Autism – A Hidden Intelligence

When it comes to autism, many people, including myself would assume without having any knowledge on the subject that people with autism can’t do things individuals without autism can. It wasn’t until I started at my job that I realized how wrong I was. I’ve seen individuals with autism do things that most people couldn’t do. A person that comes to mind is an 18 year old named James. James, unlike the other individuals I’ve cared for, is aware he has autism. What I love so much about James is that he’s taught me that even if you have autism, as longs as you have a passion for something, you can accomplish it no matter what. James has a passion for building Lego sets. It’s something he does every single day. He has built so many sets that he has two rooms in his house with every shelf being occupied by his Legos.

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Child with Autism showing his passion for painting. Photo taken by Mamunur Rashid

James said that every set he has built takes him between two hours to a few days to complete. Sometimes when I’m with him he shows me the YouTube videos he watches to figure out how to build the sets he couldn’t do on his own. He even goes to Lego conventions and sells some of the sets he builds. Every time James shows me a new set he has built, my admiration for him continues to grow. James doesn’t let his disability hinder him, it makes him try even harder to accomplish his Lego sets more by focusing harder than others would have to. He’s been able to find something he loves to do and become great at it, something the average person is unable to do. He even told me once that a benefit to having autism is that once you learn to do something, you do it until you’re excellent at it. James has even taught me things through our interactions. A female at James’s school is deaf, and while interacting with her, James has learned the art of sign language. Therefore, James has been able to teach me how to sign certain words. For parents and other individuals, it’s best not to assume just because someone who has a disability like James, they can’t do great things. Try your best to inspire them to find a passion of their own. Once they find it, they can accomplish amazing things.

 

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Learning Skills With Autism

Unfortunately for children with autism, some are born with a more severe case than others. With Peter, he falls into this category. Peter, being seven years old, is a lower functioning form of autism. He can only say one sentence at a time and has had to be prompted to do things. However, while caring for Peter, I’ve been lucky to work alongside his therapists. When I see Peter , I assist his therapist in having him perform activities; such as speech and outdoor interactions. While working alongside his therapist, I’ve been able to see how much Peter has grown from this time last year to now.

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Child with autism learning how to play a board game.  Photo credit by BSIP 

A year ago, he could only say about two words at once. Now, he can say a full sentence. Also, when he played soccer, he had problems with staying on the field. With our help, he stays on the field and even participates in the game. Peter is the prime example of even though a child with autism is low functioning, they still can develop the skills any regular person can. With proper help, they can do anything.

 

I Can Do It

When I first started out at my job I assumed the individuals I cared for had special needs of either down syndrome or autism. With Richie, he had a special need that most of the individuals I care for don’t have, cerebral palsy. When it came to Richie, I went in thinking that with his condition, I’m going to have to do a majority of his daily activities for him.

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Child with cerebral palsy being watched by his caregiver. Photo credit to Fat Camera

However, that was not the case. Richie was one of the more active kids I’ve cared for. Even though he can’t walk and uses a wheelchair, he did everything on his own. When I would go to try to help him with something, such as getting his iPad, he would tell me I can do it. Then I would just stand back and let him perform these actions on his own. This way I’m making sure he’s not upset that if I think he needs the aid of another person with everything. For parents, if you child has cerebral palsy, try to teach them how to be independent. The more independent they are, you’ll have less work to do.

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Dad teaching daughter with cerebral palsy to walk. Photo credit by Ivan Jekic. 

Halloween

During the Halloween season, majority of us enjoy watching scary movies. When it came to Aiden, he enjoys them to. Last Halloween, when caring for Aiden, he did something I never thought a person with Down Syndrome would ever do, he watched a horror movie. The movie he and I viewed was, “Halloween”, the movie with the fictional killer Michael Myers. Most of us would think that a person with special needs, no matter how old they are, would not enjoy watching scary movies. With Aiden, that was not the case. Even though Aiden is 25 years old, I assumed with his disability, his parents wouldn’t allow him to watch scary movies.

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Child with Down Syndrome holding pumpkin in front of their face. Photo credit by rawpixel

However, they didn’t mind and neither did he. When I arrived at the house he was already viewing the movie before I came and started watching it with him. In fact, we watched two Halloween movies back to back. It seems that the parents allow him to watch these films regularly seeing that they never checked in on us once to see if he could handle watching the movie. He was even able to handle watching them by himself because when I arrived it was only him watching the film. As I watched the movie with him, I noticed he was never scared at any time. The only real time I saw a reaction out of him was when he said, “uh-oh” when he thought something bad was about to happen. Other than that, I never saw him look away from the screen.

