- Family and Parenting»
Autism's Dirty Little Secrets
Locked away from the world
What changes when a child is diagnosed with autism? For most people, the schedule changes and goals change and eventually some improvement in symptoms is seen after working hard in therapy. For other families though, hope is lost and the child is virtually discarded- assumed to be a lost cause.
Kids with autism are far more likely to be abused and neglected than their neurotypical peers as well as frequently being targets of bullying. When a parent loses hope, the child suffers and because of the disorder the mistreatment often goes un noticed.
How can you tell if a child with autism is being abused? If the child has always had behavioral problems which had been attributed by the professionals to the autism, you may not be able to see when they begin acting out because of abuse or neglect. If the child can not speak then how can they tell you? Judging by the bruises can prove difficult as well as kids with autism tend to get injured more often due to poor prorioception and vestibular input.
What then becomes of the child with autism who is forgotten by all?
"I sent him to his room for having a tantrum"
For how long?
Parents of kids with autism who are not receiving behavioral therapies or education and do not know how to handle behavioral challenges often spank the child or send the child to their room. Usually it is a desperate act of a parent who can not find another way to get through to the child.
Sending a child to their room in and of itself is not so much an issue- allowing them back out however is. How long is ok? 5 minutes, ten minutes, an hour? Guess what- in far too many cases, the parent leaves the child alone in their room for the entire day. Every day. The parent has become so frustrated by the child's behavior that they will only allow the child out of their room for meals or a bath.
What does this child learn? NOTHING. The child sits alone all day every day, he exists but does not live. If he dares to play and makes sounds while doing it, it sounds as if he is becoming violent and the parent rushes up to deliver a spanking. He is a prisoner not of his mind, but of his parent's mind.
Imagine a 3 year old alone and unloved - their disability is the excuse
When you bring a child into this world you bring with them hope and possibilities. What changed between the day you found out you were expecting and the moment you gave up and locked your child away? You lost hope.
There is no cure for autism- your child will not recover. Some parents hear this and lose all hope. Whether there will ever be a cure or not does not matter at this point in your child's life- we are not there yet so stop being hung up on it- if you want to fundraise for one then great or do research, just stop applying those dreams to your child's current situation and love them for who they are.
No cure does not mean that the child can not see improvements. I was working with a young mother a while ago and when I told her that they needed to start therapies, she said "why, he will never be cured so why should I waste the time?"
With therapy, the child may be able to communicate, manage their own sensory issues and learn how to better control their own behavior. Yes, they will still have autism, but they CAN have improvements in the symptoms- it happens every day! Progress is often slow but it WORKS.
This same mother I mentioned above kept her little boy locked away, a chain on his bedroom door that was only opened for food- no baths as she was afraid that he would act up in the tub and get hurt requiring a trip to the ER. She said "it is safer for the other kids this way". If he got loud, she would remove anything that was in his room. If that did not work to silence him, she would spank him. I spent a few days with him at the request of the child's pediatrician- he was affectionate and well behaved for anyone who got down on his level and gave clear directions. He picked up a few words and had a great time. I practiced these simple techniques with her for a while and it was working...
I thought she was going to see that her little boy still had a chance and that she would at least TRY something. She was doing so well. We missed a day, then I went to see her and he was again locked away. The child is now safely in the care of a foster family who help him live his life.
"I can't play with him- he doesn't want me"
He wants you to, he does.
I have heard this so many times "I want to play with him but he doesn't want me to so I don't"
While it is true that kids with autism may get angry if someone 'ruins' the game they are playing by moving a train or car into the wrong position, this does not mean they do not want to play with you. It simply means that they want things a certain way and want you do respect that.
Obviously it is not possible to read their minds and play the game the way they want to so you may need to be creative. If they are angry at you touching the trains, how about blowing some bubbles for them while they play trains, you can laugh and help with the story line without interrupting their story! There are many ways to get started.
I used to play with cars next to my son while he played trains. Gradually I moved the cars closer and closer until we finally played together! We now use everything from trains and dinosaurs to star wars and harry potter characters! He was hesitant to do it at first (violently "hesitant") because trains go with trains and cars go with cars but with lots of fun and rewarding he adjusted.
Whether that technique works for you or not, the point is that you be near them and try to interact with them... it does not matter if you use the same toys, just don't isolate them from the world.
"She doesn't understand anything so it doesn't matter"
Are you sure she doesn't understand?
Sometimes parents of kids with autism allow their child into VERY adult situations citing that the child's lack of understanding makes it ok. It does not. You can not be sure of what a child with autism does or does not understand. Just because they can not express their understanding does not mean they did not get it.
You insult your child when you assume that they do not get it.
image By Donovan Govan. [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
When Cutie was a toddler I heard that phrase time and time again. He screamed in the store and threw himself on the floor "you spoil him, if you spank him when he does that then he won't do that anymore". We found other ways and put a stop to that behavior. Kids are all unique, what works for some may not work for others but you can read how we peacefully put an end to tantrums here . Cutie is now so well behaved that he wins awards in school for his behavior and teaches the other kids.
