Since Johnny’s ASD diagnosis we have been trying to understand how he learns and how sensory affects Johnny so that frustrations don’t become bigger issues that turn into meltdowns. I have learned that a lot of people on the Autism Spectrum could have sensory processing issues which means that the brain either over responds to sensations or under responds to stimuli.
Touch: Johnny loves hugs and cuddling because he is affectionate but also because the strong pressure makes him feel good. From a young age we used to have to lie with him and wrap our arms around him in order for him to calm down and settle enough to fall asleep. Johnny is also tapping or slapping others at school as they walk by or sit next to him but we are not sure if this is his way of communicating or if he is seeking some pressure feedback or both. He does this while smiling at them so one idea is to teach him and the other children to do “high fives” instead so that Johnny learns an appropriate way to be social and to touch but also get the physical feedback he may be craving. His adaptive kindergarten is using weighted vests as a test to give him some muscle resistance so he gets that feedback and to calm him down.
Water is the biggest joy for him. He loves to play at the water table at school and splash, pour water into his toys and watch it drizzle or drip out. It gets him very happy and excited. Johnny loves water fountains, sprinklers and hoses. He LOVES having a bath and learning to swim and is already nearly floating on his own in the pool. But because he loves water so much he gets distracted when he washes his hands. He knows all the steps but has to be reminded as he watches the water come out of the tap. We are beginning to have problems early in the morning that instead of going potty he is playing with the sink and the soap. We have started turning the shut off valves off.
Visual : Johnny is a visual thinker which means that pictures are his first language and not words. He has an incredible memory and knows if things have been moved in a room, and knows where things are suppose to go. Johnny’s notices the details in everything and is very focused when he is interested in something. Other children see the whole room when they walk in all at once…if you hold up a cardboard toilet paper holder and look through it and then try to look at your room…that’s how Johnny sees things.
Sound : Johnny loves music and can hear really well but at the same time can be distracted by any little sound. So when lots of people are talking its hard for him to listen to everyone especially when other sounds are happening. In speech therapy he used to be very distracted by the heating vents coming on and off or the fan but now he acknowledges the noise and moves on to his task. He can hear voices in the hall and recognize the voice of a former instructor and start smiling when he hears them but it takes me a lot longer to make the connection until the clinician explains what he is hearing. We are finding that Johnny is very sensitive to sudden very loud sounds. A siren or the roar of a Harley Davidson has him putting his hands over his ears and hiding himself into us. When his baby sister starts to cry very loudly or yell he looks like he is in pain. In the car if we are driving on the highway and have a window open the outside noise gets him really upset that he starts kicking the seat in front of him. We are going to have to have to teach him to where head phones and listen to music or try noise cancelling head phones in order to block annoying sounds.
Taste and Smell : Johnny is a picky eater so taste, smell, the look of food and texture are important. He might even want to feel his food but that’s okay too. Johnny likes to dip his food in something he finds yummy in order to get it down. We are lucky that he eats at least 15 different foods because slot of other kids with ASD only eat 5.
Vestibular System or Movement System : I have just learned about how if Johnny’s vestibular system is not responding typically that might be why at times he seems like he is suddenly clumsy, bumping into things, falling for no apparent reason and has trouble trying to stand on one leg. Johnny loves to try and stand on his head or bounce on the sofa and it seams he is trying to help his vestibular system instinctively by doing this. We are going to get an exercise ball that is sized for him to sit on and bounce in the morning before school because the occupational therapist says the effect can last up to 8 hours and could help him have better body awareness. We also just got a little trampoline that “Princess” can also use since she loves to jump like a monkey on her crib bed:)
Proprioceptive System or Heavy Work System : Now this sense was completely new to me but as I understand it Johnny’s nervous system is not sending information to his muscles in a timely way so it effects his gross motor skills and his ability to process his place in his environment. How we can stimulate this is to do muscle resistance training and integrate this into his daily routines and play schedules. Climbing on playground equipment or wearing a weighted vest during gym or recess would make his muscles work harder and give him the feedback he needs. The occupational therapist also suggested having him carry a 4-5 lbs medicine ball or even throw one outside and to give him some resistance when he is trying to pedal his bike so he can really feel his muscles. We are teaching him to do an improvised push up against the wall where he just pushes hard against it for a few seconds and repeats. Swimming is also a great way for him to stimulate his proprioceptive system and may be why he loves it so much.
Stimming : We are beginning to understand how Johnny copes with being over or under stimulated by stimuli and this is often referred to as Stimming behavior. Sometimes Johnny walks around quite fast or walks on his tippy toes. He used to flap his hands and arms but not as much now. He will squeeze his hands into fists over and over again or wring his hands and sometimes put his fingers in this mouth. He is doing this to calm his mind. He also organizes his toys or books as well into perfect rows for the same reason. Putting things in a container and dumping them out is another thing he does. Since Johnny is becoming more verbal through out the day there are some words he likes to say over and over again. “ELBOW!” “ELBOW JUICE” A quirk of Autism is the repetitiveness that can occur. Why “Elbow Juice” you are wondering? Well he had blood test at the hospital as part of his diagnosis where they took 8 vials of his blood but he thought since it was red it looked like juice….elbow juice. Some people on the spectrum are very literal thinkers and we are finding that with Johnny. I have had to lose my sarcasm.
I am beginning to understand better every day why “if you met a child with Autism then you have only met ONE child with Autism.”
*Edit ~ quote can be attributed to Stephen Shore