PDD-NOS High Functioning Autism and my child; plus tips I've learned
Is your child normal? My child is not. What is normal anyway? Normal is anything within the expected and acceptable range of behaviors. Kids with high functioning forms of autism like PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorders - Not Otherwise Specified) look normal but don't act or react to normal situations like every other kid. In fact they look so normal that people often have no idea that they are autistic. But the way they perceive the world is vastly different from your perception of the world.
My son is eight years old, light brown hair, and sparkling blue eyes. He is social, speaks well, can make friends easily and play on the playground just like everyone else. But he is different, and you wouldn't catch onto it if you didn't know him. You might think, "that was a little strange", if you saw a behavior you weren't familiar with, but you'd pass it off that everyone's a little different. But meanwhile my son is struggling. Struggling with just how to react, how to fit in, what to say next, or maybe just forget it and walk away instead. It's more than what normal children go through, it's a constant battle for him to conquer behaviors and exert self control.
He obsesses about the littlest things, he gets confused by too many words, he is easily distracted. He worries at the weirdest times. Some days he wears his feelings on his sleeve, and other days I swear his heart and head are made of brick. He can't read people's faces, and puns and jokes go right over his head. He is conscious of having privacy when changing clothes one minute and then can be found changing in the front yard the next because he's in a hurry and forgot to care about that kind of thing. He will cooperate at times wholeheartedly, but other times you will have to bribe him just to finish a page of homework, or eat his lunch. He is eager to please mommy, but will also get my attention in negative ways on purpose. Like climbing a tree I told him not to and then calling me outside to see, and being proud of himself, because he has already forgotten that I disapprove of this. He craves and demands routine. If his routine is out of whack, everyone around him will be sorry, because he will start acting out until you can reestablish the routine he is familiar with. He will ignore a fireworks show and busy himself catching bugs instead. He gets overwhelmed by sensory information like excessive noise, or commotion and will balk at going into busy restaurants. But at the same time he is the cause of a lot of our family's sensory overload. My son also has ADHD, and he is as hyper as they come. If he wasn't on meds you'd have to scrape him off the ceiling. His attention span is less than two seconds long. On meds he can participate in school for a few hours at a time. But by the time evening comes he can barely stop moving long enough for you to look him in the eye.
Believe it or not, a lot of childhood conditions co-exist and dual diagnosis is common. In fact my son is also bipolar. Yes, that makes three co-existing conditions. PDD-NOS, ADHD, and bipolar. Some people are very much against diagnosing conditions when they are so young. But getting a diagnosis can be critical to your child receiving appropriate services through the school system and in mental health circles. Doctors are more willing to revise diagnosis's in children as their symptoms change or improve, and you the parent play a big role in advocating for your child in any scenario. The less denial you have over your child's condition/s the more in control you will be of their care.
Getting back to the main topic of this hub, PDD-NOS, there are many things that you can do to help a child with this diagnosis function better.
1. Use flashcards with pictures of people displaying different emotions to train your child to recognize these emotions on the faces of people in their life. That way the visual information they see in real life will be more easily translated and they won't feel so lost and can adapt to current situations as they encounter them.
2. Practice self calming techniques. Deep breathing, counting, a favorite small stuffy to squeeze, weighted blankies; all these things can help reduce stress when going into a situation or environment that makes the child anxious or scared or to help them calm down once they are triggered.
3. Every family has some sense of routine. If you have to go out of routine, explain it to the child beforehand and let them know when things will be back to normal. This way they have a sense of control because they know beforehand and can often "wait it out". If you visit family out of town like we do, even keeping a their regular bedtime routine will help satisfy some need for normalcy.
4. Rehearse common conversations with your child so that making friends will be easier. Practice the basic, "Hello, how are you?" "I am fine, thanks." "My name is so and so, what's yours?" "Would you like to play?" Role playing like this with mom and dad will make everyday conversation with peers come easier.
5. Encourage the child with a one-track mind to be open to talking about other subjects. Work with them on several subjects they can talk to other children about to help them not seem so rigid. Teach them how to talk about what they like for a few minutes and then switch to a new subject to allow their friend to talk about what they like.
6. If a child with PDD-NOS gets overwhelmed by their environment or someone in their environment be willing to give the kid a breather. Taking the child outside for a ten minute break away from what is triggering them can often be enough for everyone to keep their cool. At restaurants, I will often put a large menu around me and my son to shut everyone else out for a minute or two if I see him getting overwhelmed. Often this is enough to help him regain control.
7. Don't protect them too much. Let them feel some physical pain. Let them get their feelings hurt. But be there to teach a lesson when it happens. These kids have a really hard time processing consequences and information from their environment. You can help them process what happened and learn from it to use for next time.
Each child with PDD-NOS is a little different. They all have their own special needs and ways of functioning. Being there for your child is the best thing you can do. Accept them for who they are and they will show you just how special and unique they really are. Use every situation as a learning tool, but be careful not to squash their creativity. They often are "out of the box" thinkers and will surprise you with the neatest observations. These little guys see the world so differently than we do, and sometimes their view is actually pretty good!
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