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Autism: Everything Has To Be Learned

My (autistic son) had to learn EVERYTHING! I heard a lady say on today’s channel 7 news. My words, exactly--over and over for the past 30+ years about my autistic daughter, and the exact words of many other parents. It is still happening. When that mother said “everything,” I know from listening to her that there is no way the general public could intensely understand the all-encompassing profundity of that word. I can not say it loudly enough, or strongly enough to make that so. This article is not intended to teach the meaning of autism or to explain the symptoms, but just to explain what is meant when a parent says “everything has to be learned.”

Could it be that we, as human beings, subconsciously don’t want to believe that there is the potential for each one of us to not understand feelings; to not know or care about social gestures and graces of any kind; to not know or care about how to smile, or when and why; to have no idea about what a friend is; to not understand what it is to enjoy or care about happiness; to not respond to sadness—not even illness and death; to not have an ego that motivates our pride and accomplishments; to not care about awards, rewards or accolades of any kind; to have no need to use verbal or non-verbal language with anyone; to have no need to look into someone else’s eyes; to not express pain or to respond to loud noises; to not relate to family members—even a mother; to show absolutely no loving or warmth; to avoid being touched by other humans; to build what could be called a self-only psychological cocoon; and ultimately, to not display human emotions appropriately.

Believe it! This list is really a lot longer for many, as other “special parents” of autistic children could tell you. And, the list for some could be a lot shorter, depending on individual circumstances. I can only speak for my personal situation. In our case, everything mentioned above had to be learned by my daughter.

How do you make someone enjoy life as we know it? If you were to travel to another planet where there was no vegetation or comparable colors, sizes or shapes of things that grow here on Earth, how would you explain a blade of grass to these inhabitants? Would you tell them it is green and grows out of the “ground”? Hey, what is “grow”? Your job may be a little easier, though, than trying to teach an autistic person, because at least these inhabitants might have a grasp on emotions and some of the other concepts mentioned above which would enhance their communication skills and make them “care” about knowing.

There seemed to be no guidelines for teaching my autistic child starting in the 1970s, but I remembered the word, “mother-wit.” I heard it so much that I was not afraid of it, and it was almost my only road to having my daughter “learn” these things that were not included in her psychological cocoon. My methods were not always approved of by specialists and therapists, but I felt that I was initially responsible just by being her mother. So, by whatever method other parents have used to bring their autistic children to a communicative state, it was somewhat of a miracle. There is nothing more encouraging and rewarding than to have family, friends, and other persons acknowledge such progress and to really want to understand about autism.

From all accounts, autism is on the rise among us, for some reason. If it is true that an average of one (1) out of every 166 persons is born with autism, then out of the U.S. population of 300 million, an astounding 18 million persons will have autism, meaning that around 18 million households will be chanting: “Everything has to be learned!”

We all need to get a handle on it, because I don’t think we want to have that many people rocking and twirling and oblivious to the world around them as described in the second paragraph of this writing. Some personal accounts of autism brought to public attention are from or about persons of means who are able to take a sabbatical from work, or open a training school, or arrange for their family member to be in a high-level training environment. Also, when Leo Kanner first identified persons with symptoms of autism (1943), they were thought to be from parents who did not display normal warmth and affection. It is my belief that these portrayals are intimidating for persons of lesser means who may think that “home remedies” are ineffective.

All of us who have had success with our children at home should encourage other parents to follow the advice of professionals, have their children educated to the extent possible, but to use their personal skills, love and understanding of their autistic children just as they would their “normal” children. There is nothing wrong with teaching these children in the normal home environment and in the community. Keep in mind that we continue to learn for as long as we live. Learning the above skills does not mean that an autistic person actually “knows” and “understands” and “feels” them. But to bring about the ability for them to communicate and interact allows learning for autistic persons to be constantly reinforced and the process of teaching them so much easier. Parents and loved ones who tackle this are to be commended! And listen, people: If you know of a person who has autism, and that person is doing well, don’t take it lightly. Someone did a lot of work to make it that way, because they were the ones who had to “TEACH” everything.

A concerned mother

May 30, 2006

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