Monthly Archives: February 2013

Socializing with autistic people

Interacting with autistic people can be a task.

While the symptoms of autism vary, there are common ways to socialize with these wonderful and unique people.

When you interact with someone who is autistic, it is best to approach them from the side. Their peripheral vision will pick you up and they will not be alarmed when you begin to talk to them. Also, do not make any sudden movements or sounds that will startle them. Autistic people have heightened senses and if frightened, it will take them some time to calm their nerves. Whenever I take Brian to someplace public, there will be a strong chance he will cover his ears. Remember to not reach out and touch them when you first interact. Some autistic people will feel uneasy if you are a stranger and reach out to touch them.

A common symptom of autism is a lack of eye contact. You can even make the classic eye-glasses with your hands.

A common symptom of autism is a lack of eye contact. You can even make the classic eye-glasses with your hands.

When the conversation first starts, remember to smile. It may not be much, but I have yet to meet a person with special needs who did not smile back at me.

Autistic people have a difficult time reading social cues. They do not understand slang or sarcasm. They take everything in a literal sense. Talk in direct sentences. For example, “First, put on your shoes, then we are going for a walk.”

Autistic people will also make very blunt observations. You never have to wonder if an autistic person is lying to you.

Once you have gotten their attention, engage them. Ask questions. Once you find out what they enjoy, you have made a real connection with them. You may be impressed with what you hear.

Interacting with autistic people is a unique experience. You get the chance to dip your toes into a very different, but very interesting world.

Symptoms of Autism

In the past ten years, autism has become one of the more well-known disorders in the country.

A recent study of 8-year-olds conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that 1 in 88 has a form of autism. While scientists and doctors remain unsure of what causes the disorder, it is important for the average American to know the basics of the disorder.

Autistic people have are very sensitive. It is not uncommon at all for an autistic person to cover his or her ears if loud noises are around them.

Autistic people have heightened senses. It is not uncommon at all for an autistic person to cover his or her ears if loud noises are around them.

So what exactly is autism? It is a disorder that impairs an individual’s social interaction and ability to communicate. Autistic individuals also fall into repetitive behavior and/or follow routines. These symptoms can vary from person to person. This leads to the popular saying, “If you’ve met once person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

The disorder usually surfaces by age two or three and is more likely to affect boys. Some early indications of autism are as follows:

  • Child not responding to his or her own name
  • No eye contact
  • No social responses
  • Babbling, no actual sentences or words

Brian exhibitsall of the tell-tale signs of autism. He will only make eye contact with someone if the person is talking to him. His communication has increased dramatically from where he started, but it is not on par to a non-autistic person his age. Brian will often speak in short, concise sentences. For example if he wants to go to the bookstore, he’ll say, “Go to the bookstore with Mommy.” 

An early indication is showing an O.C.D. approach to certain tasks. This is from an episode of *"Scrubs." The child on the right has autism.

An early indication is showing an O.C.D. approach to certain tasks. This is from an episode of *”Scrubs.” The child on the right has autism.

In terms of social interaction, Brian is obviously connected to my parents and me, but a majority of his other friends have come from school where there is constant interaction.

Routines and repetitive behavior are something Brian exhibits everyday. From the time he wakes up, to the time he goes to bed, Brian adheres to a schedule. For him, that schedule gives him an idea of where his day is going and gives him peace of mind.

In a previous post , I wrote about Brian’s love for Disney. Throughout his day, Brian will recite Disney movies lines over and over again. I’m never sure why, but he seems to be more at ease whenever he does this.

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*If you have the time, there is an episode from the MTV show “World of Jenks” about autism. Jenks visits Chad, a 20-year-old with autism. Chad shows the many signs of autism.

*The episode from “Scrubs” is from season four, episode 18

Diving into autistic therapies

Therapy can do wonders for individuals with autism.

There are a range of therapies available to those on the autistic spectrum. Physical therapy, music therapy and social outings in the community can improve various aspects of the disorder.

In recent years, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has risen as a new kind of treatment. Autistic individuals who have received HBOT treatment have seen dramatic results. For example, individuals with limited vocabularies came out of the therapy speaking in full sentences.

Mr. Mitch - a.k.a. by his Disney name, Tarzan - is one of the employees at Hyperbaric USA. He was a great help to Brian during his sessions at the spaceship.

Mr. Mitch – a.k.a. by his Disney name, Tarzan – is one of the employees at Hyperbaric USA. He was a great help to Brian during his sessions at the spaceship.

