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'But She's Too Social to Be Autistic'

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We have been blessed with two daughters on the autistic spectrum who have pretty opposite struggles when it comes to socialization.

For many years before Sno was diagnosed I was told she was “just shy” or “very serious.” She would often struggle in large groups, noisy crowds would scare her, and she has always taken a while to warm to new people. She’s definitely regarded as an introvert and isn’t really affectionate at all.. but when she is, oh  – it’s heart-meltingly gorgeous. Sno has always struggled with friendships, and I remember her at the age of 4, two years before she was diagnosed, coming home from kindergarten confused about why one of her peers wanted to hold her hand during a song they were singing. When I asked why she didn’t want to, she simply told me, “Well because I don’t know her. And if I don’t know her well, I don’t want her touching me.” Fair enough, kid, I thought back then.

Her sister Wilding on the other hand is a completely different kettle of fish. I was told before she was diagnosed with ASD that she couldn’t be autistic because she was “too social” to have autism. She loves people, and would regularly run up to strangers at the library and ask them to read her stories. She is super affectionate and adores cuddling. She makes friends easily and is loved and cherished by many simply for her embracing, warm character.

Two girls so opposite in personalities and yet they both are autistic. How is this possible? I’ll tell you how.

Being an introvert or an extrovert has nothing to do with being autistic.

It’s kinda like being right- or left-handed. While Sno has struggles with forming friendships (a lot about the how/when/why), Wilding’s struggles to understand appropriate social conduct and behavior and respect others’ personal space. In Sno’s eyes it seems there are so many grey areas of friendships, which she finds overwhelming and confusing with lots of rules to follow she doesn’t quite grasp; but Wilding doesn’t yet understand that you can’t just rock up to a stranger and sit in their lap because you think they look nice.

There are so many tasks in daily life that neurotypical people do without even thinking or putting in much of a concerted effort to achieve. Situations like understanding what to say to someone who may be feeling sad; how to comfort someone who isn’t feeling well, how to make a new friend, what to say to someone when they pay you a compliment. For some people, these tasks require a lot of effort and forethought, and this can be pretty daunting.

Teaching appropriate social conduct can be tricky and requires patience. With Sno it often helps to do “comic strip conversations” to break down social situations and enable her to see what others may be feeling. I have also found these books to be helpful for Sno because they help simplify stuff and give her tools she can add to her toolbox and use when she feels the need.

We work with Wilding on learning about emotions and facial expressions and thinking about how what we say might make someone else feel. “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” is also fantastic because the episodes are essentially broken down social stories explaining different things ranging from eating, getting dressed, going out and feeling sad. Oh, and Daniel Tiger also has a terrific app which explores feelings, too. This book helped Wilding grasp the concept of personal space. And hula hoops provide a great clear visual of what personal space looks like. We use them a lot when we eat outside!

Being “shy” or “outgoing” are not the defining factors of autism. People on the spectrum can be both. If only people were aware of just how wrong these myths surrounding being autistic were.

We see you, girls. Or I do, anyway. And I think you’re pretty incredible.

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The ‘Kit’ We Created to Help Children With Autism Cultivate Friendships

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When it comes to parenting a child on the autism spectrum, I always wished that there was a book with all the answers — a roadmap to help my son grow and thrive. But each child with autism is unique, so there are no “one size fits all” solutions to make sure I am meeting his needs.

I may not know what to do at any given time, but I must trust I have the strength within me to figure it out and, sometimes, fight for his services and support team.

And if the right “thing” doesn’t exist? I must find the courage to create the solutions myself because if I don’t do it, who will? I must step way beyond my comfort zone and take action.

Thankfully, all of us have the opportunity to connect with resourceful moms and dads, siblings and grandparents who have also dove right in.

I have tremendous respect for one such mom: Lisa Smith of “Quirks and Chaos.” She has been cultivating and building friendships for her son, Tate, for years. For many children on the autism spectrum like Tate, developing friendships can be a challenge. Through education, coaching and teamwork, Lisa has created a community of teachers, parents, therapists and peers who eagerly participate to help Tate thrive.

Tate’s peers consider him a valued member of their class and treat him as an equal. It was so successful that People magazine got wind of the “Lunch Buddy Program” and featured Tate and his friends.

Lisa blogged about how she did it. Too important to be buried in the blogosphere, she and I collaborated to create “The Friendship Kit,” a compilation of her blog posts along with the class story, flyers, permission slips and disclosures she used.

Personally, my son is out of school now, but this kit is something I wish I had when he was younger. Both Lisa and I hope it will help other parents by giving them inspiration and a framework to help create their own “building friendships” program for their children.

