Autism has become a lot more marketable since I was a kid. When I was in the 4th grade, I didn’t have access to many autism specific tools. I didn’t see anything autistic themed on TV, new paper, or stores. Now? I can find catalogs the size of phonebooks with autism specific tools and toys. Aromatherapy diffusors, special seats, noise cancelling headphones, chewable necklaces, indoor hammocks are to name a few that are available now. There are research fund raisers for autism, therapy groups, and support centers like the Kelly Autism Program. Even Sesame Street has a new neighbor who is on the spectrum. The mark of the puzzle piece has made its way to the surface of society. Of course with great popularity, also comes the need of great caution to separate fact from fiction.
When the results were in that I had autism, my parents did a lot of research on autism. Some was helpful, some…not so much. They had to dig deep to separate the “miracle cures” for autism from the real tools that could help me. Some of the garbage treatments I have heard of included diets, pills, injections, sprays. Most of which are scams to lighten the victim of some money, while others are straight up lethal like the Miracle Mineral Solution (A potion a child would drink with a bleach-based formula)
The sad fact of the matter is that there is no cure for autism. Autism is not like a cold that comes and goes. You cannot cure what isn’t a disease. I cannot separate from the spectrum any easier than I can separate from my shadow. Autism is a part of my identity.
The Irlin lens glasses. I have briefly covered this subject before. Autism, in my case, brought social deficiencies and heighten senses. Meaning my sense of sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing is more sensitive than most people. This in turn leads to frequent sensory overloads. This was a real problem trying to concentrate on my school work. For my sensitive eyes, I could not stand the glare from the light reflecting off the white paper of my assignments and books, direct sunlight, fluorescent light, and brightness of computer screens caused me frequent headaches and strained eyes. All I could do is read while squinting and close my eyes for a minute to recover.
Although my glasses may look like another pair of sunglasses, the Irlin lens glasses were designed to filter off specific spectrums of light that cause discomfort to my eyes. This is a tool I still use today and plan to use for years to come.
In Middle School, it was painfully apparent that I was a slow writer. I was a poor speller and have an awkward way of holding a pencil and I still do. So it would take me longer to write down the key points for every lesson. That is when I was introduced to the Alpha Smart.
The Alpha Smart is a battery operated keyboard with a small display screen. Unlike a laptop, the device was specially designed to be a note keeping tool and nothing else (no internet, no games, no texting, etc). I came to rely on this beautiful machine constantly to the point I was a faster typer than writer and was able to finally keep up with the other students.
When I graduated to High School. It was time to upgrade my notebook again. I was enrolled in the school’s engineering courses and sometimes I would require extra time to complete assignments. Obviously an Alpha Smart would not be ideal for the task.
With some convincing on my mom’s part, I was given a rental laptop issued by the School District. Not only would I use this device to write notes for English and History classes, but also classes that had 3D models, circuit building, and other assignments that required a class specific program to operate. I was very grateful to the few organizers on staff that was more interested in my potential to succeed rather if my need with in the budget.
My favorite toys as a kid were the Lego Duplo blocks. At the time, I only had one bucket’s worth. But even with just that, I’d spend hours building, destroying, and rebuilding models. When I got older and learned of smaller block Legos with more detailed designs, they became the top most wanted toy on my Birthday and Christmas lists. Why? I wasn’t sure. There was just something so appealing about Lego that I just couldn’t get enough of. Looking back at it now, I suppose this was the closest thing I had to Play Therapy without realizing it.
Play therapy is the psychological practice of allowing children to express their
inner thoughts, communicate with others, and develop problem-solving skills.
You can image my delight when I heard about the existence of Lego therapy. Lego therapy is an autism specific program that allows children on the spectrum to communicate, develop problem-solving skills, and build social relations with each other. In group sessions, the autistic children are divided into groups of three and each of the three has a specific assignment. An “engineer” who drafts the project design. An “supplier” who finds the parts. And a “builder” who constructs the model. This system of task specific play allows the children to practice their communication and cooperation skills. If something like this existed back when I was a kid, I would have enrolled right way and probably made a lot more friends.
Another service that is has surprised me are new use of service dogs. Apparently, service dogs are not only for the blind, but also for the autistic. Knowing the proper order of things is often a mystery to most autistic children. For some, they come to the point they feel so incompatible with the real-world that they will stop going outside altogether. That is where these new kinds of services dogs come in. The dogs are trained to be living companions for the isolated children.
Dogs don’t need words to express affection and it has been proven that they can produce a clamming influence to autistic children. In addition, having a pet can provide real-world responsibilities to the child and overtime the child may be comfortable enough to leave his comfort zone long enough to explore the real-world. Having once had a dog myself, I can certainly attest to these findings.
The field of autism has improved a great deal since it’s humble beginnings. The world of autism is still shrouded in mystery, but many of its superstitions have been revoked. Now that there are better tools to navigate this world, people are less afraid to explore these paths and discover what they are capable of.
“Even the simplest tools can empower people to do great things.” (Biz Stone)
Packham, A. (2016, May 26). How LEGO Is Helping Kids With Autism Improve Their Social Skills. Retrieved March 06, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/lego-based-therapy-children-with-autism-social-skills_uk_5721efb9e4b06bf544e15ddf
How Lego Therapy Can Help Children With Special Needs – Friendship Circle – Special Needs Blog. (2013, December 19). Retrieved March 06, 2017, from http://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2013/10/14/how-lego-therapy-can-help-children-with-special-needs/
Everything You Need to Know About LEGO Therapy. (n.d.). Retrieved March 06, 2017, from http://thewackywarehouse.com/lego-therapy/#
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