“What is he doing?” The other mom on the playground scrutinized my three-year-old’s flapping arms.
“Oh, he has autism. He’s just excited watching your kids play.” The other mom continued studying Noah as my own excitement swelled at the idea of Noah connecting to the outside world.
“Why does he do that?”
I turned to check on Judah who busied himself scooping playground woodchips onto his lap and watching them slide to the ground again. A feeling of satisfaction settled around me as both boys enjoyed and interacted with the world beyond themselves.
“C’mon, kids! Hurry up!” I whirled around to see the other mom gathering her young ones, urging each to follow her.
“Where are we going?”
“We’re going to the other side of the park.”
“What about our stuff?” The girl, who looked to be about six, pointed to their lunch cooler and outdoor gear on the ground.
“Just leave it.”
“Why can’t we stay and play here?” The youngest one looked like Noah’s age, a bit older perhaps.
“I said, ‘Let’s go.’ Now.” It was the first time I noticed that two of the four children belonged to the other mother’s friend.
I watched the little crew scurry after their mothers to the other side of the park. Noah sat opposite his brother, examining woodchips. An inflating sick feeling replaced my excitement with accusations. I fought tears with denial. No way would they leave because of us…because of Noah. Because of autism.
For thirty minutes, I wondered if the other family would return and retrieve their belongings sitting among the woodchips. Oh, well. Time for lunch.
“Noah, Judah, time to go!” The keys jingled loudly as I held them up and gave them a shake –our sign for “time to go.” The boys took their cue, got up, and with woodchips falling from their clothes, paraded to the van like little soldiers.
As I threw the van in reverse, I looked one last time towards the abandoned lunch. To my surprise and dismay, the other moms and their little ones descended once again on the playground equipment scattering any remaining little piles of woodchips.
You’re just being overly sensitive, Becky. Don’t read into it. I used this reasoning often during those first few years, as autism scared people away. Even friends.
Noah and Judah still have quirky behaviors. I imagine they always will. Although we still see looks of disdain and catch the backside of uneducated comments every once in awhile, for the most part, people are very understanding, even curious. I love questions filled with curiosity, by the way!
Autism and quirky behaviors often go together. What does one do with them?
First, recognize that people express themselves in a plethora of ways. Some people get nervous when having to speak in front of others, sometimes even just one person. Others love talking to people! Individuals on the spectrum may not know how to express what they’re feeling or thinking. Not verbally or in any other way. Happiness or excitement may be expressed in “arm-flapping,” like Noah. Arm-flapping can, also, express anger –also like Noah when he was younger. Screaming can express happiness or frustration, as well. Other times, reading facial expressions and body language is the best way to understand another.
Second, understand. No two people are the same in every way. We have different needs. Different ways to “self-soothe” and cope throughout the day. Some like to read. Play games on a device. Close their eyes. Sing. Talk to people. Some even talk to themselves. None of it is wrong; just different.
Third, accept them. Everyone has different idiosyncrasies. We all have mannerisms that don’t make sense to others. Some of us tap pens on the table or our head when we think. Twirl hair. Chew hair! Hum a tune. Bounce or wiggle a foot. Sway back and forth when conversing. Point being, everyone does something. The difference in odd conduct between those who are neuro-typical and those on the autism spectrum is the quirkiness is either already socially accepted or/and it doesn’t interrupt one’s ability to function in culturally acceptable venues (education, workplace, etc.).
If the child’s behavior is inappropriate, like hitting, biting, pinching, when angry, show the child another more appropriate behavior to express his dissatisfaction. Judah used to bite and pinch when he was angry He still does this, but now it’s to show affection. Go figure! Since he’s a child that calms with deep pressure, we taught him to press his hands together to self-soothe.
Every time his frustration increased, right before he reached the point of biting or pinching, Neil and I encouraged him to press his hands together. At first, we gave him a visual by showing him; then we helped him do it, hand over hand. His irritation happened in a split second, so we really had to pay attention to his facial expressions and body language. Once we saw his tension escalate, we intervened.
Now, he rarely bites or pinches when upset. As I mentioned, he still pinches when he likes someone. Sigh…it’s a process! At least it’s not out of anger!
- Recognize everyone expresses differently.
- Understand people use various coping strategies that work for them
- Accept an individual for who he/she is. Don’t try to change who they are
- To change a behavior, replace it with a more acceptable alternative that meets the needs of the individual by modeling or demonstrating. If extra assistance is required for learning, use the hand-over-hand method at the point in time needed to meet the individual’s needs.