In the last Eight years my general knowledge has increased ten fold!
When Jay was born it never occurred to me that he would be my teacher. On so many levels, Jay has taught me so much because , like many children with Autism, he has lots of special interests and obsessions. Over the years there have been so many, that I have become an expert on many subjects , also learning details about the world around me I never would have noticed without Jay.
Many children have special interests, however in Autism these interests tend to be obsessional and to the exclusion of everything else.
We started with Trains! This is a very common one for children with Autism. There is something in the way a train moves , the movement of the wheels and the continuous pattern of this . We are so lucky, as we live in a town with a Heritage railway so from the age of two we would walk there with Jay and spend hours just watching the trains coming in and out of the station. We would buy Jay every single train and also the characters from Thomas the Tank engine and over the years have accumulated so many that I reckon its in the hundreds now. Jay lies down on the floor and lays his head on a side and watches the train’s wheels rotating for hours, he has always been fascinated with them. Now at Eight he continues to play with his trains to the exclusion of everything else. Children on the Autistic Spectrum have many obsessions and for Jay, trains are the top one. It is no use trying to tempt him away as all he can think about is Trains.
Trains, trainsets and waiting for the train at the station
Jay’s obsessions come and go. Whenever he finds something that interests him, it soon becomes a fixation, an obsessional need to discover more. At this stage it requires me as his mum to provide that information. Last year Jay became obsessed with Space and the Planets and everything in the Solar System. So, in winter this year I set to work making a Solar system with him out of polystyrene balls. We also bought lots of Space books so he could learn more. We would read them together each night and pretty soon his knowledge grew so that eventually he could name all of the Planets and their moons off by heart and could remember the number of moons each Planet had. This might not seem that special, but as all Autism mums know, if your child who cannot read or write and cannot speak to you in conversation and has severe delays achieves something like this it is blooming huge!!! I don’t know about other SEN mums but I go crazy whenever Jay learns the smallest skill because to us, it is such a big deal as they do not learn the normal way. Their brains fixate on one topic and they absorb all they can on that topic until they have nothing left to learn, and then, they move on!
Here are some other interests and obsessions Jay has had and every single one he has learnt amazing facts with his different clever mind. Remember , this child was non-verbal until 5 and cannot have a conversation or understand long sentences yet he can learn facts at an astonishing rate that are not in line with his developmental age of two!
Fishing / Caterpillars and spiders / Planets made out of dough and paint/ Sun and weather/ Butterflies/ Computers.
Jay also has obsessions with his particular toys. These toys are all he will use in his play. As the carer and mum I cannot enter his play. I sit with him and observe, I make comments to extend his language but I do not try to change the story or the toys he is using. If I do, Jay reacts because he seeks control in everything he does! People may say how spoilt! No! This is not spoilt behaviour, this is Autistic behaviour. Just as these children Stim, they also do things their own way! This control is evident in all they do and if you try and break it you will see extreme reactions. Now, this can make playing in a public place very challenging. I was in the library with Jay in our Easter holidays and Jay was happy playing trains, when a girl of two or three began to invade his space. Jay reacted immediately and said “no” to the girl. Unfortunately the girl did not listen and began to wave a soft toy in Jay’s face! Of course this is a massive trigger for meltdown as children with Autism do not like people to invade their personal space. It is a control thing and also sensory. I was moving towards Jay at this point, and before I reached him he had shouted at the girl saying ” you go away leave me alone!” I spoke quietly to the girl and asked her to move away from Jay because Jay likes to play alone. The child then did as I asked and her Grandpa brought her away from Jay but the damage was already done. Jay began to break down and cry and then went in to a meltdown where he cried and said “help” over and over. We made a hasty exit, however this story shows how children like Jay need to have control of their surroundings and that any sudden change to their immediate surroundings sets off extreme reactions. If you are with a child with Autism and they seem anxious or they scream or cry, it could well be that something around them has made them anxious. For Jay it can be noise, or what he sees. For example busy people everywhere, or that somebody has moved too near. Jay cannot tolerate dogs or Bees as both of these invade our space. We love dogs, and Bees, but we have to avoid them when out and about.
Rituals are also a massive part of Autistic behaviour. One of the very first signs that a child may be on the spectrum is the lining up of objects. In early years we call this Schema, in this case Trajectory Schema. This can exist outside of Autism, but it is also a big clue as to whether the child has Autism. It is seen in many children who do go on to receive a diagnosis. It has everything to do with the way the Autistic mind works. Lining up objects means sequencing, pattern and Trajectory and sameness and control and organising -all are things people with Autism do really well and enjoy!
Jay lining up his Peppa Pig toys ( another obsession)
Jay watches the same moment of the same episode of Peppa Pig over and over again. It becomes something you get used to but even then we sometimes say “Jay please can we watch something else!!” I blame our Sky Tv provider for giving us the remote control that allows you to rewind and forward at leisure and Jay soon learned how to do this! This is an example of ritualistic behaviour and the same need for control. I say this to all mums in same situation: even though it does drive us mad to see the same things over and over, let’s bear in mind that the child is trying to make sense of it and has to have things repeated in order to learn. They also love repetitive things! Its that simple! Anything that is predictable and controllable is heaven to children with Autism and that is why many of them love numbers, because, they are absolute-they never change, are non-emotional, and because of this they understand and this makes sense to them. Jay is also this way and loves sequencing anything from numbers to patterns and pictures.
One last thing about Jay’s mind. At five, Jay spent two days in his reception class where a number chart 1 to 100 was next to him. Within a week Jay was chanting the numbers each night in his bed and one night I was startled as I realised he was counting backwards. Then he began to count in two’s up to a hundred, then he counted backwards in two’s. I was then completely stunned when he began to count in three’s!!! He had only been at school five days and I asked them had they taught this to him. The school teacher told me they had only taught one to twenty! So, Jay’s mind had already computed those numbers and already learned how to count in various numerals. Wow!! The minds of these children are so complex and clever and because of this many IT companies employ people with Autism because of their analytical brains and their ability to make order out of chaos!!
Echolalia, Language delays and supporting a non-verbal child