Spanking a child with autism does not help. It will backfire. Aside from the obvious reasons not to such as inflicting pain on a child is wrong, it teaches them to hit etc, there are special considerations with autism.
Kids with autism mimic what we do more intensely than neurotypical children. They will begin hitting you, teachers, siblings etc BUT there is much more.
If a child with Sensory Integration Dysfunction is spanked- you have just shown them their behavior is OK while simultaneously confusing the heck out of them. SID causes the child to crave proprioceptive input (which occurs during a spanking) and while they may not show it by their expression, the spanking will trigger a release of chemicals in the brain. These chemicals (Seratonin and Dopamine) are good, pleasant and happy- you will have just rewarded your child!
Do not use this as a method to cheer them up though, it does not work like that. It is the chemicals that they enjoy, not the spanking- the spanking is terrible for them. There are much more effective ways to trigger the release of the chemicals.
This is anonymous
Have you ever spanked or struck your child?
Do you think that you have neglected your child?
Please do not think that I mean one busy day when things did not work out the way you intended, the occasional rough day happens to everyone, maybe you forgot to give your kid lunch once etc... I mean, have you ever locked them in their room because it was easier than dealing with the problem and not allowed them to come back out? Do you refuse to play with them because it is hard? Do you not feed them because they will make a mess etc?
ANONYMOUS- Please be honest
Which came first, the autism like behaviors or the neglect? - Some psychological disorders very closely resemble autism
If the child has never been nurtured or formed a bond with a parent, can you be sure that the diagnosis of autism is correct? Decades ago autism was thought to be caused by refrigerator mothers which has been long since disproven. Nowadays it is known for sure that refrigerator mothers, while they may exist are not the cause of autism although they may be a symptom.
Some have theorized that refrigerator mothers are actually manifesting mild symptoms of aspergers and that through genetics, the child has simply inherited a more profound version of the same thing. Others theorize that refrigerator mothers become that way through trial and error having seen that some (very small minority) children respond better and are more successful with therapy if their mother behaves this way.
That said, there are some psychological disorders that are caused by neglect or abuse that can mimic symptoms of autism. The differential diagnosis for these is usually asking the parent if the child had been abused or neglected- to which most parents will say no. In a case where the mother locks her child away as opposed to dealing with behavioral problems, how can you be sure that autism is a correct diagnosis? Honestly, if this is how a parent is dealing with the problems now, how did they handle things when the child was a baby?
The simple truth is that until a test is developed, there really is no way to be 100% certain.
If you are a parent of a child with autism who feels like giving up
Your child needs you to be strong. Your child is worth the effort and deserves your time, effort and yes, money but more importantly, your child needs to feel your love.
Kids with autism DO feel the love of their parents. Some kids may simply need you to exaggerate a bit when giving cuddles, kisses and saying I love you in order for them to respond to you. You brought them into this world and now your job is to provide them with unconditional love- just because they can't say it back does NOT mean you don't have to show them.
Maybe with lots of time and effort your child will learn to communicate, stop stimming or control their behaviors, maybe they will not. The only way to know is to try.
You know that you need to do something for them,but if that is not enough, maybe you will do it for yourself-
Someday when you are long gone, how do you want to be remembered? The parent who discarded a child for having autism or the parent who fought hard to show the world that this child is worth so much and the child, regardless of the outcome knew how much they were cared for.
Who abuses or neglects kids with autism?
It could be anyone. Sometimes is is simply a lack of education in managing behaviors in children with autism, sometimes it is because of frustration at the situation. There are many many reasons that this situation develops but, not matter WHAT the reason (or excuse)....
It is NEVER the fault of the child.
It is often a mother, especially if she is isolated and the primary caregiver of the child with autism. These cases are particularly sad as the mother is often so overwhelmed she is simply doing what she feels is necessary to protect the child from themselves, not realizing she is making it worse.
It could be the father, frustrated by the child's misbehavior and certain that a demonstration that he is the "alpha male" will help- it simply makes the child afraid and resentful.
It could be someone in or close to the family who does not believe that autism is real or doubts that the child was correctly diagnosed, trying to bully the behaviors out of them
Sometimes, a jealous sibling will abuse a child with autism as the child with ASD gets so much attention and their indiscretions may not incur consequences as harsh as those dolled out to the sibling.
Babysitters or nannies may also abuse or neglect a child with autism. Sometimes they are not fully aware of what a demanding job it will be and they take out their frustrations on the child.
A teacher who was unprepared to handle a child with such incredible needs may isolate the child to avoid losing control of the rest of the class or even because they find the child annoying.
If you suspect a child with autism is being abused or neglected, you should report it- if you are afraid to report it, try going to the school for help- they are mandated reporters.
Not every case results in separation of the child- if the issues are clearly a result of lack of education and desperate attempts of the parent to protect the child, in home training is often all that is required to help them find a balance.
A child with autism can not defend themselves, they will likely view this as normal and they will view being locked up as their role in life. They may feel that it is their fault for being 'defective'.