Tag Archives: sensory issues

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)

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Hat Boy

22 Feb

Me and my Hat Boy

George has a thing about hats. He wears them all the time, even when he goes to bed. We have succeeded in getting him to take it off at bathtime, and both the school and the therapy centre have him remove it for his periods of instruction. But when he is at home, the hat is always on his head.

It’s not just any old hat, either. George is very picky about his hats – he will only wear his hat, and if his hat is not available, things in my household get very noisy and fraught as we struggle to keep him from banging his head in frustration. From time to time we have to switch out the old hat for a new one, because – well, you know – George is seven, and seven-year-olds have this habit of growing really fast.

The “new hat days” are traumatic for the entire family, so we tend to hold on to the current hat until the seams start to pop.

However, with age comes wisdom, and we have learned that whenever it’s time for a new hat, we have to get two that are the same. That way, when one starts smelling a bit ripe, we can throw it into the washing machine and let George wear the other one.

We suspect that George wears the hat to gain that slight feeling of pressure around his head. Kids with autism are frequently big on physical pressure, and George definitely falls into that category. He climbs onto the back of the couch and jumps from there onto the floor, because he craves the deep pressure input to his feet and legs. It would make sense for him to want pressure around his head as well.

In addition, though, I think George wears the hat in order to protect his head from being touched. He really, really, REALLY does not like people touching his head. He allows me to remove his hat and stroke his head, or run my fingers through his hair, but after just a few seconds he gets antsy and squirms away.

This is a problem.

For a start, there’s the practical problem of hair-washing. I don’t wash George’s hair as often as I should, because it is just so stressful for him. Hair-washing is a joint effort between me and Gerard, and it has to be planned with military precision, right down to getting my mother-in-law to whisk James away for the duration. Basically, what happens is that I wait until George isn’t watching, and then I fill a plastic basin with water and lay a shower curtain on the kitchen floor. Then Gerard uses his arms and legs to immobilize a screaming George, and I wash his hair as quickly as humanly possible.

It sounds barbaric, and I always feel so bad that I end up in floods of tears, but it is the only way we can wash his hair.

When people hear of the difficulties, they say to me, “Just keep his hair short”. If only it were that simple. This kid won’t let us wash his hair normally – why would anyone assume that he will let us anywhere near him with a pair of scissors or any other haircutting device?

Cutting his hair is as traumatic as washing it. So what I have to do is creep around my own house in the dark like a burglar, gingerly remove George’ s hat from his head, and then tentatively cut whatever bits of it that I can reach while he is sleeping. Sometimes it takes up to two weeks to complete a haircut because George tends to lie down the same way every night.

We may be making progress, though, thanks to the wonderful folks at the therapy centre that George spends four mornings a week at.

The therapists had me complete a sensitivity questionaire, describing the issues with washing and cutting his hair, and two weeks ago they started a desensitization program. This morning George’s therapy supervisor called me to give me an update.

“We combed his hair,” she said.

“What, ALL of it?” I asked, incredulously. Usually my hair-combing attempts have to be aborted, so each day I start on a different side of his head, just to ensure full coverage every two days.

“All of it,” said the supervisor. She went on to tell me that she had put ear-muffs on George, and that this seemed to help with the sensitivity around his ears.

“He kept on ear-muffs?” I asked. Not sounding very intelligent at this point. Think Village Idiot.

“AND,” continued the supervisor, “We have sprayed his entire head with leave-in conditioner.”

Holy bat, Crapman! Who is this short person and what has he done with my son?

So, it would appear that the desensitization program is working like a charm. It will still be a long time before we can actually wash his hair normally, or cut it while he is awake, but with baby-steps, we will get there.

The staff at the therapy centre are absolutely incredible. Thanks to them, George will be ready for discharge into full-time school (with special ed support) by September.

He might be ready.

Me, not so much.