Talking about Autism and other Special Needs

This weekend I cam across two different posts that really got me thinking.  One was a Facebook post on our community page.  We are lucky to have a beautiful fully accessible playground near our home and a woman visited with a friend whose son is quite physically disabled.  She overheard a man with two children respond when one of his kids asked him what was wrong with the boy say, “that is one of God’s mistakes”.  That made my blood boil and I wasn’t even there.  Obviously this isn’t reflective of our community as a whole, but it shines a light on some of the challenges faced by those who are different.

What came next though is what I found interesting…a woman asked (while acknowledging that obviously what this man had said was NOT the correct thing) how it should be addressed.  Now my son’s challenges are not obvious, as they aren’t physical, but on a bad day the behaviors can be hard to miss.  When he was younger the physical delays were fairly pronounced, but that is no longer the case for us, so I can’t speak to what should be said, but Mickey’s lack of appropriate filter and social graces has brought this question up on more than one occasion.  With my children, I tend to default to honesty on nearly every subject.  I always change the phrasing of “what is wrong with that boy/girl” to “There is nothing wrong with him/her, he/she has some physical challenges”, etc.  That isn’t sufficient for Mickey who wants to know, and needs to the what and why.  I will explain it if I have an answer – if not, we deal with what we do know – a wheelchair is wheels for when legs don’t work the same way yours do, service dogs are to help a person with a particular issues, etc. This woman responded to my comment with “what about Autism? How do I explain that to my four year old?”  I should mention that I don’t know how I became her expert, but I did respond to her query, so I guess that made me the expert **scary thought**.

So, what about Autism?  I waited until this morning to ask Mickey for his explanation, as I figured it would be more valuable than mine.  What would he want said if he were flapping or struggling to regulate?  His response was to tell her son this “my brain doesn’t always work the same as everyone else’s. I process things different. Sometimes I have a hard time controlling my emotions and I don’t always know what to say to other people.”  So, that is what I told her Mickey suggested.  So, what do you suggest when a child asks you those questions that aren’t so easy to answer?

The second post was a link to this article:

It was an interesting article and it made me question how we have dealt with talking to Mickey about his Autism.  Not necessarily because I think we didn’t handle it correctly or that she didn’t, I just wondered if I should have placed more importance on the conversation.  Perhaps it is that we didn’t officially get the diagnosis until he was 8 and that every single therapist and teacher had said it for years before that.  It wasn’t a big news flash to any of us when the diagnosis finally came.  Mickey has asked a few questions along the way and we have talked about it, but he is very self aware of what his challenges and talents are, so it kind of put a name to the challenges, but that was about it for him. Did you talk to your child about a diagnosis?  Did your parents talk to you? Should I be placing more importance on those conversations so that he has a deeper understanding of his diagnosis, or does it come organically as it has in the past?

As an fyi, Mickey completely turned around his behavior from last week – he is back on target and doing well – even with two days of no ADHD meds (scheduling conflict at the Dr’s office). He survived them and so did his teacher.  He worked hard to keep it together those days and while they may not have been his best academic days, he didn’t fall off the behavior wagon, so we will call that a win.  As we gear up for another week, I am hopeful that we will see his usual behavior and he remains of track.



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