop and take a look at how we are wired with our autism or other conditions. It's fairly commonplace that we have learning difficulties. Our comprehension is generally at the top of the list. Comprehension is how well we understand information that we take in. If that information is muddled by our senses going awry or because we are weak in the subject matter, we have a hard time. So how do we fix this? Patience is a virtue and practice makes perfect. You may also have to get a bit creative. When handling something we are having trouble understanding we need to slow down. Frustration makes the ol' brain spin faster and compounds confusion. So take a pause and let the student catch his breath for a second, then reapply a little more slowly. Especially for math in my humble opinion. Break the problem into pieces and take each one to the student and then bring it all together again. In reading comprehension, take the story small parts at a time. Ask questions. "What do you think Harry will do next?" "Do you think Harry throwing the rock was a good idea?" Use visual aides, especially for math in my humble opinion.I've used dice and other small objects to help my son with math. When I read him a story or he reads a story I ask him questions about it. If there's a weak subject, I plut extra time into it.For a weak subject, you can put extra time into it without too much effort. For reading you can simply point out words as you go about your business and ask him what they say. You may have to pause for a moment while he sounds out the world or help a little bit, but enough of the attempts will sink in. Point out activity in pictures and ask about events in them. What's going to happen next? What is that person doing? These are comprehension skills and, while small, they add up. The same goes for numbers. Go grocery shopping and ask about how many cans of soup you just put in the cart. Have him count them. Show him prices on the shelves. Numbers are everywhere, use them. It's really important that teachers and parents are in the same boat when applying these skills so everyone knows what needs to be worked on. Be involved in your child's education, up close and personal.This certainly does't guarantee that comprehension problems will go away, but if you don't work on them, you guarantee they never will.

My Father, the passing of a Legend

I remember a cold and frightening Christmas day. I think it was 1982. I was twelve and we were all having a find time opening presents. My little sister got a pair of plastic skates and felt quite a hurry needed to open them. My little brother wanted things open to, so my father felt a bit hurried and momentarily forgot the importance of knife safety. He slipped and plunged the nearly three inch blade into his right upper and inside thigh. I had gone into the kitchen to do the morning dishes when he came in and landed on the tile floor. He ordered me to find his belt in the master bedroom and bring it to him. Time was priceless and seconds meant life. He was bleeding out. My stepmother ran around the house in sheer panic and I stopped halfway down the hall. I realized that I was never very good and finding things when sent for them and discovered that I had a faster way. So I bolted back to the kitchen and took off my own belt. He instructed me on where to put it and to pull it tight with all my strength. I thought I was going to break it, but it held. A neighbor drove my father to the hospital at break neck speeds. I later learned that if I had gone to search for that other belt, he would not have lived. As it was he almost lost his leg, but live he did, leg and all. Nicking the femeral artery really isn't enough to take down my father anyway. As of April 2, 2009; it took the combo of two forms of cancer with complications from Agent Orange to take him from us. Yes, he is gone, but certainly never to be forgotten.

My father served his country in Vietnam, one of the cruelest wars in history. If you saw him, you might be surprised that they let him jump out of planes and helicopters. I'm 5'11 and stood a full head taller than he by my teens. They weren't going to let him jump either. They told him he was too small and too light to bring a parachute down effectively in combat. Well, he wouldn't hear of that and forced the issue. His lead drill instructor finally got tired of it all and issued him a challenge. Back in those days, military training got away with a lot more than now. He told my father, if he could beat his platoon's largest man in hand to hand combat, he would make him a paratrooper that day. The story goes on to add that the largest man in his platoon spent ten days in the infirmary.

On March 6, 1967 he jumped out of a helicopter into Warzone D for Operation Silver City. He survived a 4 hour grueling battle that went all the way to over an hour of hand to hand combat. I don't know how many missions he went on, but I do know the tales they told of him long after he came home.

His platoon earned eight Presidential Citations before their tour was finished. They were heroes, all of them. Dad came home a decorated soldier with those citations, purple hearts, bronze and silver stars. He earned them each in blood and honor.

