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20 Things Children with Autism Want to Tell You

20 Things Children with Autism Want to Tell You

Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a pervasive developmental disorder (ICD 10, DSM-IV) that occurs on a spectrum and thankfully is no longer considered a psychosis. Persons diagnosed with ASD are commonly accepted as presenting with a triad of impairment. These impairments usually include; 1) social skills deficits which mean that forming friendships is a frequent difficulty, 2) language and communication difficulties which often mean that the person will have trouble understanding and retaining information provided in the verbal format and will struggle with subtleties of language such as sarcasm or inuendo, and 3) difficulties with flexible thinking which often means that a person with ASD has difficulty taking different perspectives, empathy, and any sudden changes to routines. Persons with ASD will often find comfort in repetitive routines which others cannot understand or may find unusual. Persons with ASD also regularly have difficulties with motor coordination and may have difficulties processing incoming sensory information. This list of difficulties is by no means exhaustive. There are many other daily struggles for a person presenting anywhere on the Autistic spectrum. But whether you are into brain training for children, are a parent or a teacher of a child with ASD, or are a certified Applied Behavior Analyst, here is a list of things that I think a child with Autism wants you to know.

1. We struggle to make friends

This doesn’t mean that we don’t want to have friends, but we have varying degrees of success depending on how we seek people out. In Lorna Wing’s classic book, The Autistic Spectrum, she identifies four types of social interaction impairments faced by persons with the condition. These included the aloof type (who often behave as though other people simply don’t exist), the passive type (who accept social approaches but do not initiate them), the active-but-odd type (this group will often actively seek out social contact but often will do so in a peculiar, one-sided fashion, or can go on about their own interests only without realizing that others may not share those interests), and, finally, the overly formal or stilted type (who try very hard to behave well and rigidly adhere to all rules and conventions). So, whichever category your autistic person falls into, struggling socially tends to be part of their condition.

2. We struggle to communicate, but this does not mean we are not trying to be heard

In 1943, when Leo Kanner first started talking about ‘early infantile autism’, this was one of the things that he reported. A person with autism may or may not have difficulty with their grammar or vocabulary, but most of them will struggle in the manner in which they use language. Many children with autism never learn to speak. However, many others do learn to speak and can speak quite well, but may learn much later than their same-age peers. Please do not confuse a difficulty communicating with not wanting to be heard. A person with Autism may try very hard to have their needs met or their feelings understood, but it can be very difficult to effectively get your point across when your expressive language skills are limited or your manner of communicating is not the same as those around you.

3. We have difficulties understanding the spoken words of other people

People with autism have extremely varied abilities to understand language. Lorna Wing reports that most do have some understanding, but this often does not include things like jokes or the finer nuances of language. Many take a literal interpretation of language that can make things like sarcasm and analogy quite confusing. However, many persons with autism, with practice, can make great gains in these areas, even though it may not ever come as naturally to them as it does their to their peers. We also have trouble understanding and using non-verbal communication. Sign language may not be enough if our spoken language is not well developed, because we often have equal difficulties understanding facial expressions, body language, and any range of gestures that usually coincide with the spoken word.

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4. We sometimes use a different intonation than other people

In fact, sometimes we use a different accent from our families and communities completely. Sometimes our voices sound robotic or mechanical. This is not atypical for someone with autism, even though it might sound unusual to other people.

5. Imagination and pretend games are not fun for us

We like repetition and routine, not spontaneity and surprises. So, what seems like great fun for a person without Autism may actually be very upsetting for someone on the Autistic spectrum.

6. We love simple, repetitive activities, but we may graduate to more elaborate, repetitive routines as we get older

In 1973, Kanner described how some autistic children would invent routines for themselves such as tapping on a chair before sitting down or standing up and sitting down three times before eating a meal. He went on to describe how other children might require each member of the family to always sit in the exact same place at the dinner table or insist that a morning walk should always take exactly the same route. This is all part-and-parcel of how persons with ASD find comfort in sameness and are fearful of changes, but it can seem quite unusual to an outsider looking in. In fact, sometimes in our need for sameness, we might cling to an object that others simply cannot see the value of. Indeed, some of these objects may become our most preferred items.

