Experiences with Autism

Today’s guest post about Autism is written by Toni Langdon from Tickles and Timeouts.  she brings her experiences working with children with Autism as a member of the social work field.  If you have questions or comments, feel free to leave them for Toni here!
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My experience with autism has been very eye opening.  Before I started a family, I worked in the social work field for a number of years.  During this time, I worked with children with special needs including mostly children with Autism (often called PDD or the Autistic Spectrum)  I believe I have a very unique perspective on this disorder.
First, I believe it is correctly named the ‘Autistic Spectrum’ because there is a huge variation of symptoms and abilities among the individuals affected by this disorder.    Many children with autism are also diagnosed with other disorders including mental retardation, and/or anxiety disorders.  Some are in wheelchairs or non verbal and yet others are very functional in daily life.  But ALL of these individuals struggle with the ability to effectively communicate with others and most often struggle with sensory issues.
So, what can we learn from these individuals?  There is some much I learned from my experience working with these children.  First of all, I believe that we need to change our expectations and stop making everyone fit into the same mold.  I found that the more I tried to change these individuals, the more aggression and frustration would result.  SO, instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, I changed my perspective and started accepting them for who they were and was pleasantly surprised by the decrease in aggression and frustration and increase in daily functioning. 
Many parents and teachers of these individuals want so badly to have these children be “typical”, play with socially acceptable toys, and socialize appropriately among their peers.  Unfortunately, many autistic children would rather do what they call “self stimulating” behaviors such as spinning or rocking (which calms their nervous system).  The problem is these self stimulation behaviors draw a lot of attention and makes them appear very unusual and low functioning which is often not the case.  What I began to understand was that the more you accepted and channeled these sensory needs, the better the outcome for the individual and those around them.  
What do I love about these individuals? They are very real and straight forward.  For instance, I had one student that got himself into trouble by telling a store owner “Sir, if I wanted to, I could take candy and run out of the store and you would never catch him.”  His intention was not to steal but was just trying to state the point about his running ability! Needless to say, the store owner did not appreciate or understand this statement creating some social difficulties.
Getting to know these individuals with Autism really helped me to be more accepting of other people and to NEVER judge a book by its cover.  If you would like to learn more about this very interesting disorder, I strongly recommend watching Claire Danes in the HBO movie ‘Temple Grandin’.  My husband (who has no experience in the social work field) was absolutely blown away by this movie.  I believe it’s a must see for everyone!

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