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When You Look at This Photo of My Son on the Autism Spectrum, What Do You See?

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To many, this may look like a stereotypical picture of an autistic boy. The bright yellow ear defenders may have given that away. People seem to associate sensory processing with autism straight away these days. Someone who doesn’t know about autism or the sensory association may see a “quirky” kid sitting with big earphones on. Others may not even notice the ear defenders at all and see a sad boy waiting to go into class.

What I see when I look at this picture is a story of strength and determination. I see a little boy who is clever beyond words and who I love with all my heart. In this picture I see many parts of what makes this little boy who he is. In this picture I see a story you would have never known unless I told you.

This is a picture of my son!

autistic boy with headphones on

In this picture, my son is wearing great big yellow ear defenders. He wears these when he finds sensations such as noise overwhelming. The story behind these ear defenders makes me laugh to myself because it is an example of just how strong minded my son is!

Recently when I was shopping online for new vibe ear plugs for my daughter (who is also on the autism spectrum), I explained to my son that some people do not like to be seen with big ear defenders on and that by wearing the small ear plugs they are hidden and therefore no one knows you are wearing them. I asked my son if he also wanted to try these type of ear plugs, to which he replied, “I’m not one of those people, Mum, I want the big ear defenders.” And when I asked what color he replied, “yellow.” My son certainly knows his own mind, and no person’s opinion of ear defenders is going to change that!

If you look closely at his ear defenders you will see a small sticker stuck to them. This sticker represents so much more than the achievement he made in science camp last half term. This sticker to me symbolizes the trial and error of clubs and the struggle to participate within the many clubs we have tried. My son doesn’t like the busyness of many clubs, and he doesn’t like asking unfamiliar people for help with questions like, “Where is the toilet?” leaving him feeling uncomfortable in unfamiliar places.

My son has trialled many different clubs and many different holiday camps, but nothing has been the right fit for him until last half term. He isn’t keen on the sports camps dominating the holiday club market. The reason why finding the right holiday club is so important to my son is that he benefits from a structured day that a holiday club offers, as too many days at home leave him restless, distressed and not knowing what to do.

The reason the sticker symbolizes so much more to me than just his achievement is that the holiday club where he received this sticker was the first holiday club my son truly enjoyed. It was a small club of no more than 15 children, and every day they did several different science experiments that he absolutely loved! It was double the price of all the other clubs, but it was worth it because it offered him the structure  he needed and offered him a fun way to explore and play that he found manageable. It was truly a great find!

As I look at my son in this picture it also fills me with love and pride because I know why he hasd chosen to wear those ear defenders that morning.

He was having a very difficult morning. He was full of anxiety, which was making him really time conscious. He was repeatedly telling to me that he was going to be late. As the morning progressed, so did his anxiety. He was upset and angry and nothing I said to reassure him made him feel any better. Instead of continuing to cry about his worries, he independently chose to go and get his big cuddly teddy bear and his weighted blanket from his bedroom. He sat and allowed me to cuddle him to help him calm. He then climbed into the car, still clutching his teddy, with his weighted blanket draped over his back, and he put his ear defenders on. When I look at this picture I see how amazingly he helped himself to regulate that morning.

When I look at this picture I see my son’s strength. His quirks, his personality and even his sensory sensitivities and his anxiety, which are all things that make up my wonderful son. He amazes me every day, and I am so proud of the work he puts in on the tough days. Fortunately for him, and for us, his good days outweigh the one displayed in the picture, but I hope in sharing my son’s story that next time you see a little boy with ear defenders on you remember that every single child has a story that led them to sitting there regulating — that regulation for many children takes a conscious effort on their part and what that child is doing is helping themselves, something that should be admired and applauded.

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Originally published: February 14, 2018
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