7. Many of us like Thomas the Tank Engine

Some experts have speculated that this is because of the mechanical and repetitive characteristics of the characters in the show, but nobody really knows exactly why there is such a draw to Thomas the Tank Engine. Of course, there are many other shows and television characters that people with autism enjoy, but they often tend to be programs where there is a significant amount of repetition by the actors in a certain sequence.

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8. We often engage in stereotyped movements

In plain English, this means that we might do things like repetitively flick our fingers, flap our arms and hands, jump up and down, roll our heads around, or rock while standing up. It is not known why autistic people perform stereotyped movements, but there seems to be an escalation of these movements when the person is excited or when they are trying to seek sensory input. Typically-developing babies and toddlers will engage in a lot of these movements too, but with increasing age and self control, many of these physical behaviors cease or greatly decrease. However, they may not cease in people with ASD. In fact, a person with ASD can become very distressed if forced to suppress these movements. If you want to help a person with ASD when they are in distress, please be aware that they may need this type of sensory stimulation, and indeed it might be very calming for them to engage in it.

9. Some of us can be very clumsy, and we might have unusual gaits and posture

When Dr. Hans Asperger originally described the syndrome as he saw it in 1944, he noted that many of these children had underdeveloped motor coordination skills, handwriting, and time management. This is still true today, but not every person with ASD has awkward or underdeveloped fine or gross motor skills. Indeed, there are many persons, particularly those that are on the higher-functioning end of the Autistic spectrum, that can be very skilled athletes.

10. We have great difficulty imitating other people’s facial expressions, and yet we often imitate other people’s actions or echo their words

The technical terms for these behaviors are echopraxia and echolalia (Wing, 1996). It is often seen as paradoxical that it is so common for an autistic person to echo another person’s words and actions in what seems to be a meaningless fashion, when it is so essential to social development to meaningfully imitate things like two-way conversations, facial expressions, and eye contact.

11. We may ignore or seem not to hear loud noises, yet we might be extremely sensitive to sounds that other people barely notice

This is another paradox of the autistic spectrum. It was first noted by Itard in 1801 in Victor, The Wild Boy of Aveyron. Itard noted that Victor never responded at all to the loudest of noises like the explosion of firearms, yet never failed to respond to the sound of a walnut being cracked open or any other “eatable” which he enjoyed. Other children with autism can become extremely distressed by certain sounds and noises, but this will often fade with increased age.

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12. We can have seemingly contradictory responses to visual stimuli

For example, we may be fascinated by bright lights, but very distressed by flash photography. We also may not always look at a whole item or person, preferring instead to focus on an outline of a person or what others might consider some arbitrary physical features of an object (e.g., the leg of a chair rather than the whole chair). It has been suggested that the autistic child may make more use of the peripheral part of the retina which focuses on outline and movement, rather than central vision, for details. This part of the retina is mainly used by others in near-dark conditions. It is interesting to note that many autistic children can find their way perfectly well in the dark and may not always turn a light on. This, too, tends to fade with age.

13. Certain textures, tastes, and smells that are barely noticeable to others can be very offensive and distressing to us

While we might not be able to handle certain fabrics of clothing, we might not notice when something is too hot or too cold. We may not even notice if we have been badly hurt or injured. This seems unusual to non-ASD people, but it is seen regularly in someone with ASD. It seems that, like with all of our other senses, we just don’t seem to interpret incoming stimuli the same way that other people do.

14. Many of us prefer the same narrow range of foods again and again

This may be related to our need for uniformity, but some have speculated that we don’t always recognize the sensation of hunger. However, many of us drink liquids excessively and our thirst cannot seem to be quenched. One piece of good news here is that when we are engaged in other activities, we can forget about this sometimes constant thirst.

