Monday, May 7, 2012

Explaining Autism: Neighborhood Kid Version

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The other day, Random Guy's neighborhood pal was over to play. Pixie wondered why there were carabiners on the gates to the back yard. Random Guy explained it is to keep his sister from running out into the street. He explained she doesn't pay attention to the cars going by in the street and will just run out without looking.
Pixie then asked if SensiGirl has a disease that caused her to be like she is. I heard no answer coming from Random Guy, just uncomfortable silence. In fact Pixie asked the question of him twice. He declined to answer. I had to get on with what I was doing, but it made me think.
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How do I help Random Guy explain his sister to his friends? His regular play date buddy has autism, so there is no explaining there. He met another one of his friends while we were at Theraplay for SenisGirl. Random Guy is on the spectrum, but we have explained his differences to him as having a brain that works differently than most others do. I have explained his sister to him that way too, and to a lesser extent his Mom and Dad.  I also explained sometimes his difference is why he has trouble with bullies. When he has asked directly if he has autism, I explained he doesn't have a speech delay, so it is called Asperger's, but really it's more of a visual way of thinking. I joke with him about how his attention to detail is a super power.
When he has asked about his sister, I told him she has autism, and it means she is having some difficulty with acquiring speech. I also explained how autism is what makes her so good at music and drawing and helped her learn how to read earlier than most others. I also explained how her autism makes her very sensitive to her environment and so we do things differently sometimes to make things easier for her.  I told him we do things like take her to speech and occupational therapy to help her adjust to the world around us.
We have never as a family been asked such a bald-faced question as, "Does she have a disease that makes her like that?"  How do you explain to a 9 year old what a neurological difference is when they don't have the difference themselves? It was easy to explain to Random Guy because I pointed out examples of the way he was and how that is different than most. I also explained that difference makes him special. His visual memory is like a super power or a gift he has to use at his will.
Explaining this to other children directly wasn't something I have had to do. Usually I am better acquainted with my Random Guy's playmates' parents. I have only had to explain to them and they all were very understanding and seemed to get it. In fact Pixie's mom and I had several discussions about diagnoses and the schools we chose for Random Guy and SensiGirl. She told me she thought  Pixie's sister may have some of the hallmarks of Asperger's too.
 I am contemplating calling her mother to enlist some help in explaining.  Perhaps that is why Random Guy's friend, Pixie is so willing to play with Random Guy. He is familiar to her as her sister.
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  1. Love the visuals! I have not had to explain autism to other kids, that I can think of. But I need to think about this issue as well. I look forward to hearing about your follow up!

  2. Thanks! I am still thinking on this one. It's a bit tricky.

  3. Have you read the toaster/hairdryer brain analogy? I'll find it for you if you like, it's really good.

    That poster is wayyyy better than the other one!