Last year I had no idea what Light It Up Blue was or that there was such a thing as World Autism Awareness Day.The most important thing I remember about last year's event was a friend sharing a link on Facebook that mentioned 50-80% of children on the spectrum have trouble sleeping.
WHAT?! I am not crazy. I haven't done something horrible as a parent. There might actually be a real medical reason my son has trouble going to sleep and staying asleep.
We "knew" something was off, but we were at a loss as to what to do. Actually we did a lot of blaming ourselves, second guessing, experimenting and crying (okay, the last one was just me). J qualified for services through the school district for "autistic like behaviors" and he was in special day preschool and ABA after that. But I hadn't done enough research to figure out what was making him tick and the fact the two were related blew me away.
It was like a giant light bulb went on in my head - a giant blue light bulb. This is why I support this day wholeheartedly. It is all about educating everyone about what this disorder is. With the current statistics of 1 in 88 children being diagnosed with it, chances are you know someone that is affected by it. And with education, hopefully comes acceptance.
Per Autism Speaks Autism is:
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
From Web MD
The severity of symptoms varies greatly, but all people with autism have some core symptoms in the areas of:
- Social interactions and relationships. Symptoms may include:
- Significant problems developing nonverbal communication skills, such as eye-to-eye gazing, facial expressions, and body posture.
- Failure to establish friendships with children the same age.
- Lack of interest in sharing enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people.
- Lack of empathy. People with autism may have difficulty understanding another person's feelings, such as pain or sorrow.
- Verbal and nonverbal communication. Symptoms may include:
- Delay in, or lack of, learning to talk. As many as 40% of people with autism never speak.1
- Problems taking steps to start a conversation. Also, people with autism have difficulties continuing a conversation after it has begun.
- Stereotyped and repetitive use of language. People with autism often repeat over and over a phrase they have heard previously (echolalia).
- Difficulty understanding their listener's perspective. For example, a person with autism may not understand that someone is using humor. They may interpret the communication word for word and fail to catch the implied meaning.
- Limited interests in activities or play. Symptoms may include:
- An unusual focus on pieces. Younger children with autism often focus on parts of toys, such as the wheels on a car, rather than playing with the entire toy.
- Preoccupation with certain topics. For example, older children and adults may be fascinated by video games, trading cards, or license plates.
- A need for sameness and routines. For example, a child with autism may always need to eat bread before salad and insist on driving the same route every day to school.
- Stereotyped behaviors. These may include body rocking and hand flapping.My son doesn't mind being touched; he has been reading since he was 3; he has strong verbal skills; but his speech, while understandable, is sometimes awkward; can still get confused about emotions and social behavior clues, is uncomfortable making eye contact, has a sense of humor.
The most important thing to understand is that Autism is different for every individual. Some children do not have trouble sleeping, some progress "normally" until age 2 and then regress or lose physical and mental skills they have already learned.
J has okay verbal skills with quite a bit of echolalia and a strong preoccupation with certain topics (I still cringe when he looks at the clocks), but no rocking or hand flapping, he loves to give hugs and high fives but freaks out when I try to cut his hair or nails. Oh and then there is the whole hyperlexia thing. Another child with Autism may have some of those issues but not others.
I have written a few posts specifically about our experiences on the spectrum, but most often I just label them parenting because even parents of "normal" kids can probably relate.
Every person with Autism is different with his/her own set of talents and challenges. Just like every individual on the planet. And the fact that we are all a little different may be the one thing we all have in common.