AUTISM – “The communication Chronicles”

“If they can’t learn the way we teach, we teach the way they learn.” – Dr. Ivar Lovaas.

Carol is a 35-year-old mother of two. Ben is 4 and Julia is 6. It’s a beautiful day so Carol decides to take the kids out to the mall for a fun day. She packs their bags with extra clothes, toys and snacks, because Ben is very picky with his food. The drive there is pretty smooth because the kids are glued to the movie Carol put on in their dvd drive in the back seat of the car. That’s usually the only way to keep Ben calm. However, her luck was about to change.

When they get there, Carol grabs her bag and helps Julia out, but when she goes to help Ben, he starts to wrestle with her. “No no, movie!” Ben exclaims. “Honey don’t you wanna go in and play on the swing?” Carol asks gently. “No, movie!” Ben shouts. “Okay one more minute” Carol says, “and then all done!” she adds. Ben shows no reaction and continues watching the movie. “Mommy I wanna go in and play” Julia asks desperately. “Okay Julia, let’s just give Ben one more minute to get ready okay? You know he needs extra time to prepare.” She explains. “But it’s not fair!” exclaims Julia, “We always have to wait for Ben, what about me?” she pleads. Carol sighs and takes out her IPad and searches frantically for the movie Ben is watching. She finds it and hands the IPad to Julia, “here hold this for a second.” She says. Julia does as she’s told but with a frown on her face.

“Ben honey, your time is up.” She says as she switches off the movie. “No no no!” he yells. Carol hurriedly unbuckles him from his seat, as he kicks and screams, then she puts him on the floor and puts the IPad in his hand. He instantly goes quiet and is glued to the screen. She closes the car door, locks it, and helps Ben off the floor with the IPad in his hand, then tells Julia “come on honey, let’s go inside. Julia skips happily next to her mom.

They walk in and go over to the play area by the food court. Julia lights up and instantly runs over to the big red slide. “Slow down Julia, make sure you can see me okay? if you can see me I can see you!” mom explains. “ok mommy” Julia adds as she joins the kids in line for the slide. Carol finds a table facing the play area and helps Ben onto the seat next to her. “Hey honey, wanna go play with Julia?” she asks hopefully. Ben doesn’t look up and doesn’t respond, he just continues watching his movie.

The waitress comes over, “Good afternoon, my name is Brenda, what can I get for you?” she asks politely. “Um… can you give me a minute? I haven’t really had a chance to look at the menu.” Carol says. “Sure, take your time, I’ll be back to check on you.” says Brenda. Carol opens the kid’s menu and scans it quickly. She’s happy to see that they have French fries (one of the 6 foods that Ben can eat), and chicken nuggets (Julia’s favorite food). She opens the adult menu and before she gets a chance to look at it, she sees Ben ruffling through her bag mumbling.

“Ben what are you looking for?” she asked calmly. “Cars!” he answered without looking at her, as he slowly picked out items in the bag and threw them on the floor. “okay, why don’t I help you look” Carol said as she took the bag from him. “No stop! Mine!” shouted Ben. “It’s okay honey, I’m just helping you…” before she could finish her sentence, Ben was now banging his head on the table. At this point the people at the neighboring tables were now looking at her and Ben in horror. Carol put one hand on the table to cushion his head, and started throwing things out of the bag with the other. She finally found the bag with his cars and quickly put it in front of him. He immediately sat up and started lining up the cars in a straight line, with one behind the other. Carol sighed with relief and checked his forehead, which looked okay. That was Ben’s way of saying that he was upset. She made a mental note to give him some Tylenol after he ate.

“Are you ready to order now?” Brenda asked. Carol didn’t even realize that she was back. “Uh, um… sure” Carol said, not having had a chance to look at the adult menu. “We’ll have one chicken tender meal, and one small plate of fries for the kids.” She said. “And I’ll have a chicken salad if you have one.” She added. “We sure do,” Brenda said. “what kind of dressing would you like for your salad?” she asked. “Um ranch would be fine.” Carol added. “Coming right up!” said Brenda.

