My son is disabled. When you hear those words your mind automatically conjures up an image of what that disability might look like. You may imagine a child with cerebral palsy, or in a wheelchair or maybe with a severe mental disability. But do you ever imagine a child with Autism? A child that looks perfectly normal, one that can talk well?
My son was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder with significant Pathological Demand Avoidance in January this year. At one time it was known as Atypical Autism. He has many of the common Autistic traits but he also has other traits not seen in typical Autism. It also means that, for him, the strategies commonly used for helping a person with Autism cope in everyday life, do not work for him.
He doesn’t cope with a rigid timetable, he needs life to be more flexible and he needs to feel that he is in control of that flexibility too. He needs to be able to choose, but too many different choices will overwhelm him causing him distress. If he feels pressured, or that a demand is being made it causes him to have an anxiety attack or a meltdown. These are often violent, aggressive and out of his control. When he is calm he knows hitting is a bad thing, but in that moment of anxiety, fight or flight takes over. When it is over he often feels guilt but struggles to express that, he finds it very difficult to apologise.
As I’ve learnt more about his condition and him, I’ve begun to understand him much better. He can be quite cruel with his words, like many people with Autism he has no filter. He will say what is on his mind. He doesn’t understand that what he says may hurt someone. For him pain is solely physical. If words have hurt him it’s because they were loud and hurt his ears, causing physical pain.
I once came home from a dog walk in tears, I had had an altercation with another dog walker that had upset me. My son asked if I was crying because the man had hit me. I explained that he had shouted at me and that I was upset. My son then asked me if it had hurt my ears, when I replied no it hadn’t he asked me “well, why are you crying then?”. It became clear he didn’t understand why I should be upset as I wasn’t in physical pain.
I am learning what makes him tick, how he thinks and feels. Knowing this helps me teach him how others think and feel. At times when he is calm I can have wonderful conversations with him. He is a very bright boy, and I’m sure that in time he will begin to understand that others think and feel differently from him. That the ways in which he interacts with others can cause them to think or feel differently to him. He will get there, but for now he needs extra help in understanding his peers and society. Be patient with him.