Autistic children are gifted.
Now, there’s a statement.
What sort of gifts then to they have? The ability to find something funny? The ability to view the world from a different angle? Yes. The ability to make us feel proud from their achievements. Yes. A resounding yes.
Jonathan is almost 15. He is bright, top of the class in most subjects in fact, he is sharp witted, clever and a damn good solider on Heroes and Generals. He is to me, the most extraordinary and most accomplished son I could have ever imagined to have.
But there is a problem. A big problem that day which we had to get through…
Jon’s mind works on one level. We stand in the corridor at school, that evening and we’re waiting to go in and see his English teacher. Dad asks him what he wants for dinner. Now this presents a problem in Jon’s mind.
Jon’s brain says to him, ‘hang on a minute. I need to deal with this first. I am standing in the corridor at school, its dark and its the evening. I am never at school at this time of night, and it doesn’t fit in with my world. THEN, I have to deal with the fact that I am surrounded by people I know, school friends, but then who are those people who are standing with them? I don’t know them. Are they parents? Siblings? Oh dear, I don’t like this. This situation doesn’t make sense to me. We are next in to see my English teacher, which means I have got to walk out of my comfort zone, across the corridor and everyone’s going to look at me!! NOW Dad asks me what I want for dinner???? Can’t he see I am dealing with this awful nightmare??’
Dad paces up and down impatiently. He hates being at school. It reminds him of his own parents evenings from decades ago.
Jon’s brain says ‘I’m going to have to deal with this question now and I don’t know if I can.’
I can’t answer that right now Dad. Dad doesn’t understand… and then Jon storms out with an overloaded brain and we don’t get to see his English teacher after all.
Autism is a complex adjustment to the world around us. A world that you and I take for granted most days. Our brains are like filing systems; rather like having a secretary standing at your brain’s desk with glasses on the end of her nose and pen and pad posed ready to take the actions for the day.
Our brains say ‘Now, Miss Doyle, I want you to take this down, we are currently standing in the school corridor waiting for the English teacher, but we need to start thinking what we want for dinner. Can you come up with a few suggestions for the board please Miss Doyle? And, oh yes, we need some milk and bread on the way home, and we need to think about if the Sky box was set correctly for EastEnders.’
Yes Mr Brain (she scribbles down with such speed)
‘Oh an Miss Doyle? Can you make sure that we have the shirts ironed ready for school tomorrow?’
Yes Mr Brain.
In Jon’s brain, there is a very different scenario going on….
‘Miss Brown!!! Miss Brown??? Oh bugger, why won’t she come in? Oh blimey, I haven’t got a secretary…. right better sort this one out myself… and where’s that banging noise coming from? I can’t concentrate…. argh! Science homework, I can’t think about that right now… ok, deep breath…. right, where are we? Oh yes, school corridor…. for what? English teacher…. but it’s dark outside. What the Hell are we doing in school? It’s dinner time… I shall call down to stomach, see what’s going on down there…. (beep beep) ah yes (picks up the intercom) Stomach? what’s going on? What do you mean, you can’t talk right now? Sorry? Dinner? Well, I can’t think about that now can’t you see we’re in a corridor at school? What are we doing here? It’s parents evening, stomach, are you not keeping up with this? Yes, I know it’s dark outside…. hang on… there is someone else on the line…. (beep beep) hello? Ah yes, feet, all ok down there? What? Oh I see, you need to walk across the corridor…. you say you can’t do it why? Oh…. so what did eyes say then? Someone looked at them funny? Well who? Oh….. they don’t know…. well, there’s no point asking voice box to ask them, voice box is not having a good day. Well, you see its Thursday and they always have Thursday’s off…. hang on, there is someone on the other line…. Hi ears, how are you? What? When? well, this can’t be? I can’t deal with that question! Dinner you say you heard? Well, I’m sorry there is just far too much going on!! Miss Brown? Miss Brown??? Oh yes… I don’t have a secretary…..’
All we need to do is feed information to them clearly, correctly and using the right tone, and preferably one thing at a time. If we remember that these children are better at dealing with only one scenario at a time, they would feel more secure and happy. Routine is a key thing I have learned from Jon. The idea of parents evening might be something that is in our sphere of understanding twice a year, but to Jon, it is like being on another planet at the wrong time of the day. It is overload and the only way for Jon to clear overload in his mind, is to walk away from the whole thing. I completely understand that and have spent many years happily following him out of buildings and places of interest, everywhere.
It is something I will always do.
These kids are brilliant, their brains are sharper, quicker and deeper than we will ever understand, they just need a different kind of guidance, support and love. Then we can really watch them flourish.
As for the English teacher, well, we will see her another time.
In daylight preferably….
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