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Understanding Autism

Having worked with children on the autism spectrum for almost three years, I feel a huge connection and understanding of the condition

15/04/2016

 

Autism awareness

Last week's World Autism Awareness Week did its job - it encouraged me to think about my current knowledge and awareness of the vast autism spectrum.

I entered the childcare industry nearly three years ago with minimal understanding of what autism was. I reached my late 20's without knowing anything concrete about this complex condition. Looking back, that is pretty sad. Whose fault is that - mine or society's?

Either way, I now have a real sense of how many children, young people, adults and their families are affected by autism around the world.

Communication

I managed to gain my first childcare role in 2013. It involved looking after children and young people who were diagnosed with 'severe' autism. I had no idea what to expect. I will be honest with you - it was a real eye opener for me. There I was - coming into direct contact with children who were rocking back and forth; who were flicking their fingers vigorously in front of their face; who would make strange noises at random moments; who would repeat words back to me.

Yes, it was a little unnerving at first because I did not know how to communicate with these wonderful humans, and they did not know how to communicate with me. If it was bewildering for me, it was 100 times more bewildering for them. To be able to communicate with people on the spectrum, I needed to first understand them. I needed to figure out why they covered their ears and why they had meltdowns.

Coping with meltdowns

To the untrained, ignorant eye, covering one's ears could be portrayed as rude. For people with autism, covering their ears might be a protective response because there is too much noise for them to be able to process or cope with. They may be close to breaking point, therefore an ability to shut out their often sensitive sense of hearing is seen as a necessity to avoid a potential meltdown.

Meltdowns were the hardest for me to witness because I had never seen anything like it before. Self-harm and violence were common occurrences - they were usually random and totally out of the blue. Why? What had I done? They seemed fine a minute ago. Yes, they were fine, but people with autism have a proverbial jug inside their heads. Things take longer to process. Processing takes up huge inner resources. If this jug fills up and spills out - so does their ability to function. Jugs could spill at any time. And I needed to understand this.

Learning by living

I attended autism 'training' workshops and I read books, but I learnt 90% of what I know through being with the children on a daily basis. I observed, played, chatted, used Makaton signing, we laughed together - all priceless methods in increasing my understanding, with an aim of ensuring I gave them the best possible care and attention.

With a combination of training, reading and interacting I've learned to understand people with autism a lot better. I understand that they need extra time to process everyday events we all take for granted; they need patience from others in order to be able to offer two-way communication, and above all else, they need people to understand them.

I was entering a new world - their world. Our world. I was beginning to comprehend individuals and the condition as a whole. I felt a huge connection with autism, and three years later I am proud to have had some influence in developing the lives of children and young people with autism.

Andy Robinson, Working Dad and Tinies Manny

Find more child-related and parenting articles on Andy's Huffington Post page.

 
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