So how does HBOT achieve these dramatic results? I was lucky enough to witness it firsthand when I attended a few of Brian’s sessions at the “spaceship”.

Once the door to the chamber closed, Brian went into what the folks at Hyperbaric USA called “the dive.” This is the process where the tube slowly begins to fill with 100 percent oxygen.

This pure oxygen environment reduces brain inflammation and increases blow flow. Areas of the brain that are usually inactive become active because of this increase in blood flow.

Doctors have stressed that this therapy is not a cure to autism, but will greatly improve the lives of those who are on the spectrum. There is also very little scientific evidence to fully reinforce the therapy.

Brian began this treatment a few years ago, when I had begun my freshman year at The University of Scranton. When I came home after Brian had finished his round of treatment, I noticed a difference in his behavior. He seemed more comfortable in his own skin and his focus improved as well.

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A small glimpse of the crowd Brian spoke in front of back in November 2010.

What surprised me the most came in November 2010 during my parent’s annual fundraiser. Brian stood in front of a crowd of more than three hundred people and thanked everyone for their generosity. I am not kidding when I say my jaw dropped. There is no chance Brian would have been able to do that in 2009. 

*Funny story:

Each hyperbaric chamber at Hyperbaric USA has a phone on the inside and outside of the tube. During one session, Brian picked up the phone and asked for snacks.

A piece of the autistic world

Every autistic individual has something they love.

If someone asked me to describe Brian, Disney would be a front runner. Aside from salt and bacon, I doubt there is anything Brian loves more. Because of Brian, I am lucky to say that I visited Walt Disney World three times before the age of 18.

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Brian (a.k.a. Prince Eric) was a groomsmen at my cousin Rick’s (Prince Charming) wedding.

People with autism want to share their world with you. Brian especially enjoys sharing his love of Disney by acting out different movies each day. A few years ago, he started a trend that has yet to slow down.

One of his teachers, Jen, was getting married and wanted to see some of her students before the ceremony began. My mom took Brian to the back of the church. When Brian saw Jen, he lit up. My mom asked Brian, “Who does Jen look like?,” Brian replied, “Cinderella!”

A few days later, my mom, dad and I asked Brian for Disney names. Brian named my mom Snow White, my dad Jafar and yours truly got the best name of all: Woody.

Brian has a method for every name he gives out. If he sees a certain character within you, he will not hesitate to give you that character’s name.

Cousin Abby, better known to Brian as "Lilo".

Cousin Abby, better known to Brian as “Lilo”.

With these character names, comes a great responsibility. Whenever Brian sees you, you are obligated to recite a scene which your character stars. On almost a daily basis, Brian asks me to recite, “Yee haw! Ride ’em Cowboy!” from Toy Story. For my dad, he must say, “The princess will marry me!” 

Autistic people possesses an ability to see people in a unique way. The great part about Brian’s Disney names, is that they vary from person to person. Like most autistic individuals, when he sees something in you, he wants to share it. He wants you to experience that same euphoria. It is this type of connection that can make a friendship with Brian very special.

Introduction

Brian and I in Oct. 2011

My brother Brian and I in Oct. 2011

Hello everyone!

My name is Tom Foti and I am a junior communication major at The University of Scranton.

Like any young adult’s life, I have had my fair share of obstacles. The classic bickering with your parents, trying to fit in and school stress are all challenges I faced growing up. Each event made me grow as a person and helped shape who I am today.

If we are all lucky, we will experience a remarkable and life-altering event. A time where we reassess our values and beliefs. This change helps us become a better person than we originally started.

From my earliest recollections, I have dealt with that same event on an everyday basis. You see, my childhood was very unique compared to the norm. It was one which made me mature and appreciate so many different aspects of life.

On Jan. 23, 1993, little me just barely a year and a half old, I had a new baby brother.

As Brian aged, my parents noticed that Brian began showing some unusual signs. He would not answer to his own name, nor would he make much eye contact with my mom and dad. My parents took him to the doctor’s where they diagnosed him with severe autism.

The road from there has been trying, but Brian has made leaps and bounds from his initial prognosis. Now, at 20-years-old, Brian has taught me and countless others about life. This blog will detail the many memories I have experienced with Brian as well as a few posts that will journey through a single day in his life.

This will not be a blog about the science behind the disorder, rather it will celebrate the unrecognized beauty of Brian’s world. I hope you enjoy.