Sunday, 13 February 2011

How autism widens our view of the world

I've been agonising over how, for years, before our daughter got her diagnosis, we misunderstood her autistic behaviours as 'naughty.' We acted like parents of typical kids, setting boundaries and refusing to give in to our daughter's 'unreasonable' demands. Our actions resulted in lots of unnecessary frustration and anger on both sides. One way or another our daughter would have to learn that she couldn't get her own way by having tantrums.

Now, I understand that her demands are driven by obsessions and compulsions that she can't control. If thwarted, she becomes overwhelmed by distress & anxiety. The resulting outbursts look like severe temper tantrums. Some of her behaviours may seem totally unreasonable, for example one day when our daughter seemed particularly calm, I took her to a local pub on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It was very quiet and I thought she'd enjoy a coke in the gardens. When the barman poured her diet coke from a tap she started flapping anxiously as she usually has it in a bottle. I try to be one step ahead but you can't think of everything! I explained the situation & the barman unearthed a bottle with a metal cap, different from her usual one with a plastic lid. It was enough to tip her over the edge. She threw herself on the floor, screaming & pulling her hair. I stood by and waited until she was calm enough to be lured into my car with a promise of her usual 'coke-from-a-shop' at home. Her thinking is very literal & concrete, & no alternative would do. I try to keep her environment as consistent & structured as possible. I've learned that any tiny deviation in routine can result in chaos, but by deepening our understanding of how people with autism see the world we widen our own view.

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