April is Autism Awareness Month! I feel that the biggest way to spread awareness is to introduce the world to our loved ones on the Spectrum. Therefore, I’m taking the next few blog posts to really introduce my kids to the world. I know readers know about my kids; that’s basically what this whole blog is, but while I’ve talked about situations we’ve been in, things outsiders say, etc, I’ve never actually talked about all the things that make Gus who he is.
Overall, Gus is really happy, funny, and finds so much joy in so many things- his smile really is contagious. A common misconception of people with Autism is that they don’t show affection, but that’s not the case with Gus (and a lot of people with Autism, for that matter) – he frequently comes over to me or Josh to give us hugs, arm squeezes, or plop down in our laps. When Josh comes in from work, Gus always runs to hug him. He’s a bit wary of strangers, but once he gets to know someone or someone makes him laugh, that person has a friend for life. (Shout-out to the gentleman who sat behind us in church last week who played with Gus and made him shout with laughter!)
Like nearly all three-year-olds, he is a perpetual motion machine – he spends a lot of time bouncing on his mini-trampoline, playing outside, and sometimes, just running through the house, yelling. He LOVES all things transportation, and his current Favorite Things on Earth are Auto Trader books so he can look at all the cars, trucks, and vans for sale and point them all out to us, a die-cast space shuttle, and “Pete the Cat’s Wheels on the Bus” book. That is also Gus’s favorite song, and we sing it together All Daayyy Looooong (yes, that was supposed to be sung to the tune of Wheels on the Bus). Sensory play is a big hit too, much to my chagrin, and we spend a lot of time smushing cloud dough, sifting through uncooked rice, and driving cars through flour (Why yes, I do sweep my floors 632 times a day, but sometimes the mess is worth the calm.).
Like pretty much all three year olds, we’ve watched the same cartoons over and over and over – Thomas and Friends being a favorite, along with Barney, Penguins of Madagascar, and VeggieTales. I’ve dreamed I’ve lived on the Island of Sodor more than once, and I know all the words to the songs on “More Barney Songs.” Gus also has several favorite books – “The Gruffalo,” “Night Before Preschool,” the “How Does a Dinosaur” series, and he loves poems. Of course, music is a big hit too – music at church, Toddler Radio Disney,
While he is delayed in some areas, he has made so much progress over the past few years. He has gone from having 3-4 words to having 30-40 words, using some short sentences, singing songs, and making requests (such as “more milk,” “go outside,” “go bye bye”) in the past year. He can climb pretty much anything, and where last year he was scared of the toddler slide at the park, he now goes down the “big kid” slide on our playset like a pro! He has recently started showing interest in animals, and the cats are his best friends (whether they want that role or not) now. He gives them hugs, pets them, carries them, which allows us to work on the idea of “gentle” and how to treat animals. At the zoo, he loves the penguin exhibit and says hi to all the penguins.
Like with all people with Autism (and people in general), while life isn’t a constant struggle, it’s not all sunshine and playtime, either. We have struggles and challenges. Sleep issues are becoming more and more frequent, in which Gus will wake up at 2:00 am, and he will be up for the day. We can’t really let him nap in the afternoon because when he wakes up confused, it sends him into a meltdown that lasts at least an hour. It’s becoming harder to find plac
es we can go that don’t trigger a meltdown for Gus – right now, we can shop at Target and walk around the mall, but not go into any stores, and bringing Gus to church presents some challenges too. He doesn’t want to sit through service, but he won’t stay in childcare now, either, so Josh and I take turns taking him out and about to walk around. Food aversions continue to be a struggle, and I’m focusing now on just not wanting him to be hungry, rather than worrying about the food groups.
As I said, Gus has made tremendous progress with speech, but we still have a lot of struggles. He uses the word “bus” to refer to nearly
anything he doesn’t have the actual word for, so that creates frustration when I can’t figure out what he wants. Sometimes, I just can’t understand him, and sometimes, he doesn’t have a way to tell me what he needs, so there’s a lot of guesswork and trial-and-error.
Meltdowns happen a lot, and we just have to ride it out until Gus is calm. Sometimes, singing, watching a cartoon, or rocking help. Sometimes they don’t (again, a lot of trial and error). Sometimes when he stims (self-stimulating behavior, ie: hand-flapping, tap
ping objects, etc), he hits himself or his sister, and we worry he’s going to hurt himself or her.
So, that’s Gus – the condensed version. He is more than just a
diagnosis, he is more than Autism, he is a fun, energetic, little boy with interests, loves, and struggles, and he happens to also have Autism.
I encourage all of you who have someone in your life with Autism to tell the world about him or her. Whether that person is your child,
your sibling, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend – tell the world all about that person. Autism Awareness is more than a puzzle piece logo, Autism Awareness is more than one day of blue light bulbs. Being aware of Autism means associating the disorder with people. So share your stories! It doesn’t have to be a blog, it can be whatever method you choose. Spread awareness because as more people associate people they know with Autism, the more acceptance and tolerance there will be.