Sunday, April 22, 2012

Typical Versus, Well, Us

We are a very open family when it comes to sharing our experiences with special needs.  We don't hide the fact that our children have autism and sensory processing disorder and anxiety and depression and adhd.  We are very proud of our children, and these things are a part of who they are.  A large portion of my energy is poured into promoting acceptance and understanding of my children, especially when their unique needs cause them to behave in ways that are not acceptable to the world that doesn't know about about these disorders.

So, many a public excursion involves me explaining to someone that Munchkin can't help that he just (touched you/ bumped into you/ melted down in the middle of the aisle/ took your kid's toy/ issued an ear-piercing scream) because he has autism and is overwhelmed by what's going on around him right now.  And sometimes I receive a very understanding smile, or a verbal acknowledgement that it's ok.  But more often than not, the response is less than desirable.
"Are you sure?  He doesn't LOOK like anything's wrong with him!"
"Seems to me he just needs a little DISCIPLINE."
"Maybe you shouldn't bring him here if he can't handle it."
"My nephew has autism and he can't talk.  Your kid can talk fine--he doesn't have autism."
I will be the first to admit that our autism does not always look like anything remotely autistic-like.  Munchkin is a very normal six-year-old boy in many regards.  But he is also an autistic child in many respects too.  Check it out:

Typical Six-Year-Old Behaviors
Munchkin’s Take On These Behaviors
Licking an ice cream cone to see what it tastes like
Licking windows, cars, doors, people, the cat, and the table to see what they taste like.  Oh, and ice cream too.

Spinning until dizzy, then falling down giggling, just for the fun of it
Spinning for long periods of time without getting dizzy, not because he wants to, but because he feels like he has to.

Ignoring Mom’s request to clean up the first time she asks, then doing it when she gets the stern voice
Not hearing Mom’s request to clean up unless she first makes eye contact and gives you warning that you will be cleaning up soon, and then melting down if she doesn’t allow you to finish what you are doing.  And sometimes melting down even if she does.  And definitely melting down if she has to use a stern voice!

Whining about having to do homework before playing video games
Melting down every single night about having to do homework because it interrupts his desired video games, or even the thought of those desired games.

Occasionally putting shoes on the wrong feet
Purposely putting shoes on the wrong feet because they feel better that way

Learning the rules of the English language in order to read and spell
Struggling to read and spell because the rules of the English language don’t make sense to his literal mind that wants to sound everything out

Sleeping 10 hours at night
Sleeping anywhere from 5-9 hours at night, and only with the help of melatonin

Doesn’t know what stress feels like
Chewing his shirt constantly and obsessing over everything that bothers him in the least

Understanding that his friend is mad at him because he took her toy away from her
Not knowing why his friend yelled at him and tried to snatch her toy back after he took it away, because he only understands his own point of view, not that of another

Begrudgingly giving that toy back to his friend because he understands he was wrong
Having a meltdown over being asked to give the toy back to his friend, because it makes no sense to him that he can’t play with it when he wants to

Knowing that if mom says “In a second” when he asks for a drink, that she will get it for him in the near future
Counting “ONE!” after mom says “In a second” because one second has come and gone without her getting him the drink.

Hugging mom, dad, and sister because they’re family
Hugging strangers in the grocery store and the neighbor down the street because he likes to give hugs

Staying close to mom in a public place because he understands that he could get lost if he doesn’t
Wandering off in a public place because something caught his attention and he doesn’t realize mom won’t know where he is

Doing exercises in gym class
Doing exercises with mom every morning, and with an aide throughout the day, so he can focus at school

Following a daily routine because he’s been doing it that way for years
Following a picture schedule for daily routines that he’s been doing for years because he can’t stay on task without it

Tying his shoes
Wearing Velcro shoes still because we are years away from the motor control necessary to tie them

Occasionally using a word wrong, especially if it’s a new word he’s just learned
Using many words wrong, every day, because his brain jumbles them all together and he sometimes pulls a word that sounds close, but means something entirely different—even very common, everyday-use words

Enjoying going to the movies with the family
Avoiding the movies, because it’s too dark and too loud, and because he’ll talk and wiggle all the way through it and no one will be happy by the time it’s over

Petting the cat gently, or at least knowing to let go when it protests
Not realizing how tightly he is holding the cat, or that it can’t breathe, or that its hissing means “let me go!” and then not knowing why the cat scratched him when he was just showing it some love!

Showing love with hugs, kisses, and words
Showing love with super-tight hugs, a ritual of kisses, and, yes, words!

Yes, he's a typical child with some atypical ways about him.  But he's our Munchkin, and he's perfect in our eyes.  And I will never stop educating those around us about autism, because I want the world to see just how perfect he is!


  1. SO proud of you, Ellie.
    These specific comparisons really help those who don't know what your day is like to begin to have a much better idea.
    Guess what? One of my fairly high-functioning autistic former students is just a few weeks away from completing his first year of college -- hours away from home. This just amazes me and makes me so inspired, so filled with hope for you.
    It's difficult on a day-to-day basis, and you're doing a great job with your darling kiddos. Thank you for helping all of us understand a little bit more.
    Love you!!

    Aunt Jeri

  2. Thanks Aunt Jeri! Can't wait to see your family this summer and let you get to know my kids! And how cool about your student--I know Munchkin's going to do something amazing with his life someday!

  3. I love this! Gives an excellent perspective!!