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Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Five Senses Blog Tour-- Amy's Day

With a hypersensitivity to smell, an autistic person may find smells intense and overpowering. This can cause toileting problems. It may also mean they dislike people with distinctive perfumes, shampoos, etc.

This is part of R.J. Scott's blog hop, and you can find the other posts HERE--and they're wonderful. 

Hi, all!  

So, I'm part of the Five Senses Blog Tour--and proud to be a part of it.  Although my oldest son was diagnosed with a Communication Handicap, when he was younger (he is college aged now) many of the children in his special education classes were diagnosed with autism. I have volunteered in his classroom, in my younger children's dance classes, in their actual classrooms--I have worked first hand with many children with autism, and I am very much aware:

I never know enough.

 I am not used to touching students or children. As a high school teacher, with nearly grown students, I got lots of hugs, but it was always mutual and there was a question/response pattern. I'd extend my arms, the kids would go in for a hug. Often I would ask, "Want a hug?"  And the kid would go in.  So when I was asked to supervise a group of twenty kids under eight at the last minute, with no toys, no instructions really, and about four hours to kill, I was very ginger about the hand on the shoulder to get attention, or the redirect. But Chance was having difficulties--I didn't blame him, he was bored silly.  Chance doesn't talk much, and although we'd established a "play pen" of sorts using gym mats and my helper had read half the kids a story while the other half colored, these were not Chance's activities, and he was losing his mind. He was also tired and hungry--this was at a dance recital rehearsal, and his mother was one of the teachers. We offered snacks, but they were not his snacks, and on the whole, the entire moment was too loud, too over stimulating and too crowded.

He kept trying to make a break for it by running past me.

I kept stopping him and asking him to go back.

The third time he did it, I was at a funky angle and caught him-- wrapping my arms around his chest.

He went limp. Just limp inside my arms.

I remembered reading once that some autistic children liked that pressure around their torsos--that it grounded them, calmed them down. Chance was in a strange situation that was NOT ideal--and somebody was holding him in his comfort place.

We only had another half an hour--I kept my hold around his chest for most of that time. When the rehearsal was over, his mom came and asked him how things went--and I said pretty good, once I figured out what he needed in the situation.

She smiled and told me he loved that.  

It was sort of funny-- that year, my own son, with his chronic ADHD started in Chance's mother's class. And she was the first ballet teacher he ever had who knew how to redirect him with a hand on his shoulder. Nobody else had tried that--they just yelled at him until he sort of came back from the zoo.

I think being a parent of a child with special needs makes us better people as a whole. Very often we stop looking at the external symptoms of a child's behavior--tantrums, spaciness, short temple, mood swings--and we start looking at the underlying root cause.  It makes us less about yelling and more about adapting. It makes us better communicators.

About two years ago I rounded the corner at RWA and ran smack into a group of mothers with writer ID's, talking about their children. Hey-- my kind of conversation, I jumped right in. These mothers had just met, had rounded the corner just like I had and were waiting for a panel to start and BOOM. Five women in a parent's support group when we'd thought we were at a writer's conference.

All of us had children with some sort of special communication need. Lucky me, I had two.

I started to wonder--what were the odds of that? That all of us possessing skills at communication had been given the task of caring for children who needed--in particular--parents with that skill.  

And then I wondered if the child had been given to the parents with the skill set-- or the skill set hadn't evolved around the child. 

I know my adventures with my children have made me more empathetic than I ever was in my callow youth--and that makes me a better storyteller. So I am grateful for all I've learned from my children.

And I remember Chance's mother, putting a gentle hand on my son's shoulder, and I think that perhaps that's true for all of us. Communicating with a child who has autism or a cognitive disability isn't easy--but I love the person it has turned me into.  

If you're lucky, being a parent makes you a better person--it's one of the best parts of parenthood. I'll stand by that. 

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