One of the ways I try to understand the the neurological side of Autism is I think of Johnny’s brain having more wiring in his brain that has been activated then what is typical and it hasn’t naturally trimmed itself to just use essential parts. The end result is that it was hard for him to learn to speak, jump, stand on one leg, dance, swim, bike like the rest of the other children. Tasks have to be broken down into smaller more manageable steps because he is mentally trying to process so many things that now come so easily for children his age but he’s bogged down by so much happening in his head. Essentially he needs help untangling his wiring and growing new neuropathways just like we do with Christmas lights. For me Christmas lights and how you deal with them every year is a great metaphor on how I approach Autism and helping my son find the way he learns best.
When you take out your Christmas lights after putting up your tree your lights are usually all either in boxes or rolled up nicely and you don’t open up and find a mess….well not my house anyway.
My lights are separated by colours and then I can choose which ones go outside and which ones I’m going to unravel and wrap all around my tree. I start from the top and careful wrap all the way to the bottom making sure the whole tree was lit up beautifully. I then stand back and then just move some of the lights to other branches and make sure it looks just right. I might even have to add an extra string just to make sure the latest just repeated it nicely. But then on a certain day it’s time to take the tree down and put it away and take off all the strings of lights. I unravel it carefully and I take each string and try to roll it up in a nice bowl to put away in my bin. But what if I just took it all off and tossed it in a pile on the floor and then I went over to unravel it to put it away and what what I find? A big tangled mess of lights on the floor and it still works if I plug it in but if I had to decorate a tree tomorrow oh my how hard that would be
I would have to very slowly and very carefully methodically try to find each string and untangle each string slowly and carefully one by one. And this would not be easy some of them will be tangled together I might get frustrated I might throw a few things and I might want to walk away if you times and then come back to it later but if I persisted and untangled and found every single string then I would know that once I put it away nicely that next year when I bring it out at Christmas I can go and put it on my new tree
So you might ask me what the Christmas lights and Autism have in common?
Well I like to think that Johnny has a lot of neural pathways in his brain that are lit up like a Christmas tree and as a baby he would see so much and learn so much. He used all five senses to learn and navigate the world. He would touch and smell everything and he would be distracted and curious about every sound. Now in Grade 3, he cannot allow his brain to wander and try to figure out that sound. He is suppose to stay focused and on topic. He is not suppose to touch everything and rub things on his face. But what if this is the way his brain collects data about what he is learning? Isn’t school suppose to foster and enable curiosity? As a good friend of mine says who has a son on the spectrum often says, “my son’s brain is just wired differently then the world he lives in is wired.” School is set up to educate the common denomator and not to teach according to differences and strengths. Johnny learns best when he is not forced to learn the way everyone else learns is taught the way he learns and experiences the world.