As I write this it is April, which is also World Autism Month. Autism is a part of our family. The challenging part about autism is the broad range of what it looks like in each person. When you meet one autistic person, all you can say is that you have met one autistic person. Each person and family is affected differently. There is a wide range of capabilities and strengths across the autistic spectrum, and each person struggles differently.
I recently saw a meme that used a audio mixer board to represent the Autism Spectrum with each slide representing a different trait. It is a perfect representation because the mix of those various traits make each person completely unique. Today I’m sharing some of what living in an autistic house looks like for our family. The autistic person in our house also has other co-morbid diagnosis as well that effects what it is like for us. This is our experience.
At our house what autism has looked like has changed over the years we now have a preteen child and not a preschooler. The strongest challenges for our family life have changed greatly over the years. We have also continued to learn and research for ourselves so our home can best support his needs and also those of the rest of the family.
Routine is important
Routine is very important at our house. We don’t live by the clock, we live by the habits and order of activities. A few of these are anchored to the clock, but not many. Unexpected changes can throw off our whole day, even when they are good changes like a friend visiting during school time. We use several visual calendars to keep everyone informed of what is coming up. We talk about our schedule days and weeks ahead of time in preparation of special events. Finally, we try to think ahead and share expectations we have for events so we have a chance to discuss if they are realistic and so we can adjust them when they are not.
One thing we do to keep a routine in homeschool is that the school part of our day starts with an alarm thanks to our google home. The daily school routine anchors our day. We also do school year-round because of the anchor it provides our family. We are not required to take off federal holidays like President’s Day or Columbus Day, and to our autistic child the lack of routine is usually more unsettling than not getting the break. The same is true for spring break: suddenly losing the routine for several days is unsettling. We do take breaks and travel, but we do it when the school break simplifies our life, not based on a set calendar.
Know The Sensory Triggers
In our family, sensory issues is part of what Autism looks like for us. It was one of the first signs that led us to search for help. Now that our child is older it’s not the same as it was, because he can mange himself better. Movie Theaters are still a no-go for family outings, though. Even the Sensory friendly showings, meant for autistic viewers and others with special considerations, they don’t work for us. Intense theme park rides would be considered punishment by our child. He would rather hide in his room holding his favorite toy and read an encyclopedia.
On the flip side, he is one who has to move and can’t sit still. On occasion if the weather is good and everyone is outside playing when it’s time to start school, I let them play. The movement will make it easier to focus on learning when they come in. When the wiggles are particularly bad, we have both an indoor swing and trampoline to use to meet the sensory needs so focusing is easier.
Stretch Your Social Muscles
What wasn’t as obvious when our Autistic child was younger was his weak “social muscles” as we like to call them. Awkward social skills are a typical stereotype when you hear about autistic people. When he was younger, his giftedness was able to compensate, as he was more verbal than his classmates. As we approach the teen years however, what we see are a lack of motivation to engage with peers in typical situations and a lack of stamina for a typical social life. This is why we call it “social muscles”.
Our family has great imaginations and loves reading stories together. These stories turn in to active play scenarios. They enjoy playing Minecraft together and build together with friends. These virtual playdates have been a great way to change the social situation and eliminate some of the complexities of face to face interactions. For our child one of his deep interests is in the development and history of Minecraft. When he chooses to play with others, he feels the shared interest and is motivated to continue the interactions, and this translates well to in-person interactions with the same peers.
I still see low endurance for unstructured social events. As a family we have to be careful of how often we are away from home because the personal energy it takes to interact and be in various environments is felt much more acutely for some autistic people, like our child. We schedule stay home days so everyone can be their best on the days we see our friends and have other plans.
Being Autistic is Different not Less
Autistic people have various challenges and strengths. The same is true about the organizations that offer support to them and their families. One way we found the tools to thrive is to learn from autistic adults who can articulate the way they see the world. Their insights give us ideas for how we can best support our child and set him up for success. After all we have the same goal for all our kids as they grow, to be successful at life when they reach adulthood.