Above: Visiting Chickens, Jay’s Chicken mug and Jay’s Chicken hat.
I cannot believe I have used the word Chicken in a post title yet it is more than relevant in our life right now!
How do Chickens link to Autism? They do not in the normal sense of the word, but in my house, at the present moment, they are the subject of conversation nearly all the day long!
Chickens are incredibly funny creatures, and, to Jay, they signify an incredibly fun obsession which developed about a couple of months ago. Jay has always loved all animals , some more than others. I have already discussed his obsession with Spiders and how his two special toys Spinney and Crawley live their lives with us even though they are, of course toys! But if we try and look at the world through the eyes of the child with Autism, we will see a little of what they see. To neuro typical people, Chickens are just Chickens. Farmland animals bred for eggs and meat and yes they are super funny animals if you watch them for a while. With Jay, there is a special quality about the way he views animals. Just like a toddler will believe an animal can talk or is magical, he sees in to their souls . I believe he sees the animal itself, and imagines a character and a name, and a certain personality to the animal, be it a real one or a toy.
Because of Jay’s interest and obsession with Chickens, our weekends end up being about the pursuit of them! Luckily we live in a country town and there are many farms and small holdings around here. We go to one near us and Jay will laugh , giggle and talk to the Chickens and chatter in excitement and pure happiness! It is a real pleasure to watch Jay engage with them and he also has become quite efficient at discussing Chickens with us which considering Jay was non verbal 3 years ago, this is a huge achievement. The funny thing is that Jay’s obsession does not end with just visiting these animals. His Dad and I have to BE them! What I am about to tell you, shows again what I have discussed about parenting your child with Autism in a different way. When Jay wakes up on a morning and his Dad is the first person he sees, as he gets up before us, Jay will not say hello or Hi, he will say “Chicken” This is his way of asking Dad to make Chicken noises! Yes, my husband’s first job of the day is to be a Chicken. Technically his Dad needs to get ready for work, so he gets up earlier in order to do these rituals Jay needs and the acting like a chicken makes Jay laugh and smile. I believe Jay’s mind jumps straight to his current obsessions or interests when he wakes. Then, when Jay and I get up, instead of saying hi to me, he also asks me to be a Chicken too. I have my own way of being a Chicken! I even have a phrase I say. It is ” cluck cluck what luck!” I will quite happily say this whenever Jay asks me to, as I know it makes him happy and calm. Most parents would say to their child to get ready or eat their breakfast, or we will play later, but Jay’s Dad and I both realise the real reason Jay requires us to act like a Chicken for him, is more serious. It is because he is dealing with high Anxiety every single day, and this Chicken fun is a diversion for him to get out of that crippling Anxiety!
Everything a child with Autism does is geared to how their physiological selves react to the sensory information around them. They are just trying to function, when their bodies are in a constant fright or fight mode. If , as Parents and Cares we understand this and comprehend why these funny things are expected of us and how the child’s rituals run their days, then we can really provide a helpful way for the child to manage their Anxiety daily. If you refuse to do these ritualistic requests then the child will still have the Anxiety, and would not have the diversion they need to manage it.
We laugh with Jay over the habits of Chickens, of course we do, and we make it fun for him. We probably look like idiots but we do it for him. It even happens in public. We recently went to the shoe shop for shoes for Jay, and he began requesting that his Dad did a Chicken impression right there in the shop, surrounded by total strangers and staff. Jay’s Dad did do the impression albeit quietly and discretely. As I have told my readers before, we are way past the time when we cared what people thought of either Jay or us, and the people’s reactions would not bother us , but there is nothing we wont do for him to keep him calm in public and if, in pretending to be a Chicken, we calm him, then we are going to do it!
Obsessions in Autism can be a really fun way in which to make a connection with your child. To study a subject together through books or online can be so rewarding and can result in the child actually connecting on a deeper level with the Parent or Carer. I know there are many times when I feel a slight disconnect in Jay. He switches off from us from time to time. It has happened for all the years I’ve spent caring for him. Sometimes, he is alert and is present and right there in the moment with us, and other times he completely switches off from us, preferring to absorb himself in his own world. This may not sound hard to Parents who do not have children with Autism, but I assure you it is very hard to feel this disconnect. I have learned to respect it. I have become less emotional over the years, and to deal with things in a calm efficient and non emotional way, as that is the only way I stay on my path as a Carer and support network for my son. When Jay fully connects with me I enjoy having those lovely hugs he gives and the eye contact he gives me as we laugh together about Chickens or other interests, but at those times when he seems distant and does not come to us, and when he pulls away from any human contact, I find just a sensible lets get on with it mental attitude works best. Because, he always comes back! He never stays away mentally for long, and if we give him his space at these times, then he tends to return to us quicker.
So, if in pretending to be a Chicken all day long, and the connection between us is there, then it seems a small thing to do to maintain the closeness we have at these times. I would say that being self conscious does not always go well with Autism, as these children do not try to fit in or succumb to “normal required behaviour or social etiquette” so it is best to do exactly the same thing and not succumb and just focus on the child where ever you are and whatever you are doing. Just keep on ploughing on down the road on your path to discovery about the child you love and care for. There is no doubt that raising a child with Autism and Global Delay changes you in a way that you could never have imagined you could be changed. It gives you strength. It makes you a force to be reckoned with. It makes you learn how to stay calm, because there is no other way to deal with Autism other than to be calm as every other emotion ,makes it all worse. It makes you resilient. It makes you clever. It makes you more accepting. It makes you work harder. It requires you to break the boundaries of human propriety. It requires a certain wisdom only learned on the job. It requires you to work a little harder to connect. It requires an eloquent approach to obtaining the support your child needs, and lastly it requires more love than you ever thought you possessed! But gosh it is worth it! It truly is!