15. Many of us have high levels of anxiety and fear, but this is not necessarily because we are autistic

Much of this anxiety and fear comes simply from the fact that a situation has arisen that we do not understand or did not expect. If you were in our shoes, you might be scared too.

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16. Learning difficulties are common for those presenting with ASD

That being said, about 10% of autistic children have very strong skill sets, even compared with typically-developing, same-age peers. This can sometimes come about because we practice a task in such a repetitive manner that we can become much more skilled than others. We also tend to obsess about small details in our special area that other people may not take the time to notice. This can really be to our advantage in developing a specialized skill set and can set us apart in a very positive way.

17. We don’t always act the way you think we should

In fact, very often, because we struggle with language and communication, we might do things that other people think are downright strange. We might think nothing of stroking the hair of a stranger on the bus or taking off our clothes for a dip in a neighbor’s swimming pool. We might also say things that will make others very uncomfortable, like commenting on your friend’s weight gain or the bus driver’s bald patch. Furthermore, it is difficult for an autistic person to tell a lie. We describe the world as we see it, without sugar-coating or rose-colored glasses.

18. The most capable of us may go on to lead completely normal lives, and many of us might marry and even have children of our own

However, for those with more significant impairments in intellectual functioning and social skills, we may need lifelong care.

19. Whatever our age and intellectual ability, we can improve our skills

We can make progress beyond what anyone has ever thought possible through the understanding and application of the science of human behavior. Behavior analysts have published hundreds of research papers in the area of autism. For this reason, Applied Behavior Analysis is regarded as the only scientifically validated treatment for autism. Click here to see more on how ABA can be used in the treatment of autism. Click here for conferences and training for educators, parents and clinicians interested in using behavioral technologies for effective change.

20. Finally, and for the last time, the MMR vaccine does not cause autism!

There is no debate in the scientific community about this. Read Chapter 16 in Bad Science by Dr. Ben Goldacre if you don’t believe me. Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2014 report if you don’t believe Dr. Goldacre. If you still remain unconvinced, you should note that the only scientist who ever published a paper suggesting that the MMR vaccine caused Autism was stripped of the right to practice medicine in the UK as a result of the paper he published being deemed fraudulent. The journal that published that paper, The Lancet, retracted the paper in part in 2004 and in full in 2010.

Featured photo credit: Shannon O’Brien via shannonrosephotography.weebly.com

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Last Updated on June 12, 2018

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

A dysfunctional family is more than disagreement or constant arguments. Anything from plain neglect, to abuse and even verbal and physical violence is the everyday experience of those who are part of a dysfunctional family.

You know how this looks:

  • Parents constantly comparing children.
  • Siblings in conflict because of tolerated bullying.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Adultery…
  • And many others.

For all the members, this will mean emotional pain and even trauma; which, in case it doesn’t get resolved, will have a detrimental effect on the individual’s personality and development.

Needless to say, the younger members are the most vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean the parents are out of danger, as most commonly the parents play the roles of abuser-codependent, and in some cases, both parts inflicting pain on one another.

Most like to think these problems stem from deep-seated issues, and that therefore it’s pretty much impossible to deal with them.

This is only true for families not willing to do what it takes, for if only a single member is determined and knows how to do it, the whole family can do a lot of progress.

In this article, I’ll break down for you the basic steps of fixing a dysfunctional family. Although it may seem hopeless, it is possible to turn things around.

If you have ever felt in this position, or if you know somebody who is, this article is for you.

How to fix a dysfunctional family

In a few words the solution for a dysfunctional family lies in dropping the ego, focusing on the solution, switching blame for responsibility and doing the work as a unity, for the good of the whole family.

And this will accomplish things you once only saw as a dream.

Dropping the ego? Switching blame for responsibility? Doing the work? What does all this mean?

It’s simple. In a nutshell, it’s that which will allow you to turn a dysfunctional family into a functional one.