Throughout the two movies we viewed, he never got up once. He sat perfectly still during the whole time I was caring for him. I would look over at him from time to time to see if he was scared or not. Every time I looked over at him he had the same blank stare throughout the whole viewing of the film. He even laughed at a couple of scenes in the film that he thought were funny. For parents who have children with special needs, as they get older it possibly wouldn’t hurt to allow your child to view a horror movie at least once to see how they react. If they know that what goes on in that movie typically doesn’t happen in real life, there should be no problem.

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Special needs children on Halloween. Photo by Conner Baker

Three Ring Circus

Some would say caring for a child with special needs is challenging enough. Imagine that times three. Tristan, 10, Jackson, 8, and Chloe, 5, are a prime example of what it’s like to care for an autistic child and their siblings. Jackson, being the autistic one, appears to have most of his home life adjusted around him. His mom even explained to me that Tristan started crying over his Grandma suggesting he put his toys up so Jackson could move around easier during his therapy sessions. I see the effect for when Jackson is either occupying the TV or the Xbox, Tristan tends to voice his frustration over Jackson supposedly getting those items more than he does . Jackson often denies it and the two start arguing . To remedy the situation, I tell Jackson he can have the Xbox for another hour and then Tristan gets a turn. With the TV, I only let them watch what they can agree on. This lets them know I’m being fair by not favoring one over the other. These methods prove to be effective because the arguing stops and they’re able to get along.

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Autistic Child and their siblings getting along with each other. Photo Credit by Canovas Alvaro

With Chloe, I usually have to worry about how many snacks she tries to eat rather than fighting with her siblings. I usually have to tell her no but sometimes it’s hard as she told me once, “I love you”. She tends to listen but sometimes I have to be firm. Luckily when I’m firm, she listens more and stops asking.
When the mom comes home she always asks me if they behaved. I always say yes but after 9 months she still skeptical to believe me. Sometimes she even responds with “Fuck You”. Our relationship is good enough to where we both start laughing. I know behind ever fuck you, her appreciation for me grows more and more. For parents who have children with autism, it’s best to make sure the child’s siblings know their need’s are just as important as theirs are. This way, they won’t develop resentment towards each other. This can also teach them to be more understanding towards their sibling’s disability.

Thank You!

 

 While most of the individuals I’ve cared for have autism, there are a few I’ve cared for that have a different kind of disability – Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome patients are some of the kindest and most trustworthy human beings I’ve ever met. Aiden, 25, and Lucas, 5, acted like they knew me their whole lives even though they had just met me.

During my time with these two, they were always so happy and kind. Aiden would just smile and laugh for no reason and every time I did something for him he would always say “thank you”. Lucas was more on the trustworthy side than the being happy. My first visit with Lucas, all he wanted to do was watch his iPad. He would even grab me by my hand to lead me over to his iPad so I could turn it on for him. What amazed me was he was so comfortable with me knowing he had just met me for the first time. For any parents with Down Syndrome children, be wary of who they trust. Just because they trust that person, doesn’t mean that person is trustworthy.

Help Please

When we think of individuals having autism, most of us think of it as just a mental disorder. We couldn’t be more wrong. In my 12 months of working with autistic children, I’ve learned autism has many different levels of functionality. One individual I have cared for these past seven months has the most severe case of autism I have ever seen. Tom, 22, is still unable to communicate verbally to other individuals. Throughout my time with him, the most words he’s been able to say to me is two. More than two-thirds of children with autism can only speak in simple phrases. Autistic children who are nonverbal deal with language deficit orders into adulthood.

Another aspect I learned caring for Tom is the lower function the individual is, the harder they are to motivate. At times when trying to prompt Tom to perform an activity; such as going for a walk, he tends to look at me with a blank stare. I usually have to prompt him about two or three times to do the activity before he does it. Most of the time I have to offer him a reward for performing the activity I or his mother wants him to do. If their experience isn’t appealing to them, they tend to let their autism get the better of them.

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Autistic Child giving a blank stare. Photo credit by Maria Dubova.

Young adults on the spectrum, like Tom, have fewer programs to support their needs. The mother has explained to me that because he is so low functioning, he still struggles with childlike problems. The problems her son deals with involves not wiping after using the bathroom and episodes of anger when he is told to do something he doesn’t want. The mom says because of this, he doesn’t qualify for certain company’s services.
Every individual with autism is affected each day no matter how severe their disability is. Just because some individuals have it worse than others, doesn’t mean they should suffer because of it. These individuals were born with it, they can help having it. As much as I try my best to help Tom, he deserves more help than I can offer. The more help he can get, the better chances of gaining skills others with autism have been able to gain.