When My Son on the Autism Spectrum Points Out the Details I Miss in Our Day

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April is Autism Awareness Month. It’s also National Poetry Month.

This could be random coincidence. But the coincidence is nicely poetic, because as literal as my son on the autism spectrum tends to be — working to understand symbols or inference — his heightened sense of awareness of the world around him reveals the stuff of poets and artists. Stuff other people might filter out as unimportant.

Take patterns, for example. I may not notice patterns, but my son does. Everywhere. It seems to me like their predictability reassures him, and that he would like life to follow patterns so he isn’t surprised by what’s coming; he’ll know how to react. When he doesn’t find this repetition, he creates it. He wants to wear the same kind of pants. Eat the same food. Watch the same movies.

It’s like a refrain he can keep coming back to and join in on, because he knows the words. Even if we eat at a new place, he orders the same thing, because he knows how to order it.

Beyond patterns, he hears and sees singular details I miss: in the whiney pitch of car’s transmission, in a streetlamp that burns a slightly different shade of yellow. By pointing them out, he makes me stop my oblivious march through the day to see each day. And at the end of the day, he comes back with a refrain: “Remember when we saw that streetlamp that was a different color?” Of course I remember; we just saw it 10 minutes ago. “Remember that joke we made about the cash register not working? The ‘crash register’?” No, I’d forgotten that one. That was a good one.

The repetition may reassure him, and for me, it serves to sear those details I would have forgotten into my mind. Now we have a shared narrative, like a poem created to commemorate the day. And when he gets overwhelmed by all those details or loses his place, I can recite it with him, or for him. “Remember that streetlamp?”

A version of this story was originally published on Elaine’s blog, Dispatches from Planet Elainer.

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My Journey to Receiving an Autism Diagnosis — and Why I’m Thankful for It

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Have you ever had a problem, or perhaps a question, that you really wanted answers and solutions to? Maybe the question was so mystifying and vague that you never thought an answer existed. Perhaps you figured, after years or even decades of searching, that the problem would always be present.

This is how I felt until about one month ago, when I received my autism diagnosis at age 21.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. An early diagnosis certainly would have helped me overall, especially through school. However, I still have plenty of time to adjust my daily life and thinking processes so I can improve the quality of my present.

I wasn’t surprised by my diagnosis. I had been considering the disorder as a possible reason for my struggles in life since I was 18, and a college counselor had suggested it as well. So, when I received my official diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder from a psychologist in mid-March, I just nodded and said something like, “Yeah. I kinda figured.”

Basic day-to-day living comes quite easily for me. But you see, all my life I have felt separated from the rest of the world. I have never been able to relate to the human population and humans as individuals. Since I started school, since the very first day, I realized I was far different from everyone else. I went through 13 years of education wondering why the noisy, bright, smelly classrooms and hallways made me upset and angry (sensory deficiency) and why socializing was near impossible.

I became an angry person. I was upset nearly all the time because I didn’t have my answer, my solution. I just wanted to know what was wrong with me. I attempted suicide twice and was in psychiatric hospitals at least five times. I was diagnosed with psychosis, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other conditions that rolled through my life and were treated without success.

But I wasn’t experiencing psychosis. I see the world in a vastly different way than neurotypical people, and the only way I knew how to make friends in childhood and adolescence was through imaginary characters in my head. I don’t have OCD; I just like to organize junk, silverware, clutter and knick-knacks for no other reason than it’s satisfying. I bounce my legs, touch my ears and nose, and wring my hands because it’s comforting.

I do have unspecified anxiety disorder and unspecified depressive disorder, likely because of not being able to cope with aspects that can come with my autism — because I didn’t even know I was on the spectrum.

We as humans have learned a lot more about autism since I was born and while I grew up, and for that I am thankful, for otherwise I may have struggled a lot longer. By implementing a routine in my life and working with a counselor at the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, I have already made leaps and bounds.

I’m still fully accepting my diagnosis, but for the most part, I have made peace with it. I finally have my answer.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Edaville Family Theme Park Offers Sensory-Friendly Weekend and Accommodations for Visitors

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As part of Autism Awareness Month, Edaville Family Theme Park in Carver, Massachusetts will host a sensory-friendly weekend for visitors on the autism spectrum.

The weekend’s festivities include educational and informational events as well as a “Touch a Truck” event featuring emergency vehicles. During the event, music will be turned down and the park’s trains will feature a softer blast. (Trains are required to sound their horns by law.)

Edaville, which features a railroad, has transformed one of the train cars into a quiet space for people on the autism spectrum. The car includes weighted blankets and fidget toys, which visitors can use while waiting in line. Edaville’s bathrooms are also designed to be sensory-friendly, eliminating noisy automatic toilets and hand dryers. These features are available year-round.

