Tag Archives: Autism

Teaching autism

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Autism has had a big effect on my life. I have never known a life without autism because of my brother, Brian. I wouldn’t want it any other way. He has taught me to see the world through a different lens.

For the past few years, I have been watching Brian as a summer job. This summer I’ve been taking him off the bus and hanging out with him at least once a week. Today, I invited a good friend of mine, let’s call him John, to tag along so he could see the everyday interaction between Brian and me.

Saturday afternoon, Brian asked if he could go to Dairy Cottage with me. This surprised me because I have never taken Brian out to eat. We have always gone to the moves and the bookstore together, but going out to a restaurant was something new.

I told Brian I would take him Tuesday when he got home from school. That night, I got in touch with John who is studying disabilities in school and has asked about spending time with Brian. I asked him if he wanted to spend the afternoon and he said yes.

John arrived at my house around four, and Brian was already in the pool. Brian has a daily one-hour trek to and from school so I try to get him outside to expel some energy. In the summer months, Brian is a fish. He’ll play in the water for about ten to fifteen minutes and then lay back on his raft for hours.

Today Brian seemed more on edge than usual. It took him some time to get in the pool, but he eventually got to his happy place. Brian and water somewhat coincide with each other. It’s amazing how something so simple can have such a big effect on him. It is likely because of the sensory issues shared by many autistics.

Maybe the water calms him because it surrounds and puts light pressure on his body. Maybe it is the effect of the water offering some resistance. Maybe the kid loves to swim and there’s nothing to it.

After swimming, the three of us went to Dairy Cottage. Brian was a happy kid and enjoyed his pizza and french fries, mountain of salt included. When we got home, I let Brian have some free time because he was so good. At this time, John asked many questions about Brian and his life. It was a neat experience for me to teach someone about the daily life of Brian.

 

Was Albert Einstein autistic?

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Autism awareness did not come into the full public forum until recently.

In the last twelve years, autism diagnosis has increased from 1 in 150 people to 1 in 88. That is a staggering increase when you think about it. This dramatic increase has led me to believe that many more people in the past some form of autism, but never knew it. Some of the most famous people in the world are thought to have had a form of autism. One of those people is Albert Einstein.

Researchers believe that Einstein may have had Asperger’s syndrome. (Before I go any further, I want to clarify that Asperger’s is a high-functioning form of autism and was recently given its own separate diagnosis.)

Einstein displayed many signs of the disorder. He had difficulty with social interactions, was very sensitive to touch and, obviously, was incredibly intelligent but had trouble in school. During his childhood, he spent much of his time alone. He would also repeat sentences, another tell tale sign of autism. He also seemed to not have a concept of time, a common symptom in the autism spectrum.

One piece of information that seems contradictory to the diagnosis is that Einstein did marry and father three children. Although researchers say he loved his children, he did not like them to touch him.

Despite his reclusive personality and heightened senses, Einstein had one of the most brilliant minds the world had ever seen. His work continues to astound modern-day scientists and mathematicians.

Einstein’s incredible computation skills gives us another symptom of autism. Those on the spectrum will sometimes take on very difficult and complex topics. They will obsess over them to the point where their lives were consumed by the subject.

Whether or not Einstein had Asperger’s is still a question up for debating. Maybe he was just a peculiar person who had his own methods and stuck to them. Some people are just naturally quiet and reserved. If, however, Einstein was autistic, then he set a huge precedent for what autistic people are capable of doing.

Autism and water

Water Drop

Growing up with an autistic brother, Brian was always drawn to the water.

Whenever my family and I go to the beach, Brian is never too far away from the ocean. During those hot summer months, not a day goes by when Brian is not in the backyard swimming. If he ever has a meltdown, he will either go into the pool or the shower and within an hour he usually calms down. The water seems to do something to him I cannot explain.

As I have become more and more familiar with the autism spectrum, I have found many other autistic individuals share Brian’s love for the waterOut in Montgomery County, two autistic boys have found peace in the swimming poolsSome have tried to explain the phenomenon, but the reasons vary. 

A few years ago, my mom and Brian went for a walk around the neighborhood. During their walk, my mom stopped to talk to someone. No matter who takes Brian out, he is always within sight, but that day he somehow slipped away. Thankfully, my mom had her phone with her and called my dad and I. We started searching for Brian immediately.

Once I found my mom, we bolted into the woods. Something within my mom told her to head for the water. After what seemed like an eternity, we reached a large creek. I spotted Brian waist high in the rushing water and waded out to help him back to dry land.

I don’t know what drew Brian to that creek, but that story has always resonated with me.

Almost one year ago, a similar story happened to a man with Asperger’s syndrome. William Martin LaFever went missing in Arizona. After a three week search, he was found in a river 40 miles from where he originally set out.

Ray Gardner, a search team member, said recent training had taught him that autistic people are drawn to water. Because of this information, the helicopter narrowed its searching area to the Escalante River.

