Sunday, November 8, 2009

The loneliness of autism: playtime with kids and alone time

To understand the mindset of an autistic child you have to understand the way they perceive things and how they respond to what they perceive. I have seen my son react in many different ways to his surroundings and to kids and adults he comes in contact with at various functions. Usually if there are large gatherings with loud music playing my son will have a difficult time as he struggles with large crowds and has difficulty with loud sounds. He usually covers his ears and seeks to go to a quieter location where he can have his own space and not have so much activity going on. He is very sensitive to sound, smell and large gatherings.

I have had to make sure that I am nearby in case Matthew has a meltdown or has a reaction to something that causes him distress. He sometimes can not help how he reacts but it is hard to control him sometimes and explain his reaction so I try to be there to help him if he does encounter difficulty.

As an autistic child finds comfort in the activities that are familiar to them it is the same with my son. When we visit with family or friends we make sure we have Matthew bring his sponge bob doll and his composition books to write in and his crayons set and drawing pads. He can draw for hours and this keeps him happy and helps him stay calm and busy. We try to also have him participate and play with the other kids but if there is too much commotion then we find him a quiet play area with a tv and have him do his own thing. We want him to have fun and enjoy himself but we also want him to stay calm so whatever will work we will stick with it.

Matthew has a lot of energy and tends to run around a lot so if there are kids playing in the yard with a ball or playing tag or hide and seek Matthew will generally participate and will be fine. He does enjoy playing with kids and tends to be very good and will offer to help someone who gets hurt while playing. We went to a friend's house for a Halloween party where she had a bounce in her back yard where kids have fun jumping in it and Matthew was doing wonderful playing with the other kids and jumping and playing. He was in the bounce for hours and was having a great time. I was watching him closely and was happy to see him doing so well. She also has a stable for 3 horses and a pony and Matthew got to feed the pony and enjoyed petting them. He really enjoyed seeing the animals and felt a bond with them and all the kids at the party.

When we go out places we have limited choices in what Matthew likes to eat and he has extreme sensitivity to smell and texture and he can not stand the sight of ketchup. If we go out to a restaurant we literally have to hide the ketchup bottles. If we don't he will go wild and start having a fit. His favorite choices of food to eat are macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets and pizza. If we are at a friend's house and there are trays of food served Matthew will generally eat only the macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets.

Our son is going to be 11 years old within a month and he still has limited friendships and any contact he has is generally at school. So he does have a lot of time when he is alone especially after school where he is home with grandma. We want him to have more socialization outside of school but it seems that if we want to enroll him in after school programs they all come with a price tag and can be expensive and we have to be budget conscious given all the expenses of maintaining a household. We want our son to benefit with having opportunities to participate in activities with other children and developing his personality and developing friendships and realize that it will take time but we will have to make these sacrifices so he can have more fun and learn to interact with others more easily.

Autistic children generally have many things to deal with and they tend to enjoy their isolation and alone time so there is a balance we have to find for our son that allows him to have his alone time and also time to play with others so he will grow and develop and learn. We want our son to enjoy his childhood and have fun and not be alone so much. Being alone too much is far too painful and he deserves to have fun and excitement in his childhood. Sometimes solitude is good but not all the time as I can admit from my own life experiences.

The image I enjoy most of my son is when he is running around in the playground and talking with the other kids and having fun. This is what I live for and I want Matthew to have the best childhood he can because we all have to grow up one day and I want him to be a kid for as long as he can and a happy kid for sure!

Edward D. Iannielli III

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Please feel free to read my writings and leave a kind message or suggestion. Thank you. Emily