Today is the last day of Autism Awareness Month. What would I like everyone to be aware of? That autism exists. And that it can be challenging. And that it can be hard. And that it can be wonderful and fun and eye opening.
I was watching the movie Temple Grandin last night. I have seen the movie several times and it is really good. I highly recommend it. Dr. Grandin is a woman who has been instrumental in the cattle industry. She has always been concerned about ensuring cattle are treated humanely. I do not know a lot about cattle, but I do know her work within that community is highly praised.
Dr. Grandin is also a woman with autism. I have had the privilege to see and hear Dr. Grandin speak twice in the past twenty years. Listening to her talk about her autism was inspiring and, at times, overwhelming. She is absolutely an expert about autism and I left the first lecture feeling like there was no way I could do everything for Brandon.
The second time I heard her speak was different. I was, by that time, fully engulfed in Brandon’s autism and I heard things a bit differently. She taught me that the stimming Brandon does is okay as long as it isn’t hurting him.
With that new knowledge, spinning on the swing is okay. Spinning his beads is okay. Rocking side to side is okay. I can’t believe there was a time we tried to limit some of these behaviors. Brandon NEEDS these behaviors to keep his world in balance and focus.
When Brandon was much younger, he would sit on the floor and slam his heels on the hardwood. This was causing a lot of bruising and the occasional broken skin. We did eventually extinguish this behavior by giving him feet squeezes when he would start. We found something to replace the harmful behavior and it worked!
Another thing Dr. Grandin taught me is that Brandon should never be able to use his autism as an excuse for poor behavior. There is no excuse for poor grooming or bad table manners. Steve and I have tried for years to teach Brandon to bathe himself. He can not do it. Or at least he can not do it well. So, we help him with those skills. We do not want a smelly Brandon.
Brandon is now able to sit at the kitchen table and eat only his food. When he was little, he would not sit and would take whatever he wanted off of other’s plates. This one took awhile, but he finally got it. Meal times are much more pleasant now. And when we go out to eat, we always try to find a booth and Brandon sits on the inside with Steve or I on the outside. We certainly do not want him ever taking food off a stranger’s plate.
Brandon likes to sniff people. He does not care if they want to be sniffed, it’s what he wants and that’s it. When he was younger, he would approach people in the community and sniff their hair or coat or arm. We knew we had to get this under control or, one of these days, he was going to sniff the wrong person. Thankfully, he does not do this much anymore. Social skills are important and understanding how others feel is not always Brandon’s strength. We had to teach him.
There are so many lessons to be learned from Dr. Grandin. I have two copies of her book “The Way I See It.” One is for me to read over and over. The other I keep in a special place on my desk because she autographed it for me. If you have a child or family member, know someone with autism, have an interest in learning more about autism…this is the book I would suggest starting with.
I will continue to spread awareness about autism daily, not just in April. Stay well, friends!