Let’s take a look at how exactly this can be done. And near the end we will also talk about what you can do in a dysfunctional family with cynical traits.

Dysfunctional families where not only problems are well-known, but also nobody seems to want a fix or openly decide to perpetuate the harmful behaviors. Such as the case of abuse and physical violence.

There is also a solution for these, it’s just not what you are expecting…

Dysfunctional… Or just average?

Most families are dysfunctional, though at varying degrees of dysfunctionality.

The milder cases, are just marked by “typical” comically-shrouded bullying or lack of interest in other members’ development or wellbeing.

You can know a family is dysfunctional if their interactions are anything different than cooperation, solidarity, care and support. But let’s get more specific…

A dysfunctional family is one in which members directly or indirectly suffer emotional and/or physical harm inflicted by other members of their family. Most commonly, perpetrated by the parents.

Even harmful actions as “passive” as neglect, which is inflicted by inaction rather than action, signifies a dysfunction within the family.

Dysfunctional families have conflicts such as:

  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of interest and time spent together
  • Sexism
  • Utilitarianism
  • Lack of empathy
  • Unequal or unfair treatment
  • Disrespect towards boundaries
  • Control Issues
  • Jealousy
  • Verbal and physical abuse
  • Violence and even sexual misconduct or abuse

You may think a dysfunctional family has very little or nothing to do with personal productivity, but you would be wrong in thinking this way…

If a person is not emotionally well, she will not be able to perform as desired, as the emotional harm that has been inflicted will hinder everyday performance in the way of inability to concentrate, lack of mental clarity and low levels of inspiration, motivation and discipline.

Having a functional family does exactly the opposite: It creates productive members with no emotional baggage.

How to turn it around

When you’re part of a dysfunctional family you know it. You can quickly identify in other members the behaviors and conflicts that create the dysfunction.

But just in case you’re having trouble telling functional from dysfunctional I will tell you the following:

One of the easiest ways you can recognize if you are in a dysfunctional family is to survey your won feelings.

We often overlook this, but have you stopped to ask yourself how you feel?

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As cheesy as it may sound it really sheds a lot of light on the subject.

What behaviors, actions and attitudes in your family you wish were better?

Do you think certain behaviors and actions from your family marked you in the past?

Sadly, we cannot go back to the past to correct it. But we can do a lot in the present…

Correction is possible

In order to fix a dysfunctional family, you must start by putting an end to the behaviors and actions that are affecting you.

Verbalize it.

All members of the dysfunctional family have one issue in common: They don’t put a stop to the harm.

Whenever you feel your boundaries being overstepped there is just one single word you have to remember: STOP.

This is the door to a better, more functional family, because after this, comes the fix.

But first you have to identify and make others know where exactly lies the problem.

So go ahead and fearlessly start with “Stop”, followed by your expression of dissatisfaction.

Putting it to work in real life

In real life it would be something like this:

“OK, stop! Every time you belittle me I feel you don’t care. I need attention and respect, and it is your responsibility as my family to provide them to me”

Or:

“Stop. When you compare me with my cousin it hurts, I feel like I don’t matter and that’s not ok. I ask you to stop doing it.

Or:

“Please stop. When you start yelling all respect is lost and it turns into a battle of who can do it louder. Don’t raise your voice and let’s work this out the way humans do”.

As you can see, here you start by putting a stop to the toxic behavior when it arises. And afterwards you verbalize why it’s wrong and what needs of you need to be fulfilled.

This is what you have to remember:

1-Stop.

2-Why it’s wrong?

3-What you need.

And this will also work well in case you need to do it for another family member.

It’s a family thing

A dysfunctional family cannot be fixed by one member alone.

Yes, a single member can initiate progress and be the leader of the change. But in order to completely become functional all members must contribute to the solution.

In other words, you will need cooperation…

So don’t be afraid of asking for it!

Approach your family member and ask to be listened.

