As it is Autism Awareness Month, I feel I should do my share in promoting awareness of this condition which affected my son. Even though I suspected ASD as soon as he turned two years old, it wasn’t until E. was 2 years and 6 months that he was diagnosed with ASD. And even though, I was quite sure he was autistic even before the diagnosis, it was still devastating when I read the diagnosis. It was like a death sentence. But that was so 2013. We have since accepted, embraced his autism and just keep looking for ways to help him.
These days I’ve been reading Engaging Autism by Stanley I. Greenspan and Serena Wieder. We’ve had this book for almost 4 years now. It’s one of several English and Chinese books my husband bought after our son was diagnosed, but at that time I really could not focus on reading about autism. Now I wish I read the whole book 4 years ago. I would have been a better mom.
Today I want to share with those who are interested in reading about autism some of the things I learned from the book.
1. If they are under stress, autistic children can resort to scripting which they use in a “self-stimulatory way, to pull away and organize themselves.” Instead of telling off a child for scripting, the caregiver can try to understand that perhaps the child is under stress, what caused the stress and help the child to de-stress.
2. Do not yell at a child who is exhibiting undesirable behavior. Autism is a neurological disorder, and autistic children’s nervous systems work differently. An autistic child may crave certain sensations or have sensory problems. My son went through a phase of chewing on whatever he could get his hands on – books, pencils, plastic spoons, my iPhone (!) He also went through a phase of playing with spit, and he spat on everything he happened to like – his favorite books, his favorite spot on the couch, his favorite corner in the bedroom, the sliding doors, etc. There were times when I was so tired and sleepy, but he wasn’t and just kept “blessing” everything with his spit that I lost it and yelled at him. That didn’t stop him, of course. He just kept doing it. Thankfully he finally got over it.
3. When an autistic child is having a meltdown, do not think he is just being naughty or being manipulative and scold him because most likely he can’t hear you and therefore can’t understand you. A meltdown actually shows “real helplessness. The child is feeling so disorganized that all [he or] she can do is kick, scream, or sob. The fact is, young children don’t have a lot of control over life. And they aren’t always able to understand why they can’t do what they want to do, or have to do things they don’t want to do.” I have witnessed this several times in the past with my son. Fortunately, I had learned this early on and did not scold him during or after a meltdown. I would just look away, make soothing sounds sometimes and say, “It’s OK.” I’ve seen other children having a meltdown and the parent yelling at the child to be quiet which only led to the child screaming louder.
4. “…Overstimulation of the child by too much activity and various physical and emotional changes” can contribute to meltdowns or regressions. When my son is left to watch his favorite videos on YouTube during the day, he will most likely be up all night scripting and stimming. Although I’m grateful for these videos which have helped him with his language, excessive exposure to electronic devices such as the iPad and smartphones which he learned to use at such an early age, is detrimental to his development.
5. Meltdowns and regressions can also be brought about by changes in diet and nutrition. (Conversely, a change in diet and nutrition can improve a child’s behavior.) The book only mentions that if a child “gets more sugar or more chemicals in his food as usual” he may “get more reactive to emotional stresses that he could ordinarily handle.”
But having read about the Gluten-Free/Casein-Free diet, I honestly believe that what certain autistic children ingest can have a strong influence on their behavior because I have seen this very clearly in my son. I have often talked about this with parents and caregivers of autistic children that I have met. Most of them are sadly skeptical and most likely have not given it a try. In Asia where MSG is a staple, it is very difficult for a lot of households to even think of cooking without it. But my son’s behavior has certainly improved with an MSG-less, additive-less diet. He used to be hyperactive and laughed for no obvious reason, but he has since changed. Now he has a restricted diet of rice, meat, fish, vegetables and fruits. I only let him drink water and homemade juice (with honey to sweeten it).
Every autistic child is unique, but some have the same speech or behavioral problems. I hope this humble sharing can be of use to the reader.