My father operated the platoon radio. Because of his size, he got elected for a few other jobs too. One in particular killed many a brave soldier as the most deadly job of all; the tunnel rat. Enemy soldiers liked to hide in narrow underground tunnels laced with booby traps, explosives, snakes, scorpions, spiders and rats. Reports suggest that the tunnels were too small for a rifle and uncontrolled pistol fire could discharge hidden explosives. That meant that the preferred weapon for the tunnel rat was a knife. So my father descended into these deadly narrow tunnels to dismantle explosives and traps and kill enemy soldiers while trying not to upset the native wildlife (or it would kill him). He did this over and over again, for his fellow soldiers and his country. My father looked Death in the eye socket, shook its bony hand and said: "You'll have to catch me later, I have work to do."

When his platoon got bored they mounted 50 calibur machine guns through the noses of helicopters so that the pilots could do some shooting with the rest of them. They took apart cases of Claymore mines and packed the c4 in the bottoms of three oil barrels. They filled those barrels in with concertina wire, scrap metal and bullets. Then they set them out and waited for an enemy platoon they were told was going to pass them. The blast erased the enemy platoon and enough foliage and trees to play some football.

My father cared alot about those he defended. On one day he avenged a small child from after a sniper's bullet took his little life. The boy had just been praising American soldiers for coming to his village in a time of need. It was the last thing that sniper ever did.

At the very worst of it all, enemy soldiers caught him and his companions on a patrol. They wanted the radio codes and killed all of his friends to try and force my father to hand them over. Not only did he refuse, but when one of his captors sat too close to his little bamboo cage, he killed them all and escaped with the remains of his fallen brothers. The story says that he wandered the jungle for two days before walking into an Australian encampment.

For duty, honor, and all of us, my father went where angels fear to tread.

When he got home, he took leadership of a motorcycle brotherhood for veterans called, The Screaming Eagles. Thats about when I came along (1970). These men were larger than life and did things you would only see on TV. Yes, they were crazy things, but amazing too.

My father always taught others and was generous with his advice. Not only that, but he was usually right. Everyone knew they could count on John Wilde for just about anything at all. He knew how to fix things and do things that most people never thought of. I guess that's why he became an aerospace engineer.

He was a man of teaching. He taught me the first steps of how to defend myself and started me in the martial arts. He taught me strategic thinking with a chessboard from around age 4. He's the reason I became a survivor instead of a suicide statistic.

He was a man of accomplishment. He saved the aerospace industry millions of dollars. When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, he was one of the men who showed them how to fix it, so it wouldn't happen again.

He always tried his hardest when it came to his family. All he ever really wanted was for all of us to be happy.

I know I've told you how my stepmother abused me and I finally left home at age 14. That's all true, and my father lived with years of guilt as a result. I'm so glad I got the chance to tell him that I held nothing against him. I wanted him to know that I did not consider him at fault. For that matter I made it to the good places in my life because of what he taught me. I know it didn't look like it sank in, but it did. Not everyone gets that chance, so I am thankful for it.

Everything I put up with through those hard times, I did for my father. I hold him at fault for nothing.

It is my prayer that he be escorted to a reward in Heaven by Jesus Christ himself and that angels look after his needs. May he find himself at peace, finally.

Don't worry about me, Dad. I'm forging forward like you taught me. You go on now, I know you'll be a legend on the other side.

Living Autistic: Taste and Texture

No where else in our bodies is there such a combination of our senses than the mouth. Taste works in tangent with smell and then we add textures felt with our sensitive tongues. How does this affect autistic living? Remember that most to all of our senses are heightened in various areas of sensitivity. That means that we are still going to have different likes and dislikes amongst each other. We will, however, be able to taste and feel things in foods that a typical person will miss. We will also be excessively sensitive in our like or dislike of those experiences.

I hate liver. I hate it's dry dusty feel and I have trouble putting a word to it's flavor. I really don't like lima beans either because they turn into a mouth drying silt as you eat them. I don't enjoy anything that's going to dry my mouth out, but there are some that I manage my way around because I can add to them. Turkey and pot roast fall into that category, and yes, I know they can be prepped to be less dry too. Then there's raspberries. I get a bad after taste from them that lingers and annoys me.