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We sometimes feel our needs are “not that important” or we simply believe they won’t listen. But thinking like this would be like being defeated at an unfought battle.

You will be amazed by how much people listen when you voice your needs, especially if it implies showing yourself open, vulnerable and in need.

It’s not a free-for-all battle

In order to get your family to cooperate, first you must fix your individual relationships with every member of the family. Remember: Relationships are always between two people, and two people only.

No matter how complex, the quality of a multi-member relationship (like a family) will always depend on the quality of the individual relationships.

Once you have straightened the relationship with every member of the dysfunctional family you will be able to better communicate with other members and help in the betterment of their individual relationship.

And this is where we will talk about the fix itself. The one I mentioned in the introduction…

The method

1. Drop the ego

Wherever there is conflict there is ego.

You cannot fix a relationship where there is ego, because the ego will want to win. Always. Yours and the other person.

Ego craves control and satisfaction, and in many cases, to establish dominance.

What does this have to do with a dysfunctional family? Everything. Ego will interfere with every plan you have to fix it.

It will make people suborn and defensive. And it will also make them drop responsibility. This is why, the first step is to drop the ego.

After you make sure you are not going to allow your ego to interfere you must work to make the other person do the same. How? By speaking from the heart…

Tell the other person how important all this is to you.

Tell the other person that it’s not a matter of arguing, but just working things out together.

Point out how it is not possible for you to do it alone.

And ask for sincere attention without any desire of opposition, because what you are doing is by no means in the hopes of harming the other person, but just to better the relationship and stop the damage being dealt to you.

You will have to point out the mistakes you need corrected, that’s for sure. And that leads me to the next point…

2. Not blame, but responsibility

When talking about others’ mistakes we often use an accusatory tone. And that’s natural, it’s what things should be like if ego was not present.

But since we are all creatures of ego, this immediately brings the shields up. And then unsheathes the swords…

When we blame others they automatically enter a defensive state, and this only leads to a failed negotiation.

What you need to do is to shift from blame to responsibility. And even that will have to be done carefully!

Instead of telling them off or demanding change or complaining, calmly point what the problem with their behavior is.

As much as this feels contradictory, also make them feel understood. You know how difficult it is to accept a mistake, so just make them feel it’s no big fuzz… which does not mean it’s ok, but it takes tension off.

You will do something like this:

“Hello dad. Can I talk with you for a minute? I really need to tell you something.

I have been feeling pretty sad lately and I know this is something you do care about.

You see, whenever I talk about my accomplishments you mention something else that makes my achievement pale in comparison.

I know you don’t do this intentionally and I know you might have not realized this until now, but I want to let you know this really brings me down.

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It would mean a lot to me if you could stop doing it, and it would help better our relationship, because this has already forced me to distance myself from you. And I don’t want that, I want a good, healthy relationship with you”

What happened here?

We started off with making it something important, something that needs both time and attention. Then we openly show ourselves vulnerable, just as we are.

We also mention why he should listen, and shove our feelings there again, because they are important.

We describe the issue with no attachment and with no hostile intention. It’s just a description.

And then we take the blame off. Just before we assign responsibility without actually saying it.

You are not blaming him directly, but you are pointing out the inevitable fact that his actions are causing a dysfunctionality. He is now responsible for changing.

This is what “switching blame for responsibility” means. What comes next? Doing the work!

3. Doing the work

What would any of this mean if, in the end, nothing changes? Exactly, nothing!

This is why you must follow up with every change that needs to be done.

Do so in a manner that is not hostile. Bring it up in a casual manner, and emphasizing how you both reached an agreement and how that is important to the family.

If the person doesn’t follow up don’t hesitate to bring it up again, and tell them you feel disappointed that your honest try at it was not listened.

It may even be a subject in itself, and therefore the need for another conversation.

“When you go back to old habits it shows that you didn’t really care about what I said. But back in real life you just reinforce how much contempt you show towards me and my feelings.

