Tag Archives: motor skills

Autism: Seeing The World From A Different Angle

26 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 26 – Health tagline: Give yourself, your blog, your condition, or some aspect of your health a tagline. Make sure it’s catchy!

Seeing The World From A Different Angle

A couple of years ago, George had a block of Occupational Therapy appointments. He needed help with some sensory issues he was having, and he had virtually no fine motor skills. My husband and I were always present at the sessions, mostly to observe and learn techniques we could use at home. We didn’t actually do anything during the sessions. We just let George and the therapist do their thing.

One of the tools in the therapist’s toolbox was a board full of evenly spaced holes that went with a bag full of coloured pegs. George would be asked to fill the pegboard with pegs. He could choose whatever colours he wanted: the point of the exercise was to strengthen his hands. It was not a task George enjoyed, because he struggled with it so much. He didn’t bother to select colours – he would just take pegs out of the bag at random and try mightily to get them into the board.

One day, he deviated from this way of doing things. He emptied the bag and separated the pegs into piles according to what colour they were. And then, for the first time, we saw him systematically select his pegs and make a pattern on the board. My husband was seated beside George, and I was on the opposite side of the table. The therapist was behind George, helping him correct his grip on the pegs when needed.

As George filled the board, the pattern became clear. It was oddly soothing to watch him make his little design, knowing with each turn which peg he would use next. I felt comforted by the predictability my son had created.

All of a sudden my sense of calm was jarred when George picked up a yellow peg and put it where I’d been expecting a blue peg. This wasn’t right! What about the pattern? I looked at my husband, who seemed surprised at this unexpected turn of events. However, he didn’t look quite as horrified as I felt. I’m not sure why I had placed so much stock in this pattern, since that wasn’t an objective of the exercise, but I really felt disturbed.

A few pegs later, the pattern was history, and George appeared to be placing the pegs randomly. My husband got up to stretch his legs, and he walked around to the side of the table. He stopped dead and as he stared at the board, a look of astonishment spread across his face. Not wanting to disrupt George, he whispered in my ear.

“You have to look at this from over there.”

I stood up and went to where he had been standing, and immediately, I saw what had amazed my husband so much.

Changing my perspective of the board by a mere ninety degrees made me see that George had not abandoned his pattern at all. He had simply been shooting for a pattern completely different to the one I had expected. What he was creating was complex and utterly unique. It was one of those things that needed creative thinking and planning. At that moment George reminded me of those chess players who can plan the next twenty moves and know that they are going to skewer their opponent at the end of it.

The pattern was quite, quite beautiful. And it was something that needed George’s own unique brand of thought.

Individuals with autism do not look at the world the same way we do. And that is a good thing.

Because if it weren’t for autistic thought, I would not have gotten to see that beautiful pattern that day.

The tagline I chose is not one that I created myself. I borrowed it from the T-shirt I wore when I ran last year’s autism run. The T-shirt was designed by my friend, whose name is also George, from the Geneva Centre for Autism. I could not think of any tagline that so perfectly encapsulates that day at the O.T.’s office.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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Spectrum Musings

10 Mar

Sometimes I wonder if George got his autism from me.

I don’t say that with any sense of guilt. If he did get it from me, I don’t feel bad about it. After all, I can hardly be held responsible for my genetic composition. It’s not as if I had any control over what DNA I landed up with.

I wonder about this question, though, from a purely scientific, curious point of view. Because although I’ve never been screened for it, it would not surprise me one bit if I were to learn that I am on the autism spectrum.

When I was a baby, I cried. I know, that sounds like a ridiculous statement. Of course I cried. That’s what babies do. In my case, however, I couldn’t be soothed. My poor Mom would change me, feed me, rock me, try to get me to sleep. No matter what she did, I cried relentlessly, for hours at a time, for no apparent medical reason. Mom surmised that maybe I was reacting to a feeling of  rejection after my birth mother had given me up for adoption.

Adoptions in those days were closed, and no information was exchanged between the birth mother and the adoptive parents. My Mom knew nothing about where I had come from. She told me in later years that she just assumed there was some factor she did not know about that was causing all this angst in me.

When I was a very young child, it became apparent that I had notable developmental delays. I was a very late talker, and did not show signs of functional speech until the age of five. It took me a lot longer than my peers to learn how to read (although it must be said, once I did learn, it was like a floodgate had opened, and I read everything I could get my hands on).

At the same time, I had issues with motor skills. I was uncoordinated, and stubbed my toes a lot. I did not have the strength to hold a pen, and I didn’t even know, until some species of therapist did some testing on me, that I was left-handed. My hand-eye coordinatin was nowhere and I had to be taught it while other kids seemed to just pick up on it naturally.

There are certain sensory things that I find hard to handle. Flickering lights (although, to be fair, that would probably drive most people batty). The textures of certain foods. Clothing labels have the ability to make me want to chew off my own arm in frustration. When Gerard has the TV on too loud, I actually want to scream. Hearing too many sounds from too many different sources (TV, dishwasher, telephone, whatever) invokes a feeling of intense anxiety.

When I’m stressed I rock back and forth. I find it calming, I find that it can sometimes stop the stressful feeling from escalating.

One of the most telling factors in my musings, however, is my social awkwardness. I have had this problem throughout my life. As I get more comfortable with specific people, my social ineptness becomes less apparent, and I work hard to hide overcome it in my day-to-day life.

Social gatherings can be excruciating for me. High school was just torture – I so badly wanted to fit in, but I couldn’t be social enough and my attempts came across as awkward and embarrassing. The only person at school who I felt completely comfortable with was my friend Jenny, who remains my best friend to this day.

There are certain social situations that make me feel even more uncomfortable: conflict, meeting new people, situations where I unexpectedly have to make small talk, anything to do with telephones.

Gerard has remarked several times that I seem to have a special connection with George. When he is having a meltdown, I seem to have the ability to just know what to do, to know what he needs. It can take a long time to calm him down, but in most cases, I can just know – without explaining how I know – how he needs to be spoken to, held, comforted, soothed.

And I wonder why this is.

Is it a normal motherly instinct?

Or do I, in some ways, inhabit the same world George does?

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/53416677@N08/4972850923)