There is Not an Autism Box

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The other day I was feeling frustrated, sad, mad – all the negative stuff just built up.  I sat down at the table, put my head in my arms and just cried.  I carried the feelings inside until they just overflowed and spilled out all over my sleeves.

When I sniffled my last sniffle and squeezed out the last tear, I lifted my head and felt someone watching me.

There Declan stood.  Eyes wide, attention perked, silent.  I felt like I was George McFly to his Marty McFly from the movie, “Back to the Future.”

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Finally, he spoke, “Mommy?  Are you crying?”

I told him I was sad and I cried, but I was feeling better now.  He gave me hug, he smiled and gave me the Spiderman toy he was holding and told me it  was to make me feel better.

Declan has autism.  Declan is very aware of other people’s feelings.

Catelyn has High Functioning Autism.  She is on the Autism Spectrum, but in a different spot.  If she were to see me crying, she would not ask if I was alright or if there was anything she could do to make me feel better.  She would see me crying, and go watch TV.

Declan is labeled as a person with moderate autism.  He is more towards the middle of the spectrum.  Based on some autism generalizations, one would think he would not be aware of other people’s feelings.  Yet Declan is very aware of another person’s emotions and wants to see others happy.

For all intents and purposes, one would want to think that the opposite would be true.  Catelyn, more on the left of the spectrum than Declan who is in the middle of the spectrum, should be able to read others emotions better and be more understanding.  But this is not the case.  Why?

When you look at the Autism Spectrum, it is so easy to look at it from left to right and say, if you are on the left you have mild symptoms of autism.  As you move to the right, the symptoms become more severe.  On a high level, this generalization may work.  But when you meet a person with autism you may realize that the generalization you made was a mistake.

There is a lovely saying out there, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”  It is so easy to want to generalize and typecast a person with autism with certain typical behaviors, as I spoke about here, “Maybe it’s Not Autism…”  Our pediatrician is wonderful at diagnosing an ear infection or strep throat, but really has no idea about autism and wanted to fit Declan into his mental box of what he knew about autism.

Everybody on the spectrum is different.

Everyone with autism has their spot on the spectrum and everyone is going to have different behaviors – even if they are in the same spot.  Makes sense – no 2 people are exactly alike, either.  We are all different.  Just like snowflakes.

Before I had kids, before I had kids diagnosed with autism, I made the generalizations, too.  If I even thought about autism.  My kids are completely different individuals.  Their experience with autism is completely different, and not in the way I would’ve previously generalized based on their spots on the spectrum.

Knowing what they are up against helps us to figure out how to help them get over some obstacles and for others to learn about their different personalities.  That’s all.  They don’t fit in any autism box.  My kids are different from each other and from everyone else, as we all are.  And they are super awesome!