Kids on the autism spectrum are often misunderstood, but for me, raising my autistic daughter these last 12 years has been a pleasure, an honor, and a challenge that has matured me. Along the way, I’ve learned so many things, that I thought it would be a great idea to share them with you. And with autism rates on the rise again, this information may be critical. Without further ado, here are 20 things to know about kids on the autism spectrum
20 Things To Know About Kids With Autism
- Sensory processing issues are common in autism.
Kids on the autism spectrum don’t always feel things the same way as people who are not on the spectrum – I mean literally and in terms of their senses. They can have problems with the sensory information is processed. This is why my daughter cannot stomach having anything on her arms, even in cold weather. It’s actually is painful for her. One thing to note, though, is that sensory disorder is a SEPARATE issue from autism. While it is common, not every child has it. When they do, it can impact behavior, speech, socialization and so much more.
- Diet matters.
Many autistic children have issues with certain foods. My daughter struggles dairy, that is, products that contain casein, the protein in cow milk. Regularly eating it disrupted her sleep patterns for the first 5 years of her life. That’s right: for FIVE YEARS, she woke up every three to four hours every single night. Removing it got her sleeping through the night in less than 2 weeks. So if a doctor ever tells you that you can feed your autistic child anything, that’s probably not the case. Learn why the autism diet is important.
- Autism may be linked to autoimmune issues.
Many people I know call autism an autoimmune disorder, and I’m inclined to agree somewhat. The folks at Real Food Forager does a great job of explaining this, with links to current science, and this study seems to confirm it in at least some cases.
- Autism is both genetic and environmental.
The saying goes, “Genetics loaded the gun and environment pulled the trigger.” This is why so many kids on the spectrum improve when they detox, at least slightly. (Another reason some improve is that they have PANDAS, rather than autism.)
- Eye contact is not a given.
To this day, my daughter will have periods where she can simply not make eye contact, but instead uses “side eye.” Science has attempted to explain with biological reasons, but this interesting article at The Mighty quotes people on the spectrum sharing their emotional responses to eye contact. Some kids can make eye contact just fine but for others, it’s not always comfortable or easy.
- Communication is a challenge for many kids.
It might always be, but any parent can learn to communicate with their child. I can talk easily to Zoe, but that’s because I’ve had over a decade of practice. Use a system that helps your child communicate, whether it’s challenging her to “use her words,” using PECS, using iPad software, etc. Different speech issues are a problem too, like apraxia or echolalia, so an accurate diagnosis can be valuable. Learn some ways you can help your child overcome speech difficulties.
- Socialization is a struggle too for some.
Kids on the autism spectrum can have a hard time reading “faces,” meaning they miss the social cues that others don’t even realize they’re using. Added to communication, behavior, and eye contact issues, many children have difficulty with friendships and struggle in school, the workplace, and in public. This can be true for kids who are more high-functioning well as those that have severe delays.
- They can be fussy when they are babies.
This is not always fussiness. This is their attempt to communicate they pain they feel at what other babies do not. For example, swaddling can be uncomfortable or even painful if they have an issue, like my daughter’s arm sensitivities.
- Meltdowns happen but can be minimized.
My daughter used to have terrible meltdowns as a baby, banging her head on the floor or wall. It scared me to death, but when we took measures to help her, they reduced and even stopped, and she greatly improved. The MORE interventions we took (detox, therapies, communication skills), the better she did. This is why I’m a fan of looking into every possible method to help your child, not just ABA. There are even apps that can help your child with behaviors.
- Many kids with autism have seizures.
The rate is often quoted at 30%, but at a conference last year, Dr. Dan Rossignol, one of the leading experts on autism and seizures, suspected it is actually much higher. Kids may be having “invisible” seizures. The only way to test for sure is with 24-hour tracking which is often difficult for an autistic child to tolerate. We haven’t done this for our child.
- They can think abstractly.
I hope you don’t believe myth: that autistic kids can only think literally and abstract thinking is impossible. I haven’t heard it in a long time, but just in case you believe this, know that kids with autism can and do think abstractly. Some may find literal concepts easier, but that doesn’t mean abstract thinking is not there.
- Some kids struggle to generalize.
What does this mean? This is best explained in an example. Let’s say you want to teach a child what a stop sign means, so you have a small stop sign in the classroom. The child learns that this sign means “stop.” However, when she sees a stop sign on the street, she doesn’t understand that what she learned in the classroom applies to the stop sign on a street corner. You can imagine how difficult this makes things! This is one of the challenges we’ve dealt with in the past.
- Executive functions can be a difficulty too.
What is an executive function? This is how your brain orders and prioritizes information, sensory input, data and more. This is necessary to do things like achieve goals, manage your impulses, organize your thoughts, etc. You’re not born with this but it develops over time but some autistic kids struggle with these issues.
- Autistic kids have big hearts.
Because of the old myths, autistic people were sometimes thought to be cold and impersonal. NOT TRUE! My daughter is loyal, affectionate, loving, and caring. She has a heart for nurturing and a heart for joy. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise about autistic children.
- Intellectual development is a spectrum.
Another old myth is that that autistic people are all intelligent or savants. There are many autistic kids with low IQs, and in the low range for intellectual disability. Others have average intelligence. Neither of those things indicates the worth of a person, of course.
- Regression happens.
I hate this aspect of autism, but it’s real. Regression can happen in any area: intellectual ability, potty training, you name it. A big time when we see regressions is during puberty. Hormonal and thyroid changes impact the brain big time.
- Gut issues are always a concern.
I’ve never met a mom raising a child on the autism spectrum who did NOT have gut problems: diarrhea, constipation, inability to potty train, abnormal stools, leaky guy – you name it. There is just no way around this medical symptom and there’s nothing better you can do for your child than work on healing her gut.
- Autism interventions can and do work.
I believe (and peer-reviewed science is starting to back this) that many of the medical and behavioral challenges of autism can be healed. The reason why every child can’t always be healed of everything is that you have to understand what pathways have been impacted, when, how the damage was done and how to undo it. This can take years and even then you might not resolve every issue. This is why one person’s “miracle cure” is someone else’s “snake oil.” I know kids that have been improved by hyperbaric chambers, diet, chelation, Protandim, essential oils, homeopathy, herbalism, ionic foot baths, SonRise Program, and about a million other interventions. When people say, “Just accept it,” I say, “Just keep looking.” Learn how to start.
- Aggression doesn’t mean your child is bad.
Sometimes my daughter will hit or bite. Often, she’ll hit or bite herself first, before lashing out at others. She’s gone through periods where she does not do it all, but other times extreme stress or tension can bring it on. It’s not aggressive behavior that comes from anger, but it may come from frustration and inability to fix something, like if she’s in extreme pain which is often difficult for her to communicate.
- Kids on the autism spectrum understand more than you think.
Kind of like lots of kids, right? NEVER ever underestimate what they can understand when you are talking around them. I’ve definitely heard Zoe repeat words I said in passing and give me a “look.” They get it!
My daughter has given me years of joy and she’s taught me at least as much as I’ve taught her. One thing I’m certain of is that she, like all kids on the autism spectrum, was created with purpose and can grow up to live a full and fulfilled life. Share what you love about your autistic child!
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