By Karla Imossi
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a ‘spectrum’, which means every individual is different to each other. Some may be non-verbal, some may speak perfectly well; some may need little or no support, whilst some may need extra carer support.
Lawrence has always been very independent, ever since he started walking at the age of 10 months. A bit too independent. He would always walk on his own, even walk away with strangers. He did not fear getting lost and not once would he look back to check if he could still see me. Many toddlers do this, but when they still do it at the age of two, it starts ringing alarm bells.
Lawrence is now five years old and is still independent but we have taught him to request things, and to ask for help when he needs it. We have also taught him about danger and, believe it or not, we taught him how to walk, not run. The cycling path in Main Street saved my life that summer. We would make him step on the white circle path and concentrate on counting each circle, one-by-one.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a ‘spectrum’, which means every individual is different.
Lawrence is very different now to the way he used to be back then. He is aware of a lot more things going on around him, which is great, but this has triggered many sensory processing issues and anything that causes him to be unsettled comes hand-in-hand with our biggest enemy, ANXIETY! So what are the sensory processing issues that cause him so much anxiety? Loud noises, brightness and busy streets, to name a few.
The environment we live in is full of sensory information from noise, crowds, light, temperature and many more. This information is processed using our senses such as sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. When one of these senses becomes unbearable for Lawrence, for example a very busy and loud road, he will become anxious because he is over-sensitive to noise, known as hypersensitive. At this point Lawrence will cover his ears and request his ear defenders. Having this sense of control reduces his anxiety drastically because he knows he has them with him when the enemy kicks in.
However, being hypersensitive to the environment does not mean he is not hyposensitive (under-sensitive). Lawrence likes the feel of deep pressure on his body too. The tighter it feels the better. Added pressure helps relax his muscles and reduce his anxiety allowing him to focus on a given task. Another example of hyposensitive is the temperature. Lawrence feels comfort wearing a scarf. If I do not teach him that a scarf is for cold weather and not appropriate for summer, he will not feel the heat the same way we do and could wear it even on the hottest of days.
He might be different, but he is no less.
So how should you greet Lawrence if you ever met him?
Recently, I have found myself thinking about this more and more. When I meet people that I have never met before, inevitably the topic of conversation will end up with ‘Lawrence is autistic’ because of the way he is behaving around other kids. Suddenly the conversation turns into an interrogation of questions like… “I have been worried about my son. When did you start to notice the signs? He is already two and is not speaking, is that a sign?” I am happy to discuss anything to do with Autism. I have my Instagram page where I blog about it to the world. But please don’t forget, I’m just a mum, the same as any other mum and sometimes I want to be just that. I want to be able to talk about things mums talk about. This is the heart breaking moment, when people meet Lawrence; they do not know how to act around him so they ignore him. Lawrence is just a boy and wants to be just like any other boy. He might be different, but he is no less.
So if you ever meet Lawrence, please say hello to him. Just because he is non-verbal, he has social communication issues, and he might not even look at you, does not mean he cannot hear you. I promise you, he wants to do all of that but he needs to learn how best to do it, and without your support, it will be a lot harder. We want to gain access to the outside world, not to have the doors closed on us. So now that you know a little bit about Lawrence, and a little bit about Autism, it might be a little easier to understand when you come across a boy wearing a hat, sunglasses and ear defenders looking like a real dude!