The autistic child making friends – Part I

Autistic children benefit from having friends and they can make and have long time friends.

To do this the child needs to learn what being friendly means. A non-autistic kid might learn that delicate art by simply interacting with others and catching on social cues but for the autistic child these cues are mysteries.

When we are natural at making friends we might not realize all that is actually happening to be able to interact and connect with others.When we are not, we need to build this skills step by step.

For an autistic child, we would break  the process into tiny baby steps. Playgrounds, libraries, and other gathering places are excellent settings to start practicing social skills that can lead to building a circle of friends, you just have to start with the basics:

Be able to tolerate the presence of others

As parent, if we don’t see our child greeting other children and playing along, we worry he will never make any friends, we might even shy away from giving the child social opportunities, however allowing the child to build his or her own tolerance for the presence of others is a vital stepping stone to building the right social skills.

Continue exposing the child to social events, and have her increase her resistance, don’t even ask her to go say hi yet (unless she initiates it) until she is fully comfortable being among other children. Stay close so she can feel safe.

My son felt aggravated in the presence of other children, it was too noisy and too busy for him. He couldn’t make the children do what he wanted to do, and tantrums were a regular occurrence. Still, we continued going and getting the situation normalized for him, I am happy to report he now has 2 close friends who are sleepover worthy.  A few other friends for casual playing. I can also report, perhaps less happily, he has a girlfriend at 8 years old… As a mommy, I don’t think I would ever be ready for that, but yes, it happens…

Learn to share space

Once the child at least tolerates or get used to other children being around, he might be ready for a new skill: to learn to share space. You can navigate the space with the child and practice passing next to others saying “excuse me” . Look for opportunities where you need the other kid to move so you can pass by. Now you are getting fancy: say “excuse me”, wait for the (little) person to react, then move. Notice you, the adult, is doing all the work, this is called shadowing. Remember the autistic child might not look as if he is paying attention, but keep on going and he will learn it.

When discouraged,  focus on the immediate objective and find comfort in the snowball effect

Runners train themselves to focus on a close by milestone to get to first if they only think about the final destination of the race, they get discouraged and slow down, but by  focusing on the very next tree, or the nearby pebble they keep on running.

For a parent who is not autistic, it can be painful to go over so many steps, and watching so little progress, still no friends! But take comfort knowing that autistic children are notorious for not showing any progress, and suddenly, success! They are processing and will show progress in their own time.

The beauty of these processes is that each step builds on the previous one, so everything starts happening easier and faster as you move along, the learning snowballs and before you know it magic, and little friends, can happen.

This is a wonderful book explaining how we all bloom at our own time 🙂

This is part I of The autistic child making friends.

Do vaccines cause Autism?

There is tons of controversy around the connection between vaccines and autism.

The main and loudest question out there is “Do vaccines cause autism”.

In all my research, education, helping parents of children with autism and the progress I have made with my own autistic child I see how we might not be asking the right question here.

Is Autism a disease?

In the words of Dr. Temple Grandin (an autistic author and advocate) the autistic person” is different, not less”, furthermore “If you totally got rid of autism, you’d have nobody to fix your computer in the future.”

They are a sector of the human population showing a totally different set of cognitive abilities, in other words, their brains work differently, but they are not broken.

Some supporting words by autistic individuals:

The World needs all kinds of minds by Temple Grandin:
How autism freed me to be myself by Rosie King

But, how about vaccines?

The autistic person has a different setup. For example, there is a stronger connection between the gut and behavior in autistic children than in non-autistic children. The digestive system is the door to the immune system, which is exactly what the vaccine is designed to affect.

Autistic individuals are not  included in efficacy and safety studies for vaccines, there is no knowledge as to how do vaccine work for the autistic population. Sadly vaccination starts so early that parents usually don’t know if they are vaccinating an autistic child.

Vaccines cannot cause autism

In the same way vaccines cannot cause left-handedness or a creative mind, a vaccine cannot cause autism. Autism is a cognitive difference, not a disease, so it is not caused like the flu or a cold.

You can have a child with autism without ever vaccinating a child. But vaccinating a child with autism can pose additional risks as we don’t know how vaccines really affect them.

Your best bet might be to wait

The fundamental question is not so much “Do vaccine cause autism? But “Are vaccines safe for children with autism”. The more sound advice comes again from Dr. Temple Grandin, delayed vaccination might be your best bet, especially if you have ASD in the family, she recommends waiting at least until the child is about 3, so that the brain and the immune systems are properly developed and with a better chance to fend properly with vaccines.

The more sound advice comes again from Dr. Temple Grandin, delayed vaccination might be your best bet, especially if you have ASD in the family, she recommends waiting at least until the child is about 3, so that the brain and the immune systems are properly developed and with a better chance to respond properly to vaccines.

You can hear her talk about vaccines here:

Attention deficit and autism

Improving your child’s attention requires some change in focus

As I started helping my son with his short spans of attention, I realized that most of the help, advice, therapies and medications for autism were aimed to make the child more “normal” first so they can do things like pay more attention and focus for longer periods of time.

The problem with asking autistic children to be more normal is that we are asking them to be less of themselves, like a left handed child who is asked to be right handed.

At some point, in the middle of a lot of frustration with my son’s short spans of attention, I dared to consider an alternative;  what if my objective for my son was not that he would be normal, but that he would be a happy, healthy, independent, and fulfilled individual with autism. I started paying more attention to him, correcting less and joining him more. My focus started to change.

How do children with autism pay attention?

Contrary to appearances children with autism do not want to live entirely in their own worlds, they ache to interact with the world around them.  They might not know how; parents and caregivers might not know how to teach them. How do autistic people communicate and interact with the real world? Do they pay attention at all?

Oh yes, they do, a person with autism is not less attentive because they don’t pay enough attention, they look inattentive because they are often capable of paying total attention.

I know this, I breathe this, yet as a non-autistic person, I still forget and get aggravated trying to get my son to pay some attention, because my focus is on the typical signs of attention, which a typical child would display but a child with autism might not. This misunderstanding happens to parents and teachers alike.

My son was jumping on the bed, looking at the TV, and reproducing another TV show with his voice, as I was trying to teach him some letter sounds. At some point I sighed and said out loud: “He is not listening”. I said it out loud as if there was nobody else there.

My incredible boy hears me, and the TV, and his own voice, and still jumping told me: “But I am listening, M sounds mmmm”…

And by that he reminded me most autistic people don’t need to stop what they are doing, they don’t need to pause the TV, look at you with owl eyes, or politely nod, yet they are paying attention.

My son is verbal and was able to tell me off, how about the non-verbal children who eventually learn to use a computer to communicate and it turns out, to the parents’ horror, they have been listening and paying attention the whole time?

More than attention deficit, autism come with an attention difference.

…movement and particularly jumping help them connect with their bodies and therefore pay attention 😉