As many of you know Jessica’s son, Kade, was diagnosed with autism this past summer. He was 4 years old at the time. I don’t think she will mind me saying that, as she is interested in getting the word out about autism like so many other parents of autistic children. With that said, it has been a difficult journey with the school system there in Texas. Following through is not a big priority for them. So Scott and I decided that we would help Jessica and Eddie by making all kinds of materials for them to use with Kade. (Being that my background is in special education and that I worked with many students that have autism) We created a picture exchange system for him using many of the pictures Jessica had sent me through email. (Isn’t technology great?) He will now have magnetic picture calendars, if-then boards, schedule strips, mini schedule book, social stories etc. We have even made a training video for Kade’s family. Scott worked the set, was camera man and did voice overs. I am the star of the show, having most of the talking parts. (I expect a knock on my door about an Oscar nomination any day now.) The kids played the role of autistic children for demonstration purposes. It is a low budget film, but the camera man comments that it is “excellent quality”. All these things are so necessary for young children with autism. Many people with autism “see” in pictures. They are very visual and so that is why having a schedule board and being able to see what is expected, or what is going to happen next is so important to Kade. If he is expected to do something but has no idea what will be happening he gets anxious, scared and unsure….that is when he begins acting out. The sooner young children learn how to use these materials the calmer it will be for them and their families.
Let me give you an example of what it would be like to be autistic. Please be patient with me in this description, as I try to help you understand. Remember autism is on the rise and it is very likely that you will, if you haven’t already, encounter a person who has autism. Visualize that you and I are in a room together. I can clearly see you and you can clearly see me. I’m on one side of the room and you are on the other. The only thing is that there is thick, soundproof glass that divides us. I have a heavy box that I need help picking up so I ask you if you will help me? You look at me and see my mouth moving–realize that I’m saying something, but do not understand me. So I ask you again, this time with a bit more urgency because this box is getting heavy. Again you see me, but don’t know what I’m doing with that box and can not understand what you are saying to me. At this point I am beyond frustrated because I just dropped the box and stuff went everywhere. I look at you and yell, “Thanks a lot for your help!” At this point you are upset too. You realize something is wrong, you see the look on my face. It is not a happy face. You wonder what you did? I come over to the glass and say, “why didn’t you help me! I needed you!” You are so upset because you can see I’m angry. You begin to hit yourself in the head or stomp your foot because this is causing you a great deal of frustration and anxiety. I watch as you throw yourself to the floor in a big heap. I wonder what in the world is going on? Why did he do that? Why is he acting that way? So I wave my hands to get your attention. You look up and see me waving. You wave back. I get it now. You need my help to understand! I point at you and then I point at the box. I pretend to lift the box. Then I smile. Oh! you say. Finally, you know what I’m talking about. I get it now.
That example is a very basic understanding of what it is to be able to communicate with autism. That is why visuals are so important. The more “concrete” something is the easier it is to see and understand. The cause of autism, understanding it and finding a cure are close to my heart. I’ve had the privilege of working with children who happen to have autism. What a great group of kids. I’ve also had the opportunity to hear stories from parents who love their children dearly, and try their very best, as they struggle, as they cry, as they try to overcome the barriers that autism brings with it.