Children are great at fooling adults. I’ve seen many parents who smirk when someone compliments their child by saying how well behaved they are when little did they know that 5 minutes earlier they were screaming the shop down as they couldn’t have the £200 toy. Or at preschool when a child wouldn’t be able to count to 10 for the staff but the parent sighs and shakes their head as they explain at home the child is counting every single step up the stairs perfectly (and feeling like the preschool staff think they’re just exaggerating).
J has this superpower too. Sometimes it’s great and I love that people are eager to see the strengths he has. Other times it’s frustrating as it makes me out to be either a liar or that I’m just an over protective parent. However, the more time people spend with J and the more they really watch him, the more you can see through the cracks. Here’s 5 examples of times J has fooled people into seeing a different version of him…
1) ‘He’s great at building with Duplo’
No, he’s great at holding the ready made models and flying them around as apparently everything made from blocks is a Star Wars spaceship (his new obsession). If it breaks he will demand it be fixed, occasionally replacing the odd brick himself. He doesn’t build with Duplo, he plays with it. Children with Autism often have limited play skills. But often children mask well and it’s only when you really watch the child that you see how they use the toy and how it’s often not how you’d expect for their age, or how you’d expect the item to be used.
2) ‘He talks so well’
J’s speech has vastly improved in terms of vocabulary and sentence forming but listen carefully…what is he talking about? Does he actually answer you? Is he just mumbling and babbling as he knows he’s meant to be saying something he doesn’t know what so improvises with ‘noise’ representing speech? He can speak but it’s his use of speech that’s the problem. He doesn’t have social speech and only has limited functional speech related to things that he needs or interests him. There’s times we have to use the PECS cards to get him to answer things that are outside his interest or his comfort. Sometimes PECs just reminds him that communication needs two people and he has to actually seek out the other person, not just talk from wherever he is and expect an answer. Saying that, get him talking about Star Wars or Disney cars and he won’t shut up!
3) “His imagination is amazing”
J is amazing, in many ways. He mimics and imitates very well. J watches movies and YouTube. For him these are ‘social stories’ where he sees others play and storyline ideas and then he uses this in his own play. It’s imaginative in as far as he knows the Duplo isn’t really a spaceship, the car doesn’t really talk etc. However it’s not his imaginative ideas or has a particular purpose. I love watching him pretend play as you can see all his influences. There’s no real ‘sequence’ to his pretend play but it’s the start of make believe and it’s purposeful use of resources. It’s also very repetitive and limited to a few scenes such as asking what I want for the play kitchen, giving me something random from the cupboard and then game over.
4) “He’s not paying attention”
J is very good at being in his little bubble world and often appears not to be listening or taking things in. But then I’ll say something (not always to J) and he will hear and respond. He even has a habit of responding to random people for example the time we were in the supermarket and a checkout worker said ‘”thank you” to a customer and J said “you’re welcome” (we weren’t even at the same till, haha). J just tunes out when there’s a lot of sensory input but it doesn’t mean he’s not still listening…it just needs to be purposeful or interesting to him.
5) “He doesn’t look Autistic”
This one bugs me…what does Autism LOOK like? Autism is very unique to each individual. J can deal with some social situations with very little prompting but they still take effort. Before we go anywhere we have to use the visuals at home and talk about the day. We have to make sure the morning routine went right so we can get out the house. Once out I have to be eagle eyed and spot any potential hazard or sensory issues so I can deal with them before they affect J. This might be as simple as using distraction, preparing him or just positioning ourselves differently. Often J will come home from an outing, a visit to someone, nursery etc and have a couple of hours where he is just ‘switched off’. His body and brain has spent all its energy getting through whatever he’s been doing previously so he needs time to regulate himself and desensitise before he can do anything else. Often iPad time or just being left on him own with his favourite toys is all he needs. Just because you don’t see the struggle doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Now I want to make it clear that I am not wanting to be a negative Mummy. I’m not trying to paint the picture that J is not capable. He is a very bright little boy and picks things up very quickly when he’s interested in it. He was recognising numbers and letters at age 2. At age 3 he’s reading various names. This is cause he is a visual boy. That is a huge strength. But he also can’t count in a sequence if there’s no visual prompt. He misses numbers and ends up at ‘8, 9, 10’ before he’s got to 5!
The point I’m making is that we have to look past the surface and acknowledge the weakness/difficulties in order to really support a child. Otherwise J is at risk of being left to get along with it as he seems to be getting on ok. It makes me think of the duck analogy…they look calm on the surface but under the water they are paddling like mad to find their way.
J has one of those smiles where he looks like an angel. It gets him out of trouble more times than it should, haha. In what ways does you child fool those around them?
I’d love to hear funny, inspiring or just day to day stories and comments!x
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