How to Raise Public Awareness of Autistic Children
Until recently, there were less occurrences of public awareness of autistic children. Let's give a scenario here and you'll see what I mean.
Imagine that you're in a busy mall, shopping for your perfume, kitchen mixer, or whatever. You are ready to leave with your treasures in hand until you spot a child, age 8 or 9. screaming and hitting his own head. You, as well as other people, stare at him, musing about or ranting that the parent should slap his bum for acting up. Some others wish that the mother should not have her own kids in the first place.
Many of you "normal" people think that autistic people are just "weird," "dumb," or even worse (I'm just saying it to prove a point) - "retarded." But little do they know that they can do things they can do, like ride bikes or join a concert band. As for you, parents of autistic children - how can you teach the public about what autism is and how their behavior shows it?
What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorders used to be a set of rare disorders among children, but in recent years it grew rapidly, making it the fastest-growing type (collectively) of developmental disorder. Many "normal" people like you think autism is just a disease, but it is a set of disorders that affect the way they communicate with others.
The disorders include Aspergers Syndrome (a very high-functioning form) and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). What's more - boys are more likely to have autism than girls.
That Guy is Misinformed to the Max...
One of the most common traits of autism is stimming, in which a child uses his body parts to keep him "busy." It's sometimes used in many situations where crowds, loud noises, and super-bright colors overwhelm him. He may hum when he's in a room filled with neon paint, flap hands at an amusement park, and rock back and forth in a supermarket. It's called sensory overload.
Another trait of autism is sameness - many affected children always want to do the same things over and over again. They are stuck on the same routine and the same activities all at the same times.
For example, you think you can get away with dragging your child who loves to watch his favorite TV channel to the store with you, but it causes him to scream and stim. A child who wants to see his favorite place every Sunday may act up because you have to take him to church for the first time. Those changes in routine make life hectic for you and them.
Sameness also happens in autistic children who can talk - this is known as vocal perseveration, and that often happens when they have obsessions. A child who is obsessed with dogs can make small talk even harder because all he wants to talk about are the breeds, care, and activities to do with them. (Heck, that really happened to me as a child before!)
One of the most notable traits of autism is the meltdown. Most "normal" children stop throwing fits at age 6 or 7, but it takes longer or maybe not at all for those with the disorder to outgrow them. Like stimming, changes in routine or sensory overload cause many meltdowns. For instance, in a very crowded place like a restaurant during peak hours, the child's senses get loaded quickly, thus causing him to lose control and act out.
Another reason for that is because they don't know what they want verbally (keep in mind that the disorder delays communication.) Because of all the screaming and noise coming out, this behavior gains more stares in the public arena.
An Example of A Meltdown
What People Think of Autism
Most people who really don't know what autism is who see children affected by it for the first few times think that autistic children are the oddest and brattiest. When they see a child hitting himself on the head and screaming in your local convenience store, they think that he should be spanked on the bottom. If they see some 12-year-old boy throwing a fit at the mall during busy times, they rant on the boy being too old for tantrums.
Should they see a child flapping his hands for no apparent reason in a department store, they think that the parent's parenting style is inferior - not yelling at them and/or spanking them.
One of the worst things that people say about autistic children is that they are brainless in terms of the r-word. Used casually, that is a very hurtful word and it puts them down. Whenever your child rocks back and forth making sounds, people laugh and call them words like that.
Other things that onlookers say or think when they see someone hit their head to relive the stress from the environment are comments about birth control and advocating it just to keep them from bearing kids like them. Being childfree by choice is understandable, so why should people in that position blatantly advocate it? There are people whose religions find that the thought (as well as use) of contraceptives is offensive.
You can't just stand there and wonder what to do - you have to stand your ground.
It's not the Bad Parents that Cause Autism Meltdowns
- Autistic Children and Snide Comments on Temper Tantrum Videos
This isn't just a post I made in Tumblr about public awareness of autistic kids. This is also a long rant about the comments people make about them.
Don't Be Quick to Think of Her as Possessed; She Might Have Autism
What to Do
How can you parents of autistic children educate the public on their behaviors and reduce stares and rude comments?
Prepare the Child
To reduce further incidents when people embarrass you with staring and ranting, preparing your child for going out in public places is the best way. Learn ways to help him ease into transitions (changes in routine or schedule), like using picture schedules and the "First, Then" card. Have someone (a therapist, teacher, or tutor) to write a social story on what to expect on your shopping trip and make a list with pictures.
If your errands involve hopping from place to place, make a list with pictures of the places you're going to and have him cross off if you completed your time on each location. There are many public places where the environment might overwhelm him, so bring a set of earplugs, an mp3 player filled with his favorite music, weighted vests, and/or sunglasses to block most of the noise and bustle. Bring along healthy (gluten-free and casein-free, if on a GFCF) diet and handheld games to keep him occupied.
Shouting back at a stranger who is ranting and staring at you and the child who acts out isn't going to help. Fighting them off doesn't make things better either. Instead, take a deep breath in the nose and into the belly and breathe out of the mouth. Focus on just you and the child - it's your and the child's businesses, anyway. Calmly tell them that your child has a long day or that he's just tired.
Preparation for Your Child is Part of the Solution...
Inform them About Autism
If they retort when you tell them that he has a long day, please tell them that he has autism. State the facts about the disorder if you have read a lot on it. If they still don't believe you, make or buy cards that state the facts. Hand them out whenever your child acts out in public to let them know that there's more to the behavior.
Sign Up for A Charity Event
Even though you don't know anyone who has autism, donate your money and time for a charity walk/run (It's a great way to motivate yourself to exercise) or for a gala/ball. Don't have enough funds to help others with the disorder? Hold a fundraiser - do a car wash, sell your baked goods, or put on a benefit show.
Also, state the facts of autism and what it is and place it somewhere visible. There are lots of fundraising sites over the Internet, so create an account and promote it to your friends, family, and neighbors. Don't be afraid to let the world know what autism is so that people can be aware of it!
My Other Autism Hub
- Cruising With Autistic Children? You Bet!
Apply the tips to educate them on your next cruise vacation!