Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mugged by Sound

It's not easy being the parent of a special needs child. I know because at the end of kindergarten, my oldest child was diagnosed with Asperger's, which is on the autism spectrum.

Asperger's is tough in its own special way. My son's biggest challenge is interacting socially because he has difficulty interpreting facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice and even understand what other people are thinking. He's actually a very kind child, but he can seem insensitive (or even snotty) because he doesn't always respond to social situations correctly. Sensory input is another huge challenge for him. Not only is he a synesthete, but a sensory processing disorder was part of his diagnosis. So for him, the world is one loud, bright, mixed-up source of chaos. He spent two-thirds of kindergarten  in a ball under his desk because he was constantly overloaded by sounds. Five years later, he's made a lot of progress, but he still has a rough time in school.

As a mom, my heart hurts when I see him struggling, but I haven't been without my share of issues, too. For me, one of the toughest things to do was learning how to ignore what other adults think of me. They see my kid in total meltdown under a table or saying something that seems mean, and then they glance at me. In their eyes, I see the quick assessment of my total lack of parenting skills and the swift ensuing judgement. Truthfully, it can be more than a little embarrassing at times.

It would be easier in some ways -- people would be more sympathetic anyway-- if my child was obviously different, if he had Down's Syndrome or a physical handicap. But he doesn't. In fact, most people never guess that's he's on the spectrum because he's bright and funny and frequently shows some profound insights into situations. He's a little uncoordinated, but not so much so that one would notice.

In fact, to the casual observer, my boy appears perfectly normal. But I can tell that he's wired differently. For instance, a few months ago, a kid came running up to my son, waving his arms and yelling his name. A "normal" child would be able to tell that this kid was excited and friendly. My boy responded by freezing and reprimanding him. "You don't have to be so loud," he stated. It's instances like this in which, even though my son doesn't register the reaction, I see the startled, shut-out look on his friend's face. I see the other parents' faces as they wonder why my kid is such a snot. I know he doesn't even realize that he's misinterpreted the situation or responded incorrectly. I know I have to draw him aside (yet again) and explain what just happened. And my heart hurts for him. And it steels itself against the reproof I see in other people's eyes. But in the end, I've learned that I really don't care about them or what they think of him or me. I only have to love my child.

So recently, NPR posted this video called Mugged by Sound, Rescued by a Waitress. It's part of a project called Interacting with Autism. I wanted to share it because it touched me deeply. Watching this, I saw my boy. I don't know who made this animation, but he captured my child down to the last mannerism.

Sensory Overload (Interacting with Autism Project) from Miguel Jiron on Vimeo.

My favorite part of this video is the waitress who comes alongside this boy and doesn't say a word. She doesn't touch him, doesn't try to "help." She doesn't add to the noise but just lets him be. I wish I had a penny for every time I've told people to just leave my kid alone and he'll come around. So it moved me to see that some other person gets it.

In any case, I wanted to share this because I think it provides a terrific insight for people that have a relationship with a child (or adult) on the spectrum.


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