Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Growing Up

I was sitting in an IEP meeting last week when someone said a phrase I have heard numerous times when dealing with Autism. Someone said, “Hopefully he’ll grow out of it.” It wasn’t said in a negative way, nor was it meant to imply that Autism is something that just goes away with time. It did get me thinking about what some people think about autism. It’s as if this is a phase these children are going through. Autism is a life-long struggle that can get easier with age and therapy.

With role models like Temple Grandin and John Elder Robison it’s easy to see how some would think you could just outgrow the symptoms of Asperger’s, or other disorders on the spectrum. We see that these two people had very little therapy and overcame their issues with self help. It is possible and they givce us hope, but don’t mistake their success with maturity. They worked hard to get to the point they are at.

To grow out of something implies that it is something that you would just turn off when it’s time. This is like picking your nose, wetting the bed, or using a pacifier. To a certain extent I suppose this is true, only because of the maturity aspect. However, it’s not a switch that they can just flip and it’s over.  

This is a life-long disability that you must be taught to cope with. That coping is what is often mistaken for out-growing. Deborah Fein, a University of Connecticut psychology professor said that children with autism ““recover” as they get older.” That recovery is due largely to extensive therapy.

Think of it this way. If I’m shy and I have to talk in front of people I may be scared to death the first time. I will be sweaty, my voice will break, my stomach may turn, and I may want to quit. However, if I do this over and over again I will get used to it. I will probably always have that fear that everyone will laugh at me, not understand me, heckle me, or just leave, but I have become more comfortable with it thanks to repetition.

This repetition and training is what we use to help our children cope with Autism. The therapy we submit our children to week in and week out is the assistance they need to live a “nuero-typical” life. I say this over and over, but we have to give our children the tools to allow them to cope with their issues.

In this same meeting we discussed how Konner has come a long way since his Pre-K year two years ago, and even Kindergarten a year ago. I attribute this to the therapy and his repetition in the classroom. If he didn’t go to school every day he wouldn’t be able to deal with the overstimulation thrown his way with the lunchroom, changing centers, gym, and other high-noise and high-activity areas of the day. In head start Konner would walk into the room, roam around, occasionally walk up to another student or a teacher. He wouldn’t play with others, wouldn’t talk to others, and wouldn’t sit in his spot on the floor. This year he walks in, puts his backpack in his cubby, sits at his desk, talks to others, has friends that he looks for during recess, and he only requires minor redirection during work times.

This isn’t something that he has just grown out of, or grown into. It is something that he has learned to deal with over time. In fact, the hardest part, as anyone with an autistic child knows, is the couple weeks after summer break. There is a bit of regression due to the lack of repetition.

Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.

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