And when do you talk to your child’s class about starting a buddy program? One of the best ways to introduce autism to your child’s classroom peers is through the Bluebee TeeVee Autism Information Station. It’s a friendly, fun and approachable way to engage children in a discussion about your child. “The Friendship Game” episode is a perfect fit for introducing a buddy program.

Lisa Smith is a parent we can all model ourselves after. She proactively works to build a strong support team and welcoming community for her son. What’s important to note is that Lisa is an introvert at heart, but she’ll do whatever she has to do to keep her children safe and happy.

Let Lisa be a reminder that we can be resourceful! We can come up with creative solutions! We all have the power within to make whatever needs to happen for our children, happen.

• Get the Friendship Kit

• Access Episodes of Bluebee TeeVee and the Parent/Teacher Episode Guides

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Carly Fleischmann, Nonverbal Woman With Autism, Writes Country Song Titled 'Glamour Girl'

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Carly Fleischmann is a “Glamour Girl.”

That’s the name of the talk show host and author’s debut country song. Fleischmann most recently made headlines in April as the first nonverbal person on the autism spectrum to host a talk show. The pilot episode of her show, “Speechless With Carly Fleischmann” was viewed over three million times and featured an interview with Channing Tatum.

After her meteoric success, Fleischmann’s back, this time pursuing an entirely different passion – country music.

“The true secret to life is that we all have challenges,” Fleischmann’s communication device says, reading her lyrics at the start of the “Glamour Girl” music video. “No matter how big or small our challenges really are, they are always mountains to us. But if we don’t strive to reach our potential and release the glamour girl inside of us, we’ll never be able to see the view from the top of the mountain.”

“Everyone in the world has his or her own personal challenges,” Fleischmann wrote in the Facebook post debuting the video. In overcoming her challenges, Fleischmann wrote and helped produce a song, asking her friends Kaitlin Kozell and Lil Jaxe to help with the vocals.

In her Facebook post, Fleischmann describes the challenges she and her friends have faced. Kozell, who provides the main vocals for the song, is an up-and-coming country artist managing self-esteem challenges from being bullied. Rapper Lil Jaxe has a speech impediment.

“It doesn’t matter what your challenges are as long as you’re ready to try to overcome them,” Fleischmann wrote. And that’s what “Glamour Girl” represents.

You can watch the music video below.

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I'm on the Autism Spectrum and Some People Think I'm Weird. Here's Why That's OK.

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kim goodman Some people think I’m weird. Some people pass judgment on me, and others laugh and talk about me. It used to bother me, but now it doesn’t. When someone assumes things about me it shows me their mind is so closed that they are not willing to learn something new. When people talk about me or pass judgment on me it shows me I’m quite interesting to the person because they are taking the time to observe me. My only advice is, before you judge or assume, get to know me enough to ask questions. If a person does take the time to enter my world I will teach them things they never thought of because I have the ability to think outside the box.

There was a time I had a desire to be “normal.” I had people telling me to watch what I did and said in fear of what others might think or say about me, and I had people who criticized me because of my differences and people who compared me to others and pointed out what they thought I wasn’t doing right. After having people question me about why I can’t do things like a “normal” person or why I can’t like things like “normal” people my age, I couldn’t help but think that the term “normal” meant a non-autistic person or a disability or disorder-free person.

 I spent a great deal of my life not knowing how to live. I was confused and didn’t know what to do so I became a follower. I tried to live my life like the majority of society, but I failed miserably because it was hard for me to pretend to be someone I was not. I felt a great deal of sadness, frustration, anger, anxiety, fear and pain. I felt inferior to most people and believed I was a bad person because I was different.

Then I reached a breaking point. 

I realized if I wanted to live a happy and productive life, I had to make changes in my life. First, I had to accept I was different from most people and understand that a lot of people might have a problem with my differences and that is OK. Second, I had to learn I had the power to decide who I let in my life. If someone caused me stress, discomfort and wasn’t supportive of me, it was OK to not allow them in my life or walk away from them. Third, I had to learn how to be strong. I had to stand my ground and not give in when people try to change me into who they wanted me to be or who they thought I should be.

I had to learn who I was as a person and not who society or those around me wanted me to be. When I was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, I learned all I could about it so I could better understand myself. For years I wondered why I never developed sexual feelings for males or females. Through research I found out I was androgynous (having both masculine and feminine characteristics). I accepted these things about myself, and now I expect the people who I allow in my life to accept these things about me too.

