A Mind of My Own
Posted by Gail | Filed under Autism
Chapter Fifteen — Myths and Misunderstandings (Part 1)
This is the last chapter, and the second-to-last installment of A Mind of My Own. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and have been able to take away information that’s both useful and reassuring. Thanks for joining me on this journey.
From time to time I come across things in my reading that seem to strike a false note, and that sends me on a mad mission to find out more. Here are some things I’ve discovered on my journey.
All autistics think in pictures
When Temple Granlin wrote “thinking in pictures and other reports from my life with autism,” it was a breakthrough for people who have Asperger’s or live with someone who has Asperger’s. This woman’s thoughtful insights into her condition gave us a new view. But Temple’s experiences can’t be generalized for all people with Asperger’s.
As soon as I read Temple’s books, I began to wonder if Malcolm thought in pictures. I remembered an incident in a restaurant where he was quoting questions and answers from a book, and I asked him if he could see the page in his head and he answered that he could. Hmmm. A photographic memory, I thought. And then I began to watch him more closely. Malcolm also has a chessboard in his head. Along with maps and other tools of interest he uses as he amuses himself. However, he doesn’t think in pictures. He has almost perfect recall, but that’s not the same thing. So while thinking visually may be more common in people with Asperger’s than in the general population, it isn’t universal.
Asperger’s children are trapped inside an autistic shell
There’s no question that my son is different from many other children. But in many ways he is the same. He has a hissy-fit when he is mad. He laughs when he is happy. He loves his family with all his might. Perhaps if we’d stop thinking about Asperger’s Syndrome as a “disorder” that needs to be fixed, we could get busy dealing with these children in ways that make sense to them.
Malcolm thinks differently. He processes information in ways that most people don’t understand. And he has difficulty following the social rules of the world because they aren’t his rules. If Malcolm chooses not to run around the schoolyard with all the other children, that’s his way, and as long as he’s happy, I’m happy for him. He doesn’t have to play in a way that society expects him to play for me to feel I’ve succeeded with him. He can be Malcolm – doing the things Malcolm likes, laughing at the things Malcolm thinks are funny, loving in the way Malcolm likes to love.
Since Asperger’s is pervasive, it affects everything about my son: how he thinks, feels, process information, understands, perceives, reacts, and interacts. But it isn’t possible to change how Malcolm operates and still have “Malcolm.” I love my son, and my greatest hope is that he can live in a world that sees him for his complete self – strengths and weakness – and not simply as the sum total of his deficiencies.
Obsessions, self-stimulation and rituals should be limited or eliminated
The things Malcolm does to deal with his stress are necessary for him. To try and train him out of them – assuming they are not doing permanent damage – would be painful for him. Self-stimulation releases tension and regulates sensory input.
I know there is a direct correlation between increases in Malcolm’s self-stimulating behaviours (running and bouncing his ball) and his self-injury (chewing on his hand). This is one of the reasons Malcolm hates school so much. While there are some good parts you can get him to admit to if you really push, the fact that he can’t release his tension through his self-stimulating behaviours is a major – and I mean MAJOR – drawback.
Interestingly, when we work at home together, he will do about an hour’s worth of work and then take off to run and bounce for about 20 minutes, when he returns to work, he is focused and attentive, learns quickly and remembers well. Without those breaks at school, Malcolm’s ability to concentrate disintegrates. And I can see it in his work.
In elementary school I programed Malcolm’s math from home, and he had to bring me his workbook to correct. When the school system changed how it was deploying special education resources and Malcolm was required to stay in the classrooms all day long, his concentration fell right off. The math he should easily have been completely correctly was coming home wrong. It was frustrating for him, and equally frustrating for me.