When it comes to our autistic kids and eating we can have quite a challenge. Always encourage trying the new foods, at least a good bite. Approach with all new things gently as they area always a threat to routine, at first. If you can put trying new things into the routine, you may find yourself with a demand for something new on a regular basis. I've seen it happen.

The bottom line to new foods with your child in autism is trial and error. It doesn't really matter why they don't like it, if you can get them to try. Is it texture or flavor? I find that may be trying to dig too deep for your own peace of mind. Keep it simple, like or don't like, and move on.

The flip side of our interesting taste and texture sensitivies is a strange set of behaviors where our children put odd things in their mouths. With sensory disorders, a person may find very strange or inedible things quite tasty. I knew of one child who ate toilet paper. She liked the texture as it touched her tongue and apparently the flavor of paper was desirable after that. Reports are abundant on strange eating practices. Some are dangerous and require intervention. Some are fairly harmless and can be reasoned out with time. Some even require treatment or heavily controlled environment.

I think it's safe to say from my own experiences, that handling two senses like that at once has a profound effect on our likes and dislikes with things we eat. It also affects behavior and reactions. I encourage you, though, not to just take the safe path and only make the same foods over and over again. That will only lend to rigidity in social settings with food as they grow.

Living Against the Clock

I often imagine that there is a little timer in the right side of my forehead. This timer lets me know how much I can do in a single day. Light activities don't do too much to it, but are still limited. Heavier activities push the clock faster and cause me to need rest quicker. To look at me, you might never know this except that I am explaining it today. Physically, most of my body is pretty sound. I'm a bit out of shape and overweight, but I have lost some recently and working slowly on more. I can actually lift a hundred pounds of weight. If I do, however, there will be consequences. I may faint dead away or at least get really dizzy and have to put the weight down quickly.

Why do I have such a problem? In that spot on my forehead is a cluster of severely damaged nerves. Behind that is a likely some form of brain damage that doens't show up on MRI's or Scans, but it's there alright. It's actually fairly common for several forms of brain damage not to show up on conventional scanning tests. The nerves cause actual pain and the damage with the nerves brings on dizziness and danger of fainting if I over exert myself. On top of that, I have sleep apnea and that shortens the timer even more on random days. I am working on dealing with that, but first...

Why do I have such damage? This is actually one of the most embarrassing things I deal with in my life but I am going to talk about it, because I'm not the only person who has had to deal with it. Under high stress, many autistics are at risk of a type of seizure that gets caused by sensory overload along with too much external stress (including anger). This kind of seizure causes violent outbursts of self damage. Common actions are head butting against walls and floors, self punching, flailing wildly, throwing all objects within reach, lashing out with arms and legs, etc. Some patients have them so sporadically they have to wear a helmet for the rest of their lives. You may have rarely seen one of these people. Yes, I am saying that I suffer from this condition of autism.

So what happens to me? First, it's not for the weak of stomach and it's absolutely horrifying to all who witness as well as myself. I dont actually get to remember much of the outburst if it happens, but once it happens I am powerless against it. I will ball up my fists and relentlessly slam them against my head until I drop from sheer exhaustion or pass out from the hitting. I will completely lose all awareness of the world around me. Fortunately I am restrainable at the wrists, but the storm going on in my mind is still absolutely devastating. I will get flashing images and flashbacks from abuse long in the past and the rage will be so very intense that I will turn beet red. As it passes I may or may not remain concsious for very long. I will require bedrest and that may be for the rest of the day.

Because I've had these episodes since I was around 6 years old (now 38), there's practically no way that there isn't permanent damage. I feel it, and I know it's there. There's also permanent damage in my wrists, such as carpal tunnel. In the beginning I would have these episodes as much as three times a week. My parents ignored them because they thought I was just a brat. Other episodes I actually was able to hide, because I felt them coming on. I would go and hide in my closet or somewhere no one could see me until it was over. I was so scared and knew that no one would help me. Of course that's not true today.

I haven't had an episode for nearly a year because I now know how to stop them. I do this with early intervention techniques. When I'm getting overloaded or overstressed, I remove myself from the situation and go to my "safe spot". I turn up a fan to full blast and lie down in my bed with a large overstuffed pillow. I squeeze that pillow for all it's worth. I will still have some pain and flashing, but no violence. Then I will pass out for an hour or so. I wake up revitalized and ready to take on the world again.

