I am not a psychologist or behavioural specialist or a Psychiatrist.
So, I am not going to talk about the triad of impairments or assessment scales etc.
What I can tell you is that Autism is a sensory disability in which everything a person sees, hears, feels, tastes and smells is distorted.
They may see every strand of hair on your head individually with more detail than a dandruff commercial, hence the need to push your hair off your face.
And your eyes might be so distracting that they have to look away, in order to pay attention.
They may taste food in individual components that make the slightest change to the recipe seem like an entirely different food.
Touch can be too light to feel or too intense to bear, or both!
And sound most, unfortunately, can be very distorted, either because they hear everything and cannot tune in to what’s important, ie. your voice, or because they only hear the higher sounds or the lower sounds that are in their environment.
There is a myriad of variations on these “Unders and Overs” and no two children are alike. (Believe me, I have a sample of two!)
So, imagine if you like, that having autism is a bit like being in a very busy foreign capital city where you don’t speak the language and everyone is too busy to give you directions.
You can’t read the street signs and you cannot understand what people are saying to you, or even pick up on any kind of pattern in the words they are using, as everyone talks too fast.
The traffic is loud, it is really hot and you want a drink; but you don’t know how to ask for it and nobody can understand you.
Eventually, you are going to recognise which shops are likely to have drinks for sale, but you will probably going to feel more comfortable going into a place where you can get it yourself.
When I travel to places where I don’t speak the language, I quickly learn the written word for supermarket (Alimentari, Supermarche, Supermercado)
However, it takes me a long time to pick up on what people are saying as they speak their own language so fluently with an accent, that can make no sense to my untrained ear.
So I go where I can get things for myself until someone has the time and patience to teach me “Please may I have THAT thing – Thankyou!”
That is how our kids feel.
That is why it can be really hard for our kids to say their first words, but really easy for them to type “Elmo” into a search engine on the computer!
And why when they need something, they lead you by the hand to get it, or climb on things to get it themselves, rather than asking you for it.
And they are often not going to see the point of learning to imitate you speaking.
When a child with autism looks at you out of the crib, they are being bombarded by such a range of sights, sounds, and sensations that they are not going to pick up on your reactions.
They may appear to have picked up a few words, which they use randomly, but will not necessarily; notice your reaction to the words.
A typically developing child will realise that you react and praise the first time they chance on a sound like “mamama”, and do it again. The child with autism may be distracted by the fantastic prism the light is making through the window,
or the pins and needles sensation they get whenever you lift the quilt off, or the sound of the leaf blower down the road which you cannot even hear.