The idea of autistic people being drawn to water has sparked some discussion. On an autism and asperger’s forum called “Wrong Planet,” some say they love the water. While others are the opposite.

Atomsk said: “I like hearing water, being near it, being in it, but I really don’t like to swim, or often get wet. Even in the shower, with hot water, it feels startling to have the water touch me. I have a lot of issues with tactile stuff. Once I get wet though it’s no problem. However, I still don’t like swimming much, because I’ve come very close to drowning several times. So now I just don’t feel like risking it.”

Joe90 said: “I don’t know where they got this from. I’m not drawn to water, I never even drink water. I prefer juice or milk or coke or other drinks like that.”

While the subject is still up for discussion, the subject itself is intriguing. Some autistic people love taking baths but dislike taking showers. They do not like how the water hits them. Brian and Atomsk differ as well. Brian loves to swim while Atomsk is content listening to the water. Whatever the reasons may be, it is another piece to the puzzle of autism.

 

Optimism in autism

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Throughout the many posts of this blog, I try to advocate the positive nature of autism.

I try to let everyone know that it is not a stigma nor a burden.

The other day, I came across a quote from the Dalai Lama. The quote read:

“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.”

 

I feel the same way toward having Brian as my brother. Instead of taking the well-paved trail, my family and I are blazing our own. Hopefully the trail we leave behind will help someone else in their journey with autism.

I constantly talk about how Brian has taught me so much about life. Appreciation is probably the most important. Aside from that, he has taught me patience, kindness and the only way to get the cleanest teeth in the United States.

311506_243785802325875_3599618_nI want to emphasize on kindness. When I think of kindness, I think of helping others when they need it. Maybe it’s opening a door for someone or helping an elderly person with a heavy package. Today I found a post that put an emphasis on kindness. This blogger explained that kindness is not only doing these random acts, but also taking a caring and curious interest in another person. Everyone has a story to tell. We just have to be curious enough to ask about it.

Some autism organizations today are attempting to find a “cure” for the disorder. Many parents of autistic children oppose this. What exactly is there to cure? While reading another blog today, I clicked on a link that lead to a poem called “If You Were ‘Cured.'” The poem expresses the endless possibilities should a cure be found, but what would happen to the person we came to love?

After reading the poem, I backtracked to the original blog and read the post. The author is a mother of a three-year-old autistic boy, who she loves with all of her heart. She doesn’t believe that people should be “sorry” for families who live with autism. Instead she embraces her son’s uniqueness. It is people like her, the blogger of “Flappiness Is” and those who see the bright side of the disorder who should be acknowledged.

We are all on our own path in life. Sometimes we begin on the pavement and all of a sudden life takes us into the forest. No matter where we travel though, we are all going to the same location. Some of us just want to take a more interesting trip than others.

Families of autism, it’s not your fault

Connor and Cayden Long. A true and inspiring relationship of brotherhood.

Connor and Cayden Long. A true and inspiring relationship of brotherhood.

For years I heard a common phrase about parents with autistic children.

“It’s your fault.”

“It’s your fault your child is autistic. You didn’t love your son or daughter enough nor did you show them enough attention during their early childhood. ”

“It’s your fault they are not ‘normal.'”

Well to those “experts” who said that, you can take that opinion and shove it because I’m willing to bet most of you don’t know the first thing about connecting with autistic people. Sure you can give us a lecture on all of the symptoms, but when it comes to forging a trusting relationship, where do you begin?

For some parents who are raising an autistic child, it is not your fault. You were given the instruction manual for a Ford, but you were given a Ferrari instead. This makes your child no different than anybody else. It just means you will have a much different experience than everyone else. It also means you will have one hell of a ride ahead of you. When children are first diagnosed with the disorder, some parents feel anger, denial and guilt.

“Why did this happen to me? Is there anything I could have done to prevent this from happening?” 

In the tougher times, remember you are the expert of your child. You brought him/her into this world. You know what they like, what they dislike. What makes them tick. What makes them feel like they are on cloud nine. 

Today, while browsing around on the Internet, I found a TED talk video about a woman named Alicia Arenas. Arenas is a “glass child.” A glass child is someone who has a special needs sibling. Arenas’ brother, Mario, was severely autistic and violent. He would hit and bite her on a daily basis.

Arenas spoke of being a glass child from first-hand experience. I disagreed with her overall belief of glass children, because experiences with autistic people differ so greatly. While I disagreed with the tone of Arenas’ talk, I respect her for having the courage to talk about her experiences as well as some of her statements.

Arenas said the reason siblings of autistic individuals are called glass children is because people look right through us. We become the caretakers of the family. The needs of our parents and our special needs sibling come before our own. When we are asked how we are doing, most of us say, “I’m doing fine,” when we are not.

