The Label Makes a Difference

I think the initial shock of the word Autism has worn off.  It may have taken a few days, but a few days to process that kind of news is a pretty short time.  I think more of my anger is directed at the teachers for not saying it, not telling me what they suspect.  Even if they can’t diagnose, they know an awful lot more than I do and they know what autism looks like.  Even if they were later be wrong, I don’t think they would be as far off base as I was thinking ADHD.

I saw his behavior as an autism trait.

I used the word Autism yesterday when we were at the playground.  Rather than his behavior being “unpredictable” and him being “mean” I saw his behavior as an autism trait.  I coached him when another little boy was trying to play with him; I was that voice who said “Jack is trying to talk to you”.  He wasn’t trying to get away from Jack, or to ignore him; he was simply too wrapped up in his world.  He doesn’t have that internal voice telling him that, so I was it externally.

When he was pushing his way to the front of the line for the slide, I thought “kids with autism lack empathy and ability to see other viewpoints.”  I pulled him aside and told him that other kids want to go down the slide too.  I told him that pushing kids aside is mean, and that he is not a mean kid.  I gave him a time out, but time outs rarely make a difference in his behavior.  (It may have helped the other kids to know he was being punished, though.)  When he returned to the slide, his behavior improved and he was no longer pushing.  One little girl who had been (understandably) upset about his pushing then played with him for a while after that.  He didn’t always play the games right or play her way, but she tolerated that.  And it was good to see him playing with someone else.

The word would have changed how I treat him.

I am mad at the school withholding the word Autism because the word would have changed how I treat him.  Not in big ways, but in little ways.  I would not have been so inclined to discipline for something that is related to autism.  I would have looked at his behavior in social settings differently. I would have looked more closely at his failure to make eye contact.

“Autism” changes how his teachers interact with him.  I rarely get a chance to see those interactions.  For example, we saw his preschool teacher (from last year) last week.  When she talked to him, she didn’t only get down to his level, but she worked to force eye contact.  She moved her head around to where his eyes are.  I would never have thought to do that, but now it is something, another way I can interact with him.

Parent training is important.  I have long sought it out, tried to get someone to teach me how to better interact with him.  When we did counseling, the assumption was that he is neurotypical.  I was told to discipline for things that I intuitively knew he shouldn’t be disciplined for.

I knew he was different.  I just didn’t know how he was different.


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