“Hey cute kid,” Brenda added. “what’s his name?” she asked. “Ben.” Carol said proudly. Brenda walked over to Ben and said “Hi Ben, what you doing?” she asked playfully. Ben just continued looking at his cars and started rocking back and forth. “Can you say hi Ben?” Carol asked desperately. “Hi” he said still focused on his cars. “Uh, he’s just shy” Carol explained. “Oh, I got one of those,” said Brenda, “he’ll grow out of it soon” she added. “Thanks.” Carol said in a low voice, knowing very well that this was not something Ben could grow out of.

Brenda leaves and Carol scans the play area looking for Julia. She cannot spot her anywhere. “Julia” she says standing up and walking over to the play area. “Julia!” she screamed looking around frantically. “yes mommy?” Julia said as she crawled out of the little play house at the corner of the play area. “Oh my God!” Carol said with relief running over to Julia, but turning around to make sure Ben was still at the table. He was still sitting there quietly looking at his cars and rocking back and forth, an action he did to soothe himself. “You scared me honey.” Carol said to Julia. “remember I said you have to make sure you can see me?” she asked. “oh, I forgot mommy, it was only for a second.” Julia said shrugging. “Okay.” Carol said. “Well, the food is about to get here so let’s go back to the table.” she added.

As soon as they sat down Julia said “I gotta potty.” Carol’s heart sank! “Didn’t I tell you to go to the bathroom before we left the house?” Carol asked upset. “I tried” said Julia, “but nothing came out. I gotta potty now.” She added. Carol thought about how much easier it was when she was married, because there was always another parent there to help. Now she had to do everything on her own, since her husband divorced her because he couldn’t handle Ben’s slow development and tantrums, and he kept saying he didn’t sign up for this and that he wanted a “normal kid” like Julia.

“Mommy I gotta go!” Julia said as she started to dance around in one spot. “Okay honey” Carol said standing up. Knowing very well that Ben wasn’t going to have it. He seemed to be a little more irritable today than usual. Carol packed the bag and told Ben quietly, “Ben we’re going to go potty now ok, but we’re coming right back and you can continue playing with your cars okay?” She explained. “No!” said Ben. “Ben I’m counting to three and then we’re going” said Carol firmly. “One… two… three!” Carol said, with no movement from Ben. “Okay, time to go!” she said as she picked Ben up off the chair. “Nooooo!!!!” Ben screamed. “Cars!” he yelled as he flailed his arms and legs.

Brenda showed up right then, balancing their food on a tray, looking big eyed and worried. “Can we just have that to go please” Carol said walking away with the kids and handing Brenda some money. “Um sure” said Brenda looking puzzled. Carol went into the family bathroom and Julia ran to the toilet as fast as she could. Ben was still kicking and flailing and screaming, so Carol hugged him tight and sang to him his favorite song in a calm voice, while rocking him back and forth. After about a minute he started to slow down and scream less, and in about five minutes, he was quiet and sucking on his favorite blanket, that Carol had placed on her shoulder.

Right then Julia started to cry. “Oh no, what’s wrong Julia?” Carol asked whispering. “I had a small accident” she said crying and hugging on to her mother’s knees. “It’s okay honey, I brought you an extra pair of clothes in the bag.” She said struggling to unzip it without startling Ben, and handing Julia a shirt and tights. Julia stopped crying and changed her clothes, and they walked back to their table, Carol noticing lots of eyes on them, some people even pointing, but she was just too exhausted to care. She took her bag of food and left, muttering to herself that she’ll never leave the house without help again.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is characterized by challenges with social skills, speech and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. The term “spectrum” comes from the wide variation in challenges and strengths, possessed by each person with autism. The learning and thinking of people with ASD can range from gifted, to severely challenged.

