I was so excited to write this next post. A friend of mine, Jamie, suggested I discuss how one would explain autism to small, school-aged children. I started thinking on it right away. She had a good question! How do you explain it? It encompasses so many things, to over-simplify it would be a disservice, both to the autistic child and the neurotypical child. There is so much wonder in what makes them different and a neurotypical child can learn a thing or two from that.
However, I am sitting here thinking on it some more. And nothing. It is almost as if I still don’t understand it and we are six months deep into this journey. It is still very fresh in my mind. There is still a remnant of grief there that is working itself out. I still, deep inside, want answers. And I don’t want a quick answer, like blaming it on a vaccine or the preservatives in breakfast cereal. I want a real answer. There are so many puzzle pieces that still need to be put together. It is a disorder so vast that its spectrums have spectrums.
I am still not to that point where I have reached full acceptance. I still have too many questions about the past four years and how this all sprung out of her. I know it will pass, that I am getting to a better place with all of this. Milestone after milestone tells me that. But she will always be unique and she will always be faced with trying to explain that to other children. I will have to explain it to children, I am sure, at a birthday party or a playground. And I am struggling with how because I can’t stop asking my own damn questions.
I think the most important thing to get across to younger children who want to know what autism is would be to hit home about the idea of learning differently. There are many ways to learn in the world, even if you do not have special needs. That is one of the best lessons you can give your child anyway. Teach them to think big and seek out answers in new and creative ways in order to succeed in whatever they want to achieve.
Children with autism need to learn things differently because of how unique their brains are in processing their senses, responding to their environments, or following directions. They need routine and need to learn how to process change differently.
Just think about that though: change. When was the last time you took change well? Whether the change is positive or negative is irrelevant. Change is anxiety-inducing, and is accompanied by excitement or worry either way. The ways in which we learn to cope with change is the only difference. There is still a connection between both children and how they share in their humanity; these emotions are part of all of us. I like to think that autistic children wear their souls on their sleeves. Some are blunt, some are overwhelmed easily, some scream just to scream, and, of course, there is stimming, like flapping arms or spinning in circles. But they can express physically that side of our humanity that we are so afraid to express.
Teach your children that an autistic child is a gift to their classroom or team. That child will teach them a new way of looking at a hobby or sport, or they may learn about a subject they have yet to hear of. That child will show them how it looks on the outside the way that they sometimes feel or hide on the inside. My daughter laughs uncontrollably for no reason sometimes. Do you know how infectious that is? Can you imagine how it could affect a class of five-year-olds? Pure joy. Maybe not for the teacher but why shouldn’t they just want to laugh? They are five, after all.
Be sure to let your children know that they should be kind and patient always. With the use of inclusion classrooms, I bet the awareness and tolerance among neurotypical children has only increased. I am looking to get Scar into one of these schools with inclusion classrooms for kindergarten. I think that the children working together in this way is the key to putting the puzzle for our future generations together, changing how we work, interact, innovate, and personally grow. Autistic human beings are here for a reason, just as any of us, no matter our disabilities or lack thereof are here for a reason. Let your children in on the secret to cohabiting the planet: love and patience, tolerance and acceptance, curiosity and expansion. Give your children the foundation to build a better world. That starts when they realize that in our uniqueness lies a similarity among humans that, if truly discovered and boasted, could change the world. It is evolution and we can play a role in it.
I guess I answered the question.
Sometimes I forget how strong I am until I sit down and begin to type.