To make the park more accessible to those with sensory sensitivities, Cherie Daly, Edaville’s group sales director and special needs specialist, whose son is on the autism spectrum, spoke with educators, teachers, physical therapists and occupational therapists. Daly also hosted a discussion panel allowing families with autism to share ways the park could be adapted to suit the needs of individuals on the autism spectrum.

“Sensory Friendly Awareness Weekend, where everyone is welcome, is focused on inclusion, celebrating and having family fun,” Daly said. “We are very proud of the sensory friendly initiatives we put into place in 2016 that are available throughout the year. Our goal is to address the needs of all children, in the hope that all families will join us in creating lasting family memories.”

Edaville is not the only sensory-friendly theme park. Earlier this month, Legoland Florida announced a number of sensory-friendly initiative for visitors on the autism spectrum.

Edaville’s “Sensory Friendly Awareness Weekend” takes place from April 22 to April 23. Tickets are $27.00 and can be purchased online.

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My Autism Diagnosis at Age 21 Made Everything Come Together

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I was always told that honesty is important. So I was truthful, always. Well, apparently people don’t appreciate it when you’re honest. When you tell someone who’s being dishonest that they are, they might get angry. Especially teachers, or so I’ve learned. I would always get in trouble, but I never understood why. I was always polite as I’d learned and I was always honest as I’d learned. For a long time I just thought the problem was with me — I’m not likable, people just instantly hate me, I’m worthless. I struggled with these feelings from an early age. I changed schools, I got older, I tried new “tricks” to get in line. I did anything I could think of to please everybody. But people, both children and adults, seemed to take an instant disliking to me.

I didn’t understand other kids. I didn’t understand why they would be so loud or move so much. I hated games like “tag”; the touching made me feel uncomfortable. They’d say I was a sore loser but it wasn’t the being “tagged” that I disliked, it was the touch that came along with it. And I didn’t like the way everybody would move in an unpredictable way. I hated the shouting and the yelling that came along with it. In every way, other children were like aliens to me. I didn’t understand what they liked to talk about, how they liked to play, why they moved so much, the kind of toys they wanted for Christmas. Why they wouldn’t listen to their parents and our teachers. Because I always did what I was told, literally. Which in my experience got me in more trouble, with peers as well as adults. And that’s even more confusing.

I have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). After having quite a bumpy ride in my youth, I finally got the diagnosis that made everything come together at age 21. Now I’m 25 and it might sound weird to some, but I’m happy with my diagnosis. For such a long time there have been so many things that confused me or enraged me or made me feel uncomfortable in any other way. But I never understood those feelings, I couldn’t handle them, couldn’t channel them. So I got in trouble. I got in trouble a lot. That’s why, at an early age, I began struggling with the feeling that I didn’t want to live anymore. I told my mother for the first time when I was about 5, but when I saw her reaction, I decided not to mention it again. My parents are very important to me; for a very long time they have felt like the only true friends I had. I could say anything to them and they would understand. But she didn’t understand this, so I shut it away.

But it never left me. Even now I struggle with suicidal thoughts sometimes. I’ve had an eating disorder in my early 20s. I’ve struggled with anxiety attacks. There was a period that I’d self-harm as a way of coping, as a way of stimming. But with my diagnosis came understanding. Now I know who I am, why I do the things I do. And I have learned so much in these last couple of years. I always like to describe it as a “playbook” I have in my brain. I need this especially for social situations. “If A, then B. If not A, then C.” It may take me a while, but I’ll get you an appropriate response eventually. Most of the time. And when I don’t, I don’t. At least I won’t beat myself up over it.

It can be hard being an adult with ASD. People don’t believe me when I tell them. They think people with ASD are aggressive or anti-social. They think a lot. But they don’t think I could have it. That’s why I don’t like to tell people. Dealing with the comments of disbelief. I don’t want to have to validate my ASD. So I shut my mouth and deal with life the way I do. Even though I feel this might help keep the stigma, the misunderstanding, the disbelief in place. So yes, I’m sorry for not breaking through the ignorance. I’m sorry for not speaking up.

People will have to accept me the way I am, with or without knowing about my ASD.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Purrs for Autism Pairs Kids With Autism With Kittens for Social Play

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Working with the Hermitage No Kill Cat Shelter, the Autism Society of Southern Arizona began offering a cat therapy program, Purrs for Autism, designed for children on the spectrum.

Read the full version of Purrs for Autism Pairs Kids With Autism With Kittens for Social Play.

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Spectrum Toy Store Opens in Chicago for Children on the Autism Spectrum

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Based in Chicago, Spectrum Toy Store is the first toy store in Illinois, and one of several in the U.S., designed for children with developmental disabilities and autism.

Read the full version of Spectrum Toy Store Opens in Chicago for Children on the Autism Spectrum.

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