Sense of humour helps mum raise ASD son
The South Canterbury District Health Board is seeking a development services co-ordinator to work with people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Reporter Esther Ashby-Coventry talks to a mother about her experience with a child with ASD.
A Timaru mother knew her baby was different when he avoided eye contact and was hyper-sensitive to noise, but he wasn't diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder until he was 10.
The full realisation of just how different he was hit her when she had her second child, a daughter, 17 months later. Her son, * David, could be incredibly focused on things and reached physical milestones ahead of his peers, but his speech was delayed.
"He was dangerously hyperactive," she said.
Using a tough love approach, Sally* responded individually to each situation and put strong boundaries in place. To ensure he did not hurt himself, foam sponge was placed on corners; the cupboards and windows were locked.
"But he always found a way and would pull electric plugs out with his teeth."
David being fast and impulsive meant Sally was on constant red alert.
He found primary school boring as he was ahead intellectually so Sally had to be a strong advocate for him. Socially he was behind and instead of playing with his classmates, he'd hide in the bushes and watch them.
"I spent a lot of time interpreting the world for him, explaining what was OK and what was not."
She says other parents could be very judgmental and intolerant of David's behaviour as he ran around on tiptoes flapping his arms.
Common among people with ASD is the preference for inflexible routines and rituals. Sally never allowed David to dominate the household with one .
She never smacked but used discipline such as taking away a treasured item as a consequence to unacceptable behaviour.
"It was trial and error learning to talk his language ... you have to be very specific and a good sense of humour is really important," she said.
Once, David woke up his younger sister by putting a pillow over her face, Sally told him not to do that. The next day he used a soft toy instead. She explained that he should not use anything to smother her so the next day he poked. Explaining boundaries from one situation to another was another challenge as intentions were easily misunderstood.
Though he had a thirst for knowledge, learning only occurred if he saw a point to it.
David, now a teenager, makes eye contact and does not recall much of his childhood except being shy.
"I don't feel awkward, everyone's different," he says.
Since starting high school he has made social contacts through playing computer games and now has a group of friends.
For Sally the lack of support, overstretched services and lack of information available on ASD at that time was hard. She hopes telling their story will help other parents. She is now preparing him for leaving home and living independently. David is considering going to university and probably will study something in the sciences, in which he is advanced.
"I'm very proud of him. It's about accepting any child the way they are," Sally said.
* Not their real names.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) Children with ASD are unable to interpret the world and what is happening around them in the same way that other children do.
Children with ASD all have:
- Difficulties with communication
- Difficulties in social interaction or play
- Restricted, stereotyped and repetitive interests and/or behaviour
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