So, because of the permanent damage, I live on a low battery every day. The harder I push myself, the faster that timer or battery goes down. If I push myself hard enough, all at once, I will collapse. So I have to pace myself every single day, even though I don't look disabled in this way at a glance. I can tell you that I have been judged more than once on the subject. It makes me very nervous to explain it. But I have come to a point where I see the need for the education because other kids are coming up in the autism spectrum with this condition.

It's important to communicate with your child and watch for this condition in order to save them from serious damage in the future. Brain damage is easier to get than most realize.

Things I have to avoid: over exertion, too much stress, and heat.Signs that I will have to rest soon: walking with my cane and jerking body movements such as my head, arms or legs.

I'm also on medication to control my conditions and own them, so they don't own me. And that is why I live against the clock, every day. I write this information with the hopes that others out there know that they are not alone and to demonstrate that I am a good person and a safe person, with a little help from friends and family and a strong living protocol.

As always, I am open for requests and questions. If you know of something in abuse, autism, or disorders that you would like to know about, let me know. I'll research and do my best to put up an informative blog on the subject.

Proprioceptive Senses and Autism

We all know our five senses; hearing, taste, touch, sight, and smell. We've also discussed how a person with autism often has almost all senses constantly out of control, yielding to sensory overloads that must be handled carefully and gently. I've recently gained a new insight and learning that I must share with you. It's about the sense we never think about. Two of them in particular stand out with the autistic and they are called proprioceptive and vestibular senses.

Our proprioceptive (broken up: pro-prio-ceptive) sense is our perception of movement and spatial orientation. It tells us the tension of our muscles and our rate of movement as we run or walk. It also tells us where are limbs are at when we move around so we don't smash into things all the time. If this sense is off, then you will have trouble directing where your arms and legs go. You'll be constantly off balance and very clumsy and misdirected.

Our Vestibular sense is actually made up of billions of receptors in our muscles and internal organs. They give us a sense of gravitational acceleration if we fall or jump off of something. It also gives us a sense of velocity in our heads.

These introceptive senses our what give us sensations of pain or pleasure. They tell us about the stretching of our internal organs. Without these sense, you wouldn't know if your stomach was full from lunch or if you needed to empty your bladder.

These are our internal senses and they are just as out of control and without filtering as our external senses. That, or we may have trouble sensing some of them at all, because of senses that overshadow them and drown them out like too much noise.

These are senses that cause autistics to have extreme difficulty working with their environment. It makes it hard for a people to control themselves. Minor annoyances to a typical person may as well be full lights and sirens for the autistic. And when that's happening to those internal senses, your world spins into chaos. Then, since you have trouble communicating how you feel, you get frustration, an emotional sense. All that does is put more weight on the camel's back. You can see how all of this at once can be overbearing. Next stop, full overload and a fit unlike anything you've ever seen.

That's from the "pain" aspect, but what about pleasure? Ever see an autistic child run in circles or jump off things over and over again? Remember how those receptors affect those feelings of velocity and falling? What if you found those feelings to be highly enjoyable? Since their amplified, they are highly distracting and everyone wants to feel good right? Exactly. Because of the intensity, anything that feels good like that is hard to deny. You may as well consider them addicted to it. That's with any of our external senses as well. When something feels that good, you want to do it over and over again. It's like having a rollercoaster ride in your head and its FUN!

As we grow and change, our likes and dislikes change just like anyone else. That's why, eventually, children that engage in feces play, thankfully stop doing it. They develope to a point that their interest in textures and feelings shift. It's even possible for them to stop wanting to run in circles.

Another sense I feel I should mention is our sense of depth perception and distance. When you throw and object and train your eye on it, you get a perception of how far and fast it is going. This can cause a reaction in your internal senses. It can be interesting enough to overactive senses to make one want to throw things all the time. Consider that next time your child pitches and object across the room for no specific reason (that you can see). I hope you found this view of our senses eye opening, pun intended.

