Friday, April 3, 2015

Autism Spectrum Disorder: The Road Less Traveled

A child with Autism Spectrum Disorder often experiences the world like a tourist in a foreign land.  Imagine being in a new place- where communication is complicated and the sights, sounds, and even smells are unfamiliar. If you were this traveler, you would become anxious and want comfort.  You would look for someone who speaks your language- and if you were unsuccessful in your search, you would likely go off by yourself to think. You might even have a “melt down.”

ASD children and adults walk this journey every day.  Some of their struggle is in a skill we take for granted- being understood.  Verbal and nonverbal communication is essential for the give and take of relationships.  Without realizing it, our brain helps us to sort through facial expressions, voice tone, the context of conversation, and decipher the intention of a speaker. A new phrase that I think helps in understanding is “neuro-diverse.” Children/adults with ASD have differently wired brains which is why they respond in unpredictable ways.  Advocates are working towards education, inclusion, and acceptance of the unique ways that people with this disorder think, react, and contribute in the world. 

In 2010 a sample of 162 parents of preschoolers were administered a stress questionnaire.  The reported stress of parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder were compared to parents with Down’s syndrome, and parents of typically developing preschoolers.  All parent groups reported stress, but parents of children with ASD consistently responded with higher levels of stress overall. One identified source of stress is the isolation of families with children on the spectrum.  The ASD symptom of over responding to sensory triggers (sights, sounds, or smells) can make simple family activities like going out to dinner, the movies, or worship very difficult.

One mom in Maryland has begun to break down this barrier. After a particularly upsetting and embarrassing movie experience with her daughter who has ASD, Marianne Ross contacted the manager of a different movie theater and asked if it would be possible to have a special movie time for kids with sensory problems.  Not only did the manager work with her to make this happen locally, AMC theaters teamed up with the Autism Society to create the “Sensory Friendly Film” program across the country.  The movies are G or PG, the lights are on (but dimmed) and the sound is turned lower.  If kids feel compelled to move around, talk, shriek, and laugh loudly- it is all welcome during these viewings.  These small steps can mean a big difference on the family journey.

Be generous this month in support of the ASD community.  Give your time by learning more, reaching out, and showing compassion to “weary travelers.”

OKC Training:

AMC Crossroads 16

AMC Quail Springs 24
 405- 755-2466

*At the time of this post I have been unable to confirm this information locally.  I will update asap.