If you’re a parent who has a child with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), you know this is a huge understatement: “It makes life hard.” I realize the name is correct: Autism is a “spectrum.” Some children have more traits, some have less. Either way, it certainly is no cakewalk! ASD really makes family life and parenting difficult, frustrating, and complicated; it sometimes makes you want to throw in the towel (but please don’t)!
When it comes to dealing with ASD in the home, I’ve found this book to be quite helpful: Raising Martians by Joshua Muggleton. Muggleton, who has Asperger Syndrome, has been able to handle it well enough to study Psychology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. His book is helpful in that he talks about ASD as one who has it – which really opens a window for those of us who need to know what it’s like to live with ASD.
If you’re at all familiar with ASD, you know that it means a person is typically very sensitive to certain sounds, textures, touches, smells, and lights. Muggleton does a nice job of explaining this in chapter three, called “The Five Senses: Plus Two.” If your child has ASD, these things are good to know: you’re not going to get upset, for example, if he doesn’t like to wear certain shirts or use certain pillow cases.
Also, if you know about ASD, you know about meltdowns – and we’re not talking about a five-minute rolling around on the ground tantrum like a non-ASD child throws. ASD meltdowns are much uglier, and include stomping, jumping, curling up in blankets in a dark corner, crying and hyperventilating, refusing to eat, drink, or be hugged, etc. Sometimes they even last for 60+ minutes (by which time everyone in the house is on edge). Muggleton explains these meltdowns very helpfully in chapter two. He says that meltdowns are anxiety that gets to a blowing point (like a pressure cooker). I also appreciated his examples of helping prevent and work through a meltdown, and what to do when it’s too late (basically tell the child you’re there for him, and let him get it all out until he relaxes – unless he puts himself or others in danger, of course).
What about ASD and obsessions and fixations? Yes, Muggleton knows about those as well (see chapter 4). ASD children, he says, are often very obsessed with things like Thomas the Train or baseball stats or the history of Legos because it gives them some control in their seemingly uncontrollable situation. Obsessions can be channeled and even helpful for a child with ASD, unless they get over the top. Muggleton discuss this as well.
ASD people also have a tough time socially because they often can’t read or understand people’s emotions and they can’t always figure out what people mean by phrases/sentences. Muggleton goes into some detail about what it’s like to always think literally, to not be able to empathize, how to make and keep friends, and so forth. There’s even a chapter on bullying followed by some Q/A’s at the end of the book.
If you need a resource on ASD to see what it’s all about, to help deal with the situation in your own life, or to give to someone affected by ASD in their home, I do recommend this book: Raising Martians. It is not a Christian book, but it’s a helpful and level-headed common grace resource on Autism Spectrum Disorder.
By the way, if you have recommended resources on ASD, please do share!