Disciplining Autistic Children

I was recently asked what I thought about discipline and children with autism. The first point I should make, is the lower the function of the child, the harder it is to make discipline work. I can work, however. Again, I put my research skills to the test in order to be of the most help I can be to any who read my blogs.

The first order of business is to address corporal punishement. Hitting doesn't work, I can tell you that from seeing in person. Yes, spanking is still hitting and we work hard to teach them not to hit, so all you do is mess with their heads and they take it straight to the heart. They will take it most personally and you're better off, just not doing that. Yes, I have given my son with autism a swift swat on the bottom, but it never gets any message across other than it's a mean thing to do. So lets leave spanking by the wayside.

Remember my last blog on socializing your child. Social stories also do a lot to help learn proper behaviors around the home. For that matter, most of what I put in that blog can help here. Yet the question remains, if you must use punishment, what do you use?

It's going to take a lot of time and practice, but there are methods of discipline that can be used with autism.

Time out: You bet, time out can still be a very effective measure, but the time you use is much much shorter in span. With most children, you set a time out spot that is safe and NOT scary and the child must stay in that spot quietly for one minute per year of age. With autism, the attention span is harder to control, so you go by a much shorter span of time. For example, at 3 and 4 years of age, we only went for about 20 to 30 seconds and worked our way up from there. You will need a lot of patience to get this to work. You must be quick and direct to act on time out and consistent. Don't say your going to put him or her into time out and then not do it. That's self sabotage and it will ruin you both. If he gets up and leaves time out, put him back and repeat the process over and over. NO WORDS. Action, action, action. Actions speak louder than words. Once he has done his time, let him out, explain again why he went there and that you love him. Yes, you've likely seen this on SuperNanny. It works. Our high functioning kids can do this. It takes more time and effort, but it is so worth it in the long run.

Offenses that invovled objects such as toys, bring about another punishment. Removal of the offending issue. If they won't behave with what ever object you are correcting them on, give them one chance with clear warning of the consequence and that's all. Take away the object for the rest of the day. Once they are older, take it away for three days (5-7 yrs), above that you can do a week. Any offensive behavior on that, brings time out. Is this hard to do, sure it is. Again, once you have the behaviors established, it's worth it.

Restraint: This is only to be used if the child presents a danger to themselves or others. You must be very gentle and I suggest the "hug" method. Hold them in a sitting position in front of you and take hold of their wrists. Hold their hands in their lap will hugging them close to you. If you must, loop your legs over theirs to stop kicking. Watch out for head butting or biting. Hold them close and tight (but gentle!) and softly remind them that when they stop or calm, you will let them go.

Using social stories can help explain consequences like time out, so they better understand how it works. Make sure they understand that a consequence is never a slight against, rather a natural occurance based on what they do. Always praise and use rewards. Good rewards should involve their keen interests, that you know get their attention. Use visual aides. In my son's class, they have a visual aide that tells all the students how they are doing. It's a stop light. Everyone starts on green. When they get out of line, they move to yellow, another transgression takes them to red and they lose a recess. They can actually earn their way back to green by doing things extra well. All of the kids in my son's class are on this system, and it works. It works for my son because it's consistent for the entire class and and done the same every time. So there you have some idea of good discipline technique for high function autistic children. If you have a system that works well for you, please comment and put it here so that it can help other parents. According to studies and reviews (search for them online), this is the best form of discipline for a child with autism. I use it myself. It works.

Socializing Autistic Children

I had an email recently from a lady named Michelle who asked me what tips I could lend on helping with socializing on her son. I have done some research on this to add to what I already know and have used and I believe that, with diligence, all of these techniques together can considerably raise social function and interest of Asperger's and mid to high functioning children with autism.

The very first technique I learned was the "look at me method". In this, before you say what you need to say to your child, you start by saying "Tony, look at me, Tony, look at my eyes" until Tony complies. When he does, you praise that action, "Good 'looking' Tony", and if he doesn't look away, go ahead with what else you wanted to say to him. Obviously you want to use your child's own name, not Tony (just had to add that). If he does look away, start over again. Practice, practice, practice, and eventually he will look away less and less as he starts to reprogram in understanding that you really want him to look at you.

