Tag Archives: thinking out of the box

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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Pinning Down Autism

16 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 16 – Pinboard: Create a pinterest board for your health focus. Pin 3 things. What did you pin? Share the images in a post and explain why you chose them.

When I was pregnant with my older son George, I had to stop running because my sense of balance went pear-shaped. Over the next several years, I tried to get back into it but there was always something that stopped me. Injuries, time commitments, illness, you name it. One day, an email from the Geneva Centre for Autism got me going again. They were entering a team of runners and walkers in the Charity Challenge of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon/Half-Marathon/5K event. After briefly considering the 5K, I went for broke and registered for the half-marathon. The opportunity to do something for my son and the rest of the autism community turned out to be just the motivation I needed. Although I will be doing my fourth Run for Autism this year, that first finisher’s medal will always take up pride of place on my mantel. Every step I take on my autism runs I dedicate to my amazing son.

Einstein was a pretty awesome dude. As a child he was apparently not the sharpest crayon in the box, but his mom never gave up on him and he turned out OK. He made many discoveries, came up with theories that I cannot begin to understand, and said a lot of profound things. This one is my favourite Einstein quote. It is a perfect encapsulation of the idea that society is enriched by people thinking in different ways. George’s autism comes with all kinds of challenges. There are times when I want to cry with sadness or frustration. Some days are downright overwhelming. I often wonder if George will ever be able to communicate with other people. Despite all of the difficulties, though, George’s autism makes him think in truly unique ways. He can problem-solve rings around the rest of us just because he sees things in such different ways.

Autism is like a kaleidoscope. It can change and evolve over time. The behaviours and challenges exhibited by an individual with autism can be different from one day to the next. There are so many variables – adherence to regular routines, the presence or absence of loud noises, stress levels in the environment, even the weather. Not only does the real impact of autism change all the time, it is experienced in very unique ways by different individuals. I don’t know who it was that said, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

(To visit my Pinterest board, go to http://pinterest.com/running4autism/hawmc/)