Autism looks different for each person. Although social deficits are common, there are no defining factors of autism. In a post from her blog, Girl Tribe, Jessica reflects on her experience as a parent of two girls with autism.
We have been blessed with two daughters on the autistic spectrum who have pretty opposite struggles when it comes to socialisation.
For many many years before Sno was diagnosed I got told that she was “just shy” or “very serious”. She would often struggle in large groups, noisy crowds would scare her and she has always taken a while to warm to new people. She’s definitely regarded as an introvert and isn’t really affectionate at all… but when she is, oh – it’s heart-meltingly gorgeous. Sno has always struggled with friendships and I remember her at the age of four, 2 years before she was diagnosed – coming home to me from kindergarten confused about why one of her peers wanted to hold her hand during a song they were singing. When I asked why she didn’t want to she simply told me “Well because I don’t know her. And if I don’t know her well, I don’t want her touching me.” Fair enough kid, I thought back then.
Wilding on the other hand is a completely different kettle of fish. I was told before she was diagnosed with ASD that she couldn’t be autistic because she was “too social” to have autism. She loves people, would regularly run up to random people at the library and ask them to read her stories. She is super affectionate and adores to cuddle. She makes friends easily and is loved and cherished by many simply for her embracing, warm character.
Two girls so opposite in personalities and yet they both are autistic. How is this possible? I’ll tell you how.
Being an introvert or an extrovert has nothing to do with being autistic.
It’s kinda like being right or left handed. Whilst Sno has struggles with beginnings to form friendships (a lot about the how/when/why), Wilding’s struggles are understanding appropriate social conduct and behaviour and respecting the personal space of others. In Sno’s eyes it seems there are so many grey areas of friendships which she finds very overwhelming and confusing with lots of rules to follow that she doesn’t quite grasp; but with Wilding she doesn’t understand that you can’t just rock up to a stranger and sit in their lap because you think they look nice. She also doesn’t understand that sure, that man over there may be incredibly overweight but it’s probably not the nicest thing for him to hear you commenting on how he may break the chair soon if he doesn’t get up. I’ve also had a situation where she didn’t want to be friends with someone because (and she vocalised this in front of the child) their hat was the colour of vomit. Ahem… yep.
There are so many situations in daily life that neurotypical people do without even thinking or putting in much of a concerted effort to achieve. Situations like understanding what to say to someone who may be feeling sad; how to comfort someone who isn’t feeling well, how to make a new friend, what to say to someone when they pay you a compliment. All these sort of situations are answered and managed without hesitation for someone who isn’t autistic but for someone who is; they can require a lot of effort and forethought and this can be pretty daunting.
Teaching appropriate social conduct can be really tricky and requires patience. With Sno it often helps to do “Comic Strip Conversations” to break down social situations and enable her to see what others may be feeling at the same time as her during a social situation that she doesn’t understand. I have also found these books to be really helpful for Sno because they help simplify stuff and give her tools she can add to her toolbox and use when she feels the need. I know for Sno that she loves to read and also loves logic and things that make sense so books which give a series of answers can really help her feel better equipped to deal with situations she feels a bit lost in.
Things that have helped Wilding is learning about emotions and facial expressions and thinking out loud about how what we say might make someone else feel. Daniel Tiger is also fantastic because the episodes are essentially broken down social stories explaining different things ranging from eating, getting dressed, going out and feeling sad. Oh and Daniel Tiger also has a terrific App which explores feelings, too. This book helped Wilding grasp the concept of personal space, too. And hula hoops provide a great clear visual surrounding what personal space is in a tangible way. We use them a lot when we eat outside!
Being “shy” or “outgoing” are not the defining factors of autism. People on the spectrum can be both and so many times, they’re hiding in plain sight – if only people were aware of just how wrong these myths surrounding being autistic were.
We see you, girls. Or I do, anyway. And I think you’re pretty incredible.
About the Author
Hello! I’m Jessica. I’m the passionate, honest Writer and Owner of GirlTribe. I live on the beautiful Sunshine Coast with my wonderful husband and our four spirited daughters. Two of our daughters have autism (ASD) along with my husband and two of our daughters don’t. They’re all wonderful. Together we are raising strong daughters who we encourage to question the status quo and challenge gender stereotypes. We want our girls to be bold in their rhythm and embrace difference and neuro-diversity. I really enjoy eating cornchips, fitting in yoga where I can, cooking delicious curries and getting beach therapy whenever I can. I hate coriander and general ignorance.