I talk with you because I care. Because although it would be easier for me to just distance myself from you I rather do my part in nurturing this relationship.

But there is just so much I can do, if you refuse to do your part I can do nothing else.”

You need very clear and positive communication in order to make this work.

Love is all you need

You must remember that in order for a dysfunctional family to become functional, all the work needs to stem from love.

That is the single one requirement for all this to work: Love.

And what happens if it simply is not there?

What happens if, nobody is willing to do what it takes?

What happens if a member of the family refuses to change and is happy with the harm he or she is dealing?

There is only one thing you can do:

To break away.

Let’s be honest, people, especially adults, are very difficult to change.

There is a Jewish proverb that I love, which sums it up like this:

“We spend the rest of our lives trying to unlearn what we learned before we were 7”

If you find it very hard to change the very traits that make your family dysfunctional or if it’s simply impossible, you still have a card up your sleeve…

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Although nobody likes to beak away from family members, we must remember we have a responsibility with ourselves as individuals, before any relationship with anyone.

You have the responsibility of making yourself happy and free. Because you matter as an individual, regardless of any relationships you have, be it family, friendship or romantic.

Putting distance

So in case you are dealing with a family member who is simply unwilling to change take both physical and emotional distance.

What do I mean?

Learn, first, to take their damage in a detached manner.

Don’t let it hurt you further. Instead take a deep breath and distance yourself emotionally.

Don’t be attached to feelings such as “Why doesn’t she love me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” or “If he wasn’t like that my life would be perfect”.

Simply refuse to keep participating in the emotional downward spiral and accept, even if it’s painful” that there is nothing you can do. Accept that even without that relationship you are whole, you are worthy of love and respect.

They are their responsibility and you are yours. So decide what is best for you.

Realize it only comes down to two possibilities:

I keep the relationship and therefore accept the abuse. Or…

I choose my peace of mind.

And don’t let your mind fool you. We often think that since we all are imperfect, we must take the good and the bad behaviors of people. And we are especially forgiving towards our family…

Well, guess what? We are also responsible adults who are aware and must own to their acts. Never excuse abuse or violence or transgression towards you or anybody else.

Choose your happiness and if possible, also distance yourself physically, as it will increase your peace of mind tenfold.

How to prevent it

There are two key concepts you must bear in mind in order to prevent the dysfunctionality of a family:

  • To be completely aware of one’s own mistakes and not allow them to impact others and…
  • To make sure our SO’s are also on the same channel before creating a family (i.e. having children)

Dysfunctional families are the product of irresponsible paternity, for the decades-long unresolved emotional conflict ends up surfacing in the family inevitably, and it will for sure harm those who least deserve it: Innocent children.

You may notice we went from talking about family, to talking about individual relationships, to talking about you. We went from “them” to “us” to “me”.

Why? Because in the end you have the power to fix a dysfunctional family. To correct the mistakes you have in yours and to prevent dysfunctionalities if you don’t have a family but plan to create one.

Priorities and clear thought

You may be part of a dysfunctional family, but that does not mean you are powerless or that you have to suffer the consequences.

You learned today how it’s all a matter of priorities and thinking clearly.

You learned that, if love exists, everything is possible. You learned that even when there is no love and no fix for your dysfunctional family, there are still things you can do. It’s a matter of choosing your peace, because you deserve it.

Everything will be better if you apply this knowledge. If you talk to that problematic family member. If you help them see the harm they are doing. If you make sure they do change and treat you the way you need to be treated…

If you choose yourself over that toxic family member. If you refuse to justify the harm that others can do to yourself. If you realize the most important relationship you have is with yourself.

And lastly, that you also have to be aware of your actions and be open to criticism. Because we might be unknowingly harming others. And that would be us creating a dysfunctionality. Don’t allow it to happen.

Dysfunctional families are not impossible to fix. It just takes love, cooperation and responsibility.

But if you tried and those elements are not present, just choose yourself instead.

Featured photo credit: Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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