Maybe some siblings feel this way, but I never once felt neglected by my own parents. My parents explained Brian’s autism to me and I knew there would be times he would need my parents’ full attention. I understood it and accepted it, but I cannot say my parents looked right through me. They made sure to put aside time for me, to let me know that while Brian may need their full focus for hours at a time, they still loved me.

Brian and I are a year and a half apart. As we grew up, yes I did feel like I had to take on the caretaker role. When I grew old enough, my parents would ask me to watch Brian so they could go out for a few hours. I had a small idea about their daily lives, but I knew enough to recognize they needed a well-deserved break.

I still recognize that today, but now I enjoy spending time with Brian. He’s helped me appreciate the little things in life. Maybe it’s a walk in the park. Maybe it’s playing in the sand at the beach. Maybe it’s just realizing how lucky I am to be the person I am today.

 

Animals and autism

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There are multiple ways to treat autism.

Therapies range from hyperbaric therapy to physical therapy to music therapy. Each of these can help improve the lives of autistic individuals, but in recent years another form of therapy has caught my attention. One that needs no form of verbal communication.

Animals have a sixth sense. Dogs and cats seem to know we are leaving for a weekend vacation before our bags are even packed. They know when we have hit rock bottom and need a little reassurance that somebody still loves us. Other animals just know when to comfort, protect and accept a human being.

The story of one type of therapy begins with Karen Shirk. Shirk needed a ventilator to breathe and the service dog agencies she applied to said she was too disabled to have a dog.  After years and years of trying, Karen finally received her own dog. She became inspired to start her own organization where applicants would not be judged on severity of their disability. This is where 4 Paws for Ability began.

images (1)Today 4 Paws for Ability has become the standard across the country in placing “highly skilled Autism Assistance Dogs” with autistic families. The non-profit organization not only helps autistic families, but families with children of all disabilities. No one is turned away as long as they have a physician’s approval.

Over the years, Brian has developed a special relationship with one dog in particular. My cousin and his wife have a dog named Ace. He is a Shiba Inu. That means Ace is full of energy. Whenever he is around Brian though, Ace seems to know to tone it back a bit. He has this sense that his playful manner may come across as too much for Brian to handle. 

Aside from Ace, Brian also participated in horseback riding therapy for a few years at Thorncroft Equestrain Center. This center helps all people with disabilities and special needs. Through numerous scientific studies, results have shown that riding horses “provides balance, strength, mobility, and improved self esteem.” These horses, along with autism service dogs, can do wonders for those with the disorder. Both of these animals have an understanding of who autistic people are. A relationship develops between them that needs no words. Just watch and you’ll see the bond between them. 

Down in Florida, another non-profit charity program has gained significant notoriety in autism therapy. Island Dolphin Care brings together one of the most gentle creatures of the ocean with the some of the most gentle people on land. The organization also works with children at risk and wounded veterans. One family praised the charity, saying their son became “alive and vibrant” when interacting with the dolphins.

Photo from Island Dolphin Care website.

Photo from Island Dolphin Care website.

It’s sometimes strange to think about how close we become with our animals. We never converse in a single conversation, yet we form a relationship that is sometimes deeper than we have with our own friends and family. I think this happens because animals accept us for us. Their loyalty never waivers no matter what we do. At the end of the day, they will always be by our sides.

 

 

 

*A commenter brought up another non-profit organization called Autism Service Dogs of America

Autism on the tracks

Photo via Reddit

Photo via Reddit

Very few things seem to be universal in the autism world.

Symptoms, personalities and place on the spectrum vary so greatly, that fully understanding the disorder can be a challenge.

Over the past few days, I have found a couple different stories about autistic people and their love for trains. These stories intrigued me because my brother Brian also has a liking for trains as well. My dad and him go out to train museums several times a year and spend the entire day there. Brian has also received several train sets for Christmas and once I grew out of my Thomas the Tank Engine toys, he picked up right where I left off. I wish I had taken pictures of some of the trains he laid down because they were remarkable. A few took up an entire room.

Aside from Brian, it seems like Thomas the Tank Engine is a favorite among several other thomas-the-tank-engineautistic individuals. One blogger believes it may be because of the limited facial expressions of the characters. Another reason is because the background is always still. There is little distraction, so if an autistic person is watching, they can focus more on the characters.

Trains may also appeal to autistic people because there is always order. A train will never start with the caboose and have the engine in the middle. I cannot speak for other autistic people, but this parallels the daily planner for my brother. When Brian wakes up, he almost immediately asks for his schedule. In this breakdown of the day, there is structure and order. It leaves little room for guessing.

Up in New York City, the New York Transit Museum has seen a significant rise in field trip requests for autistic classes as well as autistic customers. Seeing how popular trains have become, the museum founded an after-school program called “Subway Sleuths” for 9- and 10-year-olds. The program focuses on the history of New York City trains while working on the social skills. The program became so popular, it needed further expansion.