Research shows that Autism is about 4.5 times more likely to affect boys than girls, and is found in all races, ethnicities, and social groups. There is no known single cause for autism, although science points to important genetic components. There is still a debate on whether any environmental triggers may be involved in autism.

Autism and Vaccines

A decade ago most researchers agreed that there needed to be more studies on vaccines in relation to autism. They looked at children who received vaccines and those who didn’t, or who received them on a different, slower schedule. There was no difference in their neurological outcomes. The results of studies are very clear; the data shows NO relationship between vaccines and autism.

Symptoms in children

Signs of Autism usually appear between the ages of 2 and 3 years. Sometimes, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Here are some things to look for.

  • Avoids eye contact and prefers to be alone
  • Unable to understand other people’s feelings (no empathy)
  • Is nonverbal or has delayed language development
  • Repeats words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
  • Does not like having changes in routine or surroundings, and is likely to get upset if it happens
  • Has highly restricted interests (e.g. only wants to play with specific toys)
  • Performs repetitive behaviors (e.g. flapping or rocking)
  • Has unusual reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights, colors or movement (affecting the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the lights or fans in the room, etc.)
  • Unable to have normal back-and-forth conversation
  • Lack of facial expressions
  • difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends, or absence of interest in peers.
  • Stereotyped or repetitive use of objects (e.g., lining up toys or flipping objects).
  • Some children will appear to have aggression, or uncontrollable self-injurious behavior (tantrums, head banging, etc.)
  • Research shows that 30-50% of people with autism also have seizures

Treatment

    1. Behavior Therapy
      • Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), is used to teach children new skills, and how to apply those skills to a new situation. It encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative behaviors (i.e. encourages expressing feelings instead of throwing a tantrum).
      • Early intervention is used on children when they are very young, usually under the age of 5, some even as young as 18 months. ABA has been shown to have significant improvement in children who start therapy at a very young age.
      • Discrete trial teaching is a common form of ABA that breaks down learning into smaller steps, by using prompts and rewards for each step. As time goes by and the child masters a step, the prompts and rewards are slowly phased.
    2. Occupational Therapy (OT)
      Occupational therapy is used to improve fine motor skills and treat sensory integration issues. This includes skills such as using eating utensils, dressing themselves, and writing with a pencil.
    3. Physical Therapy (PT)
      Physical therapy is used to teach and improve gross motor skills and handle   sensory integration issues. This includes skills such as walking, throwing or catching a ball, sitting, coordination, and balance.
    4. Speech Therapy
      Speech language pathologists use speech therapy to improve a child’s communication skills, therefore allowing them to express their needs and wants in a more effective way. For those that are non-verbal, the focus is on teaching them sign language, gestures, and picture communication (e.g. PECS – Picture Exchange Communication System), to help them better communicate with those around them.
    5. Medications
      Sometimes, medications are necessary to help reduce intense behaviors of ASD, such as aggression, irritability, tantrums and self-injurious behavior. This in turn allows the child to be able to focus on other therapies. All medications must be prescribed by a Physician. Do NOT give your child any medications that have not been prescribed for him/her..

~~~ Every child is different and has their own set of abilities. Let us focus on highlighting their strengths and not their weaknesses. Praising their positives and not their negatives. Teach them to love themselves for who they are. Because they are all special, in one way or another. ~~~ Cathy K.

Resources:

U.S.A

Autism Speaks – https://www.autismspeaks.org

Autism Society – www.autism-society.org

Autism Web – http://autismweb.com/

 

KENYA

Autism Society of Kenya – http://www.autismkenya.org/index.html

Kaizora – http://www.kaizora.com/index.html

First Steps Intervention – http://www.first-steps-intervention.co.ke/

References

Autism Speaks – https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism

Autism Science Foundation – http://autismsciencefoundation.org/what-is-autism/autism-and-vaccines/

*** The information in this blog is in no way meant to be used to diagnose or treat a disorder. If you think your child has Autism, please make an appointment to see your physician so he/she can get tested. Thank you. ***

 

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