I don’t always act my age, and at other times I may appear too professional or serious. I have a more masculine appearance, and sometimes people have a problem with this. I’ve had a lot of people who tried to get me to explore my feminine side more. At one point in my life I would allow people to temporarily change me into the feminine person they wanted me to be. I would feel so much discomfort, but I didn’t know how to tell them how miserable I felt. Now if someone tries to change me into who they want me to be, I wouldn’t do it, and if they insist too much I would just walk away or kick them out of my life. Now I feel if a person can’t accept me as I am or respect my decisions and choices, then that person doesn’t have a place in my life.

I have dreams and goals of being an entrepreneur. Some people tell me I can’t succeed at being an entrepreneur because I have a disability and I am healing from years of abuse. Years ago I would have believed this, but now I don’t. 

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My Autistic Son's Biggest Concern When Taking His Medication

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You never know what’s going to bring that massive grin to your face. You know, the one where you can’t stop even when you try, where you think if you don’t stop, your cheeks might squash your eyes closed. The best ones are those that catch you off-guard. That’s exactly what happened to me.

We told Anthony about both his autism and his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) about two months ago. It was the right time as he’d started to get frustrated with his difficulties and needed to know that these conditions meant he was different, not less, than other people. Medication for his ADHD was not a quick decision. We all, including Anthony, agreed he might be helped if he could concentrate a bit better at school. Today was the first day for Anthony to take his medication, so as he came down the stairs I reminded him about it. And that’s when it happened.

“Remember, we are going to take your medicine this morning.”
“Mom?”
“Yes, honey.” (I’m fairly liberal with terms of endearment in our home.)
“The medicine won’t make my brain like everyone else’s will it? Because then I don’t want it.”

And that’s when the grin happened. I tried my best to answer him through a face that would not stop smiling.

“No sweetie, it’s just a tiny little medicine that might help you concentrate a tiny bit better.”

I was truly amazed by our son. We weren’t sure how he would react to knowing he had autism and ADHD. He’s struggled with some of his other diagnoses like his hypermobility — he just gets annoyed that his loose knees keep “making” him go on his toes when he walks. But this was brilliant.

Our son had not only come to terms with being different, he was in fact, completely happy with it. He didn’t want to not be himself. He was willing to forgo medication that could help him at school if it meant it changed him as a person. Honestly, I can’t contain my joy. Sometimes I feels like society does nothing but point out how kids are different, even if by simply not being able to accommodate them. Anthony seems like he doesn’t feel this or if he does, he might not care.

He likes who he is.

He had his medications with his breakfast and I busied myself making sure the kids ate breakfast and were out the door, but I did it all with a giant grin. As I dropped him at school, I reminded the staff to look out for side effects of his meds. Then, I couldn’t help but tell his teaching assistant about his comment. She grinned too. One of those big grins…you know the kind.

Follow this journey on Rainbows are Too Beautiful 

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The 3 Simple Words to Say When Someone Asks You, ‘What Is Autism?’

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Has anyone ever come up to you and asked you point blank, “What is autism?”

As someone who has made a career in public speaking, I’m often asked by hundreds of people each year who are just being introduced to autism about what autism is. While autism is defined and characterized as a social and communication disorder, when you get to meet people in our community, autism rarely falls into a one-size-fits-all diagnosis.

Being nonverbal till I was 2 and a half and then dealing with communication delays later led everyone to believe I had “classic autism.”

In addition to these delays, I was also officially diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). My other challenges included expressive and receptive language disorder, severe sensory integration dysfunction, auditory processing disorder, twirling, dysgraphia (a handwriting disorder) and overall motor challenges.

My challenges introduced me to an understanding early on in my development about how autism truly is a spectrum disorder. If you’ve met one individual with autism, you’ve met one individual with autism. When I met my first peer who was also on the spectrum, I realized how different we were from each other, especially when it came to our challenges.

That experience, in particular, really struck me. So when I educate our community on what autism is, I start off with these three simple words:

Autism is unique.

It’s very much like a rainbow. It’s full of different colors that stand out, and together they make a beautiful spectrum of light.

Temple Grandin says autism is “different and not less,” and much like that saying, I see these three words as something with a similar meaning.

Whenever I start a conversation with someone new, these will always be the three words I start with.

Regardless of how you start the conversation the next time someone asks you this question, I hope you’ll educate and further promote autism awareness and acceptance.

This post first appeared on KerryMagro.com.

Imagine someone Googling how to help you cope with your (or a loved one’s) diagnosis. Write the article you’d want them to find. If you’d like to participate, please check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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