Continuation of He's An Aspie

An Autistic brain doesn't process sensory input the way a typical brain can. I think of it this way. A typical brain drinks in sensory information through a straw whereas an autistic brain experiences what is seen, heard and tactilely felt as a torrent through a firehose. The brain takes in everything and overloads the autistic's ability to filter out the needed information from the unnecessary sensations. As a high functioning autistic or Aspie, my son exhibited interesting behaviors when he became overwhelmed or stressed as well as underwhelmed or bored. 

He would pace, walking on his toes and kind of lunge forward with each step which reminded me of a strutting chicken. (Google some chicken videos on the internet, and you'll understand exactly what I mean.) 

Often when experiencing angst or ennui, his hands and fingers would flap similar to typing but up in the air instead of down as if on a keyboard. Both these behaviors were often punctuated by throaty, guttural, noises that I flippantly called "singing". 

From what I understand, self-stimulating, repetitive actions such as rocking, finger flapping and pacing are an Autistic's way of comforting themselves when stressed. So, the self stimulating behaviors are a vital part of their coping mechanisms. 

For my son, the behaviors could be mitigated but never completely banished.  Interestingly enough, my son was often unaware he was singing, pacing or walking like a chicken until it was brought to his attention.

This is where the behavior modification came in. First, he had to become aware he was doing something that might cause a few sideways glances in public. Second, I had to find a simple way to redirect him towards more typical behaviors.

At home when he paced and walked on his toes, I'd touch is arm or shoulder and ask, "Are you a chicken?" He'd immediately stop and say, "I am not a chicken." "Then why're you walking like one," I'd reply and do my best to mimic his walk. "I do not walk like that," he said in his defense. "Sure you do, honey. Kinda weird, huh?" He would agree, and for a short time, stop the chicken walk. This routine was repeated more times than I can count in public and in private until all I had to do was say "chicken". He'd stop the ungainly strut and start a more typical gait.

At home, I would ask what was up or if he was okay when he flapped his hands or began "singing". When engaged, he usually stopped the behavior long enough to answer. Again, I would mimic his actions so he could see and hear how he appeared to others. I did not do this in a mocking or derisive fashion but in an instructive way. In public when the behaviors occurred, I could often just touch his hand or pat his arm and he'd stop. 

Autistics often are sensitive to sound. Loud ambient noise like at a busy restaurant or packed school cafeteria can trigger all sorts of self-stimulating behaviors. If the self-stimulating behaviors don't pacify enough, an autistic will often withdraw from the offensive environment. My son would cover his ears with his hands when overly sensitive to noise. If that wasn't enough, he would run the gambit on all of his self-stimulating behaviors until the noise went away or he'd find a way to remove himself from the noisy environment. 

How did I help him with this? Simple...........torture; better known as exposure therapy. I basically trapped him in a car so he couldn't withdraw and played music as loud as I could stand.

I love listening to music in the car. When a song I liked came on the radio, I'd turn it up loud, mostly to drown out my bad singing voice. At first my son would reach over and turn the volume down, but I'd turn it right back up and continue singing. After a few times playing volume ping pong, I'd tell him to leave the radio alone. "Rock 'n' Roll is meant to be loud," I'd tell him. "The song'll be over soon. I'll turn it down when it's over."

 As the song blasted away, my son would sit in the passenger seat with his hands flapping a mile a minute and doing his own "singing" until the song was over and the volume was lowered. It wasn't every song on maximum volume, but the radio was always on in the car and even at home, I like my music loud. He eventually learned to like it that way too.

The world is an extremely loud place. Some of the most entertaining venues are noisy like, sporting events, rock concerts, amusement parks, and even movie theaters. I wanted my son to experience what life had to offer. Needless to say, I tried to expose him as much as possible to noisy places and events.

I took him to the circus, fireworks displays, programs like Disney on Ice, movies at the theaters, and local plays.

 Granted, when he was younger, we didn't always make it to the end of the program. When he had had enough and wanted to leave, we left. I pushed his limits. However, I didn't push him past his point of complete and utter withdrawal or acting out. Instinctively, I knew where that line was for my son. It wasn't pleasant watching him struggle, but in my heart, I knew it was necessary. No bubble wrap for my son.

Little by little, as he grew older, he became more and more tolerant of noise. That doesn't mean his comforting behaviors disappeared completely. He just learned to control when he uses self-stimulating behaviors. He is much more controlled in public now than he was when he was younger. 

As an adult, my son has attended professional hockey games, amusement parks, a Disturbed/Breaking Benjamin concert and even a KISS concert without a single hand flap, ear covering or chicken step. And he stays til the end of the show or event now. 

However, he picks and chooses when he wants to tolerate noise and when he doesn't. He will still withdraw from a social gathering when he's reached his limit. Recently we went to his grandfather's home for a Christmas open house. Family attended and friends of his grandfathers came too. It became a noisy gathering with everyone talking. He tolerated it for about 60 minutes then went to a quiet back room and entertained himself by playing games on his Nintendo Switch. 

Still for an autistic like my son, enjoying a loud concert or hockey game is an accomplishment. Years of me being cruel-to-be-kind paid dividends for him.

Our local professional hockey arena recently designated quiet rooms for those who are sensory sensitive. I told my son about the accommodation and asked him what he thought. His response was, "If they need that, they should just go home." He wasn't being cruel in his assessment. For him, if you can't stand the noise, it's time to go home.  

It was important for me to treat my son as typically as possible. It was important to push his limits to see what he was capable of achieving. He usually would rise to the occasion. I am thankful and blessed he has overcome so much. Consistent and repeated exposure to noisy activities and loud places over time made it a little easier for my son to live in our world his way.

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