There was a time when people with autism and other related disabilities were hidden from society by family members. Before I had my sons (who both have autism), I never knew anything about autism until I saw the film Rain Man, starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Unfortunately, this film became the poster child for autism. What people don't know is that autism has different spectrum levels. This fact makes it hard to diagnose and understand.
My youngest son Kameron (age 15) is on the low-spectrum scale meaning he is non-verbal with limited independent skills. I have to assist him with personal hygiene in addition to helping him dress. Kameron is also behavior aggressive, as he occasionally head butts. His head butting becomes really severe as he made several holes in the wall (thankfully the walls aren't made of brick, like the ones when I lived in Cabrini-Green) on occasion. He hits himself in the head (self-injurious behavior) and grabs and pinch me when he wants my attention. This behavior is not uncommon in a child with autism, especially when they are entering puberty, not being able to express how they're feeling.
The challenge I have with Kameron's behavior is when his personality clashes with my oldest son Kevin (age 20). Kevin is mild cognitive delayed and has a mild personality compared to Kameron. Kevin is easily frustrated when Kameron has a melt down so I have to play referee by keeping them apart when he has his episodes. Thankfully, Kameron attends a therapeutic school where he can meet his academic and social needs. His teacher and I keep a daily journal of his activities. He gets great reviews so at least I know that he is capable of doing better. I often rationalize his behavior by telling people that Kameron "puts" in his 8 hours at school so when he comes home, he does not want to work. My aunt calls him "Clever" because he uses his autism to his advantage. He wears different hats for different people!
I really try my best to concentrate on Kameron's strengths, or what he is capable of doing. However, as any parent or caregiver of someone with autism can attest, focusing on their strengths is tough when they're having a melt down. In honor of April is Autism Awareness Month, please consider giving donations to your local autism organization or school. Your donations will continuously provide help with occupational therapy, extra-curricular activities, and vocational training programs. This would definitely benefit students, teachers, and parents in the long run.
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