Friday, December 18, 2009

A tale of two autisms (and some software)

This morning I read a short piece from Mothering about 2 friends with very different autistic children. The author's friend's son: low functioning and nonverbal, yet when the mother yells "No!" he is shocked and hurt. (It was NOT getting this look that told me something was wrong with my son, before he was even a year old.)

But the author's own son, she says, knows what makes her yell but sees little reason to please her:

"Unable to read our facial expressions or tones of voice, he feels neither the heat of our anger nor the warmth of our praise. We are, first and foremost, complex pop-up toys whose responses are most delightfully predictable whenever he breaks the rules. Turn the volume way up, and we spring up to turn it down. Run into the street, and we come charging after him. Poke our eyeballs while we hold him, and we promptly release our grasp.

"If only he understood more, we could explain what's right and wrong, and why. But for all his mechanical acumen, Jason struggles with the simplest of sentences ...."

I experience such a strange mixture of feelings when a stranger describes my son so perfectly. It is so GRATIFYING that someone else KNOWS. And yet, my denial, which will never completely go away, does not like to be crushed. It hurts.

OK, enough of the emotional stuff. At the end of the article this author mentions that she has written software that has helped her son grasp the complexities of language. I have heretofore almost completely shunned all tv and computers, as you know some advise (e.g., Dr. Greenspan). But is that a mistake?

On the hand, it makes sense to me that I need to be fostering personal interactions, so he can build up those social experiences and get those networks growing. And yet ... the Drs. Eide also mention that computers can be a helpful tool for autistic individuals, for a variety of reasons.

I think I need to save computers for later. But ... where is my roadmap?! Where, where??

(and ps -- are those 2 children really suffering from the SAME disorder? Really? Maybe so, but it is so easy to understand reading a story like this one why the Professor Sowell adherents reject the autism diagnosis for individuals who are not "low functioning." It really is.)

(pps -- but ... it's not true that my son doesn't feel the warmth of our praise. It's true that I have to REALLY LAY IT ON THICK. But he eats it up. I just can't be subtle about it. I hate to say this, but does this suggest that he would probably react to negative feedback if it were more easily apprehended? I am not interested in going down that road, but I think I may now see how the older generation ABA golks wound up down that road.)

(my very last postscript, I promise: there was one very important thing I carried away with me from Prof. Sowell's book, and that was his account of how a colleague told him the most important thing was to make sure that his son KNEW that he was the most wonderful person in the world (or something like that). You know what? I have worked to make that true, and it's not always easy, because my kid just doesn't always pay attention. But it WORKS.)


  1. Sorry. I only have that illegible roadmap I showed you before, only now it has a coffee stain on it and some one used it as a snot rag. :-) What a interesting piece on Nice post. As for differential dx, you know I'm of the mindset that the lines are blurry, but I like the inquiry. One of these days, I reckon they'll have a way of measuring it, and it won't be subjective (ie behoviors), and if I were to bet, I'd say the objective measures will likely validate the idea of a spectrum (with all of its variation). But that's just speculation. As of today.

  2. LSHICOMB (acronym for "laughed so hard I choked on my biscuit").