I was speaking to another mother this morning at school who asked me if I ever wished that my boys looked “more autistic” than they do?
I didn’t react badly because I know her well, and know she has a good heart and I completely understood where she was coming from.
She was basically asking me if I thought that society would be easier on them if they had an “obvious” disability rather than a “hidden” one.
(And one that a huge majority of the general public doesn’t even really believe exists anyway!)
And so I replied “yes”…..because I do think sometimes that it would be easier.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in conversations with people and I have perhaps mentioned one of Harley’s obsessions only to be answered with, “But all kids do that”.
Or “Yeah, I know what you mean, my little Johnny is JUST like that too”.
I feel like answering them with something like “Well, if you child IS exactly like that, maybe you should get them assessed too”.
Let me give an example:
Most little boys liked Thomas the Tank Engine/ Bob the Builder/Elmo, or Buzz Lightyear etc when they were little.
Or maybe they love Ben 10/dinosaurs/rocket ships/trains or space as they get older.
And most little girls go through a Disney Princesses/My Little Pony/Barbie/My Littlest Pet Shop phase that can sometimes last years.
And some little girls have a fascination with faeries, puzzles/painting and animals.
And even if these interests DO last years…..it still doesn’t indicate a spectrum disorder.
It’s perfectly normal for children to like and be taken with these things.
After all…every year, millions of dollars are spent on marketing, research and advertising so that they DO appeal to all children and their target age groups !
But what might be an indication of a special interest perhaps being more of an autistic obsession can be when their love of that particular character/activity/object starts to interfere with their everyday functioning.
Another possible indication is if your child doesn’t actually seem to engage in make-believe play with these toys but spends hours lining them up in groups of colour/size/shape etc etc.
Like for example Harley and his current obsession; Ben 10
It is no longer just a passing interest.
He doesn’t just “like” Ben 10. He is completely and entirely consumed by him.
He told me the other day that he is sure that Ben 10 has aspergers too! (He probably does!)
Harley is refusing point blank to wear anything BUT Ben 10 pyjamas to bed. And after school he changes immediately into either a green tshirt and blue jeans (despite the heat outside) or failing that, another different coloured t-shirt with a Ben 10 character printed on it.
He simply will not let us read any other book to him at bedtime other than one of his collection of Ben 10 books.
He spends (what seems like) every waking moment talking our ears off about all the different aliens and due to his impaired social functioning, he has limited ability to read facial cues and will continue his monolgues about Kevin Levin, Gwen and the omnitrix until I literally want to stab myself in the eyeballs!
He also approaches strangers in the public places and tells them ALL about his favourite alien boy hero!
It doesn’t matter how many times I try to shift his focus, everything comes back to Ben 10!
Homework is a MEGA challenge…
Me: ”OK….What’s 5+7 Harley?”
H: “Mum, do you like the omnitrix or ultimatrix better?”
Me: “Focus Harley…I will answer you after your homework, now what’s 5+7?”
H: (sighs) “OK”… (counts on his fingertips)….”It’s 12 Mum, so which one do you like better?”
Me: “The omnitrix…it’s easier to say. Now how do you spell Lamb?”
H: “But the ultimatrix has more aliens, are you sure you don’t want to change your answer?”
Me: “Harley, we will talk about Ben 10 later…..now spell lamb please”
H: (getting agitated at me then shouts) “L-A-M..…Are you sure Mum”
Me: “Yes I’m sure. Could you please spell lamb again. That was wrong”
H: (really cranky now because he isn’t being allowed to obsess on Ben 10, then shouts at me again) “I SAID L-A-M!” (rolls his eyes)
Me: (trying to keep my cool) “Please don’t yell at Mummy, and no darling, it’s actually spelt L-A-M-B”
H: (rolling his eyes at me) “Well Mum, if you knew then why did you ask me… Derrrr!”
So….if you’re a parent and you tell me that “My child does that” or “all kids do that” the next time I’m telling you about the nightmare I had last night trying to get TWO QUESTIONS ANSWERED….do me a favour and remember this post.
Then ask yourself : Does this interest of my child’s completely absorb them to the point that they are unable to function in any other capacity?
Has it become the ONLY thing they are able to focus on and rendered them completely unable to think/talk or act about anything else?
Does life for everybody in your family come to a complete standstill because nothing can get done until the child’s interest and related questions are acknowledged and dealt with?
If not…..please don’t tell me that “all kids do that”.
Because they don’t.
And it’s time like THIS that I wish that it was a more “obvious” disorder.