One of the hardest parts about the autism spectrum can be the feeling of separation it brings about. Adults on the spectrum may feel isolated and different than other people they live and work with. Parents of autistic kids can feel judged and criticized by other parents, especially those with easy children. Probably most difficult is the children on the spectrum, who often suffer through teasing, bullying or just being left out.
I think sometimes this isolation can be toughest for kids in mainstream schools, where their academic abilities are strong, but their social skills keep them from connecting with classmates. So often, the typical kids don’t understand what’s different about their autistic classmates and neighbors, so they might view autistic behaviors as mean or unfriendly. And the sad result is that the autistic kids get left out.
Education and communication can go a long way toward creating understanding, and books can be the best way to start that conversation. One sweet picture book I recently read is Anthony Best by Davene Fahy. In this simple book, Fahy explores the relationship between Anthony, a child on the autism spectrum, and his neighbor Hannah. The book illustrates many of the behaviors that might be puzzling or upsetting to neurotypical children, such as stimming behaviors, lack of eye contact, and communication differences. These behaviors are presented in a simple, non-judging way, which leaves plenty of space to have a conversation with young readers.
If you have a child on the spectrum, or with behavioral or learning differences, this book could be a good choice to present to neighbors or friends who want their children to learn a bit more about how differences don’t have to keep kids from being friends. And, Anthony Best would be a nice book for any teacher to have in the classroom.
I’ve long been a fan of Zosia Zaks, author of Life and Love: Positive Strategies for Autistic Adults as well as numerous articles on autism related topics. Zax’s organization, Zax Autism Consulting, is sponsoring a sexuality workshop for adults on the autism spectrum. Unfortunately it’s not local to the Bay Area where I work, but for those readers in Baltimore, MD, please consider attending. The presentation is in two parts, on the evenings of December 11, 2010 and January 15, 2011. For more information, contact Susan Howarth at (443) 676-5366 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve noticed that parents of kids with special needs tend to have one thing in common: the strong desire to reach out and help out other parents dealing with the same issues. Maybe it comes from dealing with so many unknowns, or maybe it’s an understanding that so many of the current advances in treatment have come about because other, earlier parents also shared. Obviously, research is important in learning about a condition that has many more questions than answers.
In any case, here’s one opportunity to reach out, and it doesn’t take much time. Mischelle Miller-Raftery, a doctoral student in psychology at California Southern University, sent me an email saying that she is conducting a study on potential prenatal environmental triggers of autism. Ms. Raftery is looking to survey at least 50 mothers raising children who have been diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome, autism, and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified); and 20 mothers whose children have not been diagnosed. She inviting readers to participate in this study. If you're interested in taking the survey the following link will take you to it: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/3YBPGBT. There’s a contact number for Ms Raftery on the survey information page if you have any questions for her.
Patricia Robinson MFT
I'm a licensed therapist in Danville, California and a coach for Asperger's and ADHD nationwide. I work with individuals of all ages who have special needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD, and the family members and partners of special needs individuals.