Whether they are having a meltdown or a tantrum, whether they are indulging in a self-stimulatory behavior or just twirling a pencil between the fingers out of boredom, whether they are socially awkward or just like solitude, whether they are non-verbal or chatty, whether they are on the Autism Spectrum or plain Neurotypicals, children are children. In my journey of Autism, I have come across scores of Autism based Facebook pages and blogs. I have joined many of them where the focal point is usually the kid on the Spectrum and each day is a celebration of the amazing child that he/she is.
On the contrary the cyber world is also littered with such articles where the writer feels it is his/her responsibility to discuss all the ways kids on the Spectrum are ‘not’ like their NeuroTypical peers. Why do we have to put labels? Why is it so important to use the ‘Neuro typical or Normal’ yardstick against which to measure a child?
During the past two years, thanx to my daughter, I got a chance to come in close proximity to children (both NT and ASD) ranging in age from two to thirteen years of age. To say that I adore kids would be an understatement. Being surrounded by children, teaching them, playing with them, has been one memorable experience. As promised, in this blog post I will be discussing six ways in which the kids on the Autism Spectrum are like their so called Neurotypical peers.
ASD kids usually have mild to severe Sensory issues that make them very picky in their daily lives. Whether its food or clothing or a place, there are only a limited options available for the parents to live by. In my class of five students I could tell which snack belonged to which student with my eyes closed shut because A would bring an apple, B would bring Oreos, C would bring Cakes, D would bring Spaghettis, and E would bring Biscuits each single day in addition to a pack of Lays chips or nuggets. But hey! In my class of 18 NT tots snack items were usually French Fries or nuggets or juice or cake or a banana on repeat.
When it comes to clothing, ASD kids with sensory issues can’t wear certain clothes like a girl I know who just point blank refuses to wear our traditional Kurta Shalwar outfit and a boy who can’t wear newly bought clothes or another boy who have issues with figure hugging clothes. As a kid I remember giving my mom a tough time with store bought frocks because they were so itchy. My aunt has issues wearing synthetic fabric.
So the point is, ASD or not, every child has specific likes and dislikes!
The first word that comes to mind when I think about play is ‘toys‘. Toys are a child’s first love. Boys usually play with toy cars, trains or planes and girls adore dolls. ASD kids are usually deemed as not knowing how to indulge in appropriate play with any given toy; their Imaginative play and Interacive play areas are weak. I’m not discussing here the ways in which their play is socially inappropriate. The big question here is how does any child respond when offered a box full of toys? In my experience every child on the spectrum do have a particular favorite toy may it be stuffed or battery operated or just anything under the sky.
Parks fascinate every child on the spectrum the same way as any typically developing kid. May it be swings or slides or see-saws or monkey bars or merry-go-rounds or a jumping castle or a trampoline, I have witnessed the same kind of fiery delight on the faces of kids at the mere sight of a park ( exceptions occur in both cases ofcourse).
Give an ASD child a smart phone or a tablet and he/she would not only know how to operate it but would also know how to download and play games of his/her choice. Take him/her near a water body and he/she would want to splash and play in the water. Doesn’t NT kids do the same?
From their infants years children usually tend to cling to a particular toy or thing for I dunno maybe moral support or to feel safe. I remember my little cousin would take her blankie along where ever she went. Some children can’t sleep without their teddies or bunnies. My daughter has a strong affiliation with her doll. The doll goes every where with her around the house but is not allowed outside and thankfully she’s fine with that! One of my students used to bring either his toy car or his blazer when school first started for him. This helped him cope with school related anxiety. Many preschoolers bring their favorite toys to school most days. Its just a ‘kid thing’!
Ah music! One of my personal favorite part of the circle time routine is singing the nursery rhymes and seeing my students faces light up like a 100watt bulb. Wheels on the bus , where is thumbkin, If you’re happy and you know it, itsy bitsy spider, the ABC song are some of the all time favorites. Their delight is so genuine that it makes me smile from ear to ear.
Show them a cat or a dog or a rabbit or a caged bird or any other pet, I’m sure most of the kids would respond in the same manner. They would want to play with the pets! My daughter is fascinated by all animals but cats are her favorite. Pets are great for ASD kids too since they are thought to help them cope with others and their surroundings. More and more parents are bringing in pets for their ASD children and seeing changes in their kids behaviors.
If you have a basket full of candies and chocolates and M & Ms and lollipops and Jell-Os and you offer it to children, you’ll find it empty by the time it has finished doing its rounds. Candies are usually used as a primary reinforcer during therapies because those bright colored succulants can do wonders when it comes to getting a child to follow our commands.
In our efforts to label and differentiate kids on the Spectrum we have forgotten that our ASD kids share the same innocence, unbound energy, and imagination as any typically developing child. They need to feel loved, understood and wanted the same way. They run on a different operating system does not mean we stop valuing the importance of their presence in our lives. They are as much a part of this society as everyone else!!
Disclaimer: I am an advocate for my daughter and this post is based on my personal observations and experiences and in no way may apply to all.