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What is Autism?If you ask Luca and his sister Aviana, they will tell you Autism means awesome brain. An autistic brain works differently than a neurotypical (people without any type of disability) brain. They call it Autism Spectrum Disorder because each and every person with autism is unique and has different abilities and challenges they face. Some kids are nonverbal, others are overly verbal. Some are sensory avoiders, some are sensory seekers. It's a spectrum, not a single line that you can define. Here is the more technical definition taken from autismawarenesscenter.com: "Autism is a lifelong, nonprogressive neurological disorder typically appearing before the age of three years. The word “autism” means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction."
What are the traits of Autism?Here are the things we noticed with Luca. I'll also provide a link with further details below. -Deep interests. Almost obsessive, OCD like behavior. Luca would only go left at the bottom of the stairs. You could go either way to get to our kitchen, but in his mind, he had to avoid the pickle door (a green archway he would have to go under if he went right. -Meltdowns aka tantrums. These are not your typical 2-year-old tantrums. They would last for hours and were usually caused by something that didn't go according to plan. I remember once I set his waterbottle down in the wrong place while he was sleeping. The next morning he cried and refused to leave his room until I made the moon come back up so that we could have a 'do-over' of the previous night. He was 3 and it lasted almost 2 hours. -Overly verbal. This is not a typical one. More often than not, kids on the spectrum become nonverbal for several years. Luca had what is called 'echolalia', where he would repeat everything he heard. Because of this he had no understanding of pronouns. I'd ask "Hey buddy, are you hungry?". He would respond with "You are hungry". He was really good at masking the repetitive phrases, so we didn't notice this problem until about 3.5 years old. -Sensory sensitivities. It's interesting because Luca has a few sensory sensitivities, but mostly he's a sensory seeker (see next point down for info on that). He's sensitive to smells. We were once in a restaurant and another table nearby had ordered somethign Luca did not like the smell of. He got up and ran out of the restaurant at 4 years old. To this day, he does not like the smell of eggs, cheese, avocados or honey. He has to leave the room, or I have to light a candle if he smells any of those things. -Sensory seeking. A lot of kids like Luca are unaware of where there bodies are. They run into things a lot, have a tough time mimicking your body and like to touch everything. If someone has a beard, Luca loves to touch it as he's talking to them. He loves touching popsicles and ice-cream and loves the feeling of cold. A few things that have helped him with his sensory seeking are jumping, heavy blankets and a vibrating pillow. If he has something that weighs him down that he can feel, its easier for his brain to focus. Here is another list from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html
What causes Autism?This is a hot topic. For us, I don't have the energy to go down this rabbit hole. I love the way Luca is. Our goal is to spend our time finding ways to help these 'awesome brains' integrate and thrive in society. We do agree on one thing however, vaccinations do not cause autism. So save yourself some time and don't go down that rabbit hole. The most simple answer is genetics. There are some environmental factors that are being researched, but again if you have a child you think might be on the spectrum, spend your time focusing on how you can help him/her thrive. Here is a little more info from the Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/autism-spectrum-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20352928
What steps can I take to get a diagnosis?It depends on where you live and the age of your child. If your child is 3 years or younger, check with your pediatrician. If your child is school aged, check with your school district. Our first diagnosis was with the school district at age 4. They were really thorough and immediately put him into a program to help him thrive. The diagnosis can take several months, so be patient and remember the diagnosis will not change your child. It is simply a way of helping you understand your child and get the services and resources you need to help.
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