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This Is the Perception People Have of My Son. And This Is the Truth.

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Some people say that perception is reality. I don’t know. It’s just too black and white for me.  Maybe if we add one word, I can get on board with it.

Perception is sometimes reality.

There. The first quote seems to imply that perception is ALWAYS reality. I think the best way for me to explain my thinking on this is to share a few stories about my son, Matthew.

Perception: He’s in his own world and not listening to what others are saying, especially adults.
Reality: A few weeks ago (maybe over a month now… I can’t believe I could keep this story under wraps that long), we were sitting in church and our pastor was delivering the sermon. Our pastor mentioned the word Mt. Calvary. Matthew looked up at me and put his arms out and moved his body to signify “flying.” I know what you’re thinking… there were no airplanes at Mt. Calvary, but follow me a little bit longer. It took me a minute to make the connection, but when I put it together I was floored.

We recently figured out that when he made that flying gesture, it meant that he wanted to hear The Army Song (a song that we sing in Children’s Choir). That took some detective work to figure out, believe me. But when we sing the song, we put out our arms like we are flying for the line that says, “I may never fly over the enemy.” I quickly went through the words in the song in my head until I hit, “I may never march in the infantry, ride in the calvary…”  So even though the word calvary was used two different ways…he heard it…he was listening! The potential for what this could mean for him is HUGE!

Perception: He’s not aware of what’s going on around him.
Reality: One day at school he was heading up to the carpet and he passed a classmate who was having trouble finding her book. He paused, pulled her book out far enough for her to see and kept on walking up to the carpet to join his peers.

Perception: He probably has trouble with long-term memory.
Reality: If he has been to your house, he will remember exactly where you keep your vacuum. When we are driving and are one the same road as his doctor’s or dentist’s office, he will do his invented sign for those places. When we go to my sister’s cabin (which we only visit one to two times a year), he will remember specific places that objects are kept. And he will know if they are missing! We found that out the hard way last summer when he kept signing “wagon” because he remembered that they had had a riding toy that you can push.

Perception: He can’t problem-solve.
Reality: At school they started using a “standing desk” (a desk that is tall enough to stand at). They took pictures on his iPad and commented that he loves it. That week at dinner, he pushed away his chair and pulled up his stool and made a “standing table.”

Now I don’t condone this next behavior, but it does show his problem-solving abilities. He made garbage by unrolling toilet paper and throwing it away because he loves to empty wastebaskets (one time he threw away multiple pairs of underwear to make garbage.) When we are at restaurants or new places, he will sign “bathroom.” He often barely has to go, but he knows I will not say “no” to the bathroom sign and it gives him a chance to explore and see more.

Your perceptions will be based on what you initially see: Matthew’s noises, his jumping, his flapping, his smelling, his silly giggling, etc. Your perceptions will also be based on your experiences with other people with autism or other disabilities. If you’re in the education or medical field, your perceptions might even be influenced by a clinical definition of autism and its characteristics. And some of your perceptions might be true… SOME of the time.

At least that’s my perception. And you know what they say about perception…

perception versus reality

This post originally appeared on Autismic.

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Originally published: May 5, 2015
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