The next technique is play integration. Your child likely is fine playing on their own. So fine, in fact, that they have no interest in playing with anyone else. You are the first person who can change that. You must become your childs playmate. You do this very slowly and gently. Tony is playing with his blocks, lining them up and stacking them. Start by talking. "Tony, that's a great building you made, can I make one?" Do NOT give up when he doesn't answer you. Employ the look at me method. Don't give up on that one either, even if it takes a year to get him to do it. That's how dedicated you have to be, and how stubborn. Try to get Tony to hand you a block and show you where he wants you to put it. As a beginners phase, handing blocks back and forth can be a great social opener for Tony. Giving and taking is social interaction. Work your way through the meltdowns. You are going to have meltdowns. Blocks will be thrown, and there may be the biting, kicking, etc. Use the tools and techniques you have learned for dealing with outbursts. Some meltdowns can be dealt with, simply by not giving in. Yes, believe it or not, for higher functioning autistics, this can work. I dealt with it myself. Dealing with meltdowns is going to have to be one of my next blogs though, so I can concentrate on this. But you will have to deal with them, there will be resistance.

So why would he resist? Autistic children resist because when you try to teach them something new or get a new behavior it means CHANGE and no autistic child deals well with changes, even tiny ones. Hence, you just mustn't give up.The next technique is the use of social stories. If your child even halfway likes being read to, this is a beautiful technique. Get this, even if he doens't appear to listen, you can still read social stories to him, and you may even get a reaction after reading the same story enough times. You can write your own social stories for any behavior you want to teach (keep it simple and limited to just one behavior at a time), find them on the internet or even pay someone like me to write them for you. You can also find them at your library. One awesome writer of social stories is Elizabeth Verdick, author of Teeth are not for Biting. Here's an idea, if you have a biter (my son was), get this book and read it to your child every day for a month. Then come tell me what happened. My son didn't stop biting in just a month, but the occurence was cut in half. He did eventually, with the reminder phrase 'Teeth are not for biting', stop altogether. That's how it's done. The book only covers biting and things that teeth are good for. It's extremely simple and effective. If you present the idea enough times with the reminder phrase, it will have an effect. No, not all autistics will stop biting 100%, but it's sure worth the effort, even still. Once you have some good examples of social stories (your library or the internet are wonderful sources) anyone can write their own. Do NOT use too many at a time. One at a time until you get them understanding the reminder phrase you establish is good enough.

Now that you have those techniques in practice, immersement is going to be necessary rather than avoidance of social situations. Will you still have to leave a restaraunt or two? Yes. But once again, it's the practice that is important. Socialization is part of our development and autistic children are delayed or blocked on this aspect. With delay, you can still work on social skills. Blocked are generally in low function or near low function autistics. This blog is not meant for them. Just to be clear. You can certainly try, with the above mentioned techniques, and if you make headway, then wonderful, come tell me about it because I want to know!To continue, take you child out into minor public situations, like going to the park or a small play center. Establish a connection with other parents on the spectrum and set up play dates. Constant monitoring will be needed and you will have to intervene a lot. My son had trouble with grabbing up and throwing things on the ground, like sticks and sand. Every time he did this, I removed him from play and gave him social reminders. Then I followed up with time out (sometimes works, but depends on how you word it), then sent him back in to play. When it comes to other parents who give you and your child weird looks, just tell them straight out, my son has autism and we are working on his socialization. Every time I ever said that to a parent, I either got "okay" and they mind their own business, or "really? I always wondered about autism" then you have a chance to educate someone and that is a beautiful thing. Still, you have to be up on your feet following your child around, ready to coach or intervene until Tony shows more and more ability to social play on his own. Any time he hits another child or commits something on another child, you need to show you are an interested and caring parent. This is a demonstration for your child. Always apologize to the other parent, remind your child or get him to apologize (yes it will work after a while), then go back to business. Some days are going to be bad ones, and you'll just have to take him out of play for the day while telling him why. Keep taking Tony to social situations, don't avoid them because of his behavior, you'll only help his autism hold him back. If he never experiences enough socialization, he will never socialize or increase function. And that is my answer for dear Michelle, I hope it also helps many of you. Feedback is welcome, thanks.