I have always wondered what I would have done differently with Ethan if I knew then what I know now. What would it be like if there really was time travel? I can almost hear the conversation between the older, wiser me and the younger, scared, lonely me.
Our first conversation would be about the future. The first thing I would say is: “Everything is going to be OK. Your child is going to grow up happy and healthy.” Autism is not always a death sentence. The next most important piece of advice is to listen to the experts and not the expurts. Telling the difference between the two is where the older me is also an expert. Other parents who have travelled the road before you are the battle wary experts that you should seek out, as their advice is the most valuable. Surround yourself with experts but remember that you are the final decision maker and if their advice does not gel with your gut, DO NOT FOLLOW IT.
It was the start of a new school year and as usual, there was a new driver on the bus. She was an elderly woman and had been driving for the school district for about 20 years.
As the days went by, the bus driver started to “develop” an attitude and there were always issues with her. She picked Ethan up so early in the morning (6:30AM) that he did not get a chance to finish his breakfast, so we gave him food to eat on the bus. The driver started complaining and threatened that she was not going to let him eat his breakfast on the bus. I was shocked that a driver would behave as such and wouldn’t let a child eat. I called to complain and asked to remove the driver from our route. They give me lip service and said something about the union tying their hands. They could not change the driver.
There has been a growing trend of parents complaining that their autistic children do not want to go to school and that their kids have developed new behaviors to avoid going to school. This usually occurs when the child starts a new school or gets a new teacher.
This reminds me of the time when Ethan was 7 years and we were forced to put him a new school. This school was known for being the experimental school for autism and was actually the brain child of the head of special education in our school district. It was supposed to be the best place to educate an autistic child.
After a few weeks, Ethan suddenly started crying and performing every time we put him on the bus. He had never done that before and we just assumed it was a stage on the typical autism roller coaster.
I remember the psychologists sitting with us and telling us that we had until Ethan was 7 years old or we would miss the opportunity to take advantage of his brain’s development. They told us that if we missed that opportunity it would be too late. My issue with these professionals is that they talk with such confidence as if they know everything and everything they do know is fact. No wonder most of us parents lose the hope when our kids with autism reach that age and don’t progress. We think “this is it, this is the end.” I started teaching Ethan at the age of 10 and he has blossomed ever since. All I did was change the way we teach. Our brain is always growing, and the more you stimulate the brain the more it will develop. If they keep torturing our kids with the same program, yes, they will ensure and prove that our kids are unable to learn.
I doubt we will ever know the truth about the link between autism and vaccinations. For those of us who already have autistic children, the answer is moot. For those in government the stakes are too high for them to admit that there is a link as the ensuing backlash from the general population will be huge. The idea that parents will refuse to vaccinate their kids and the specter of massive outbreaks of previously controlled diseases is their worst nightmare. They will do anything in their power to ensure the status quo where every parent vaccinates their kids. They are so scared that they have take every opportunity to display the pros of vaccination and have even planted subliminal messages in every TV program that they are able. Some governments (such as California) have even gone as far as passing laws that allow a 12 year old to make decisions regarding vaccinations without parental consent. They are too young to vote, but of course they have the maturity to evaluate the trade-offs of vaccinations.
According to the dictionary, linear learning is a “process of learning following a step-by-step progression where a response to a step must be given before another step is taken.” Unfortunately, most people believe that most autistic kids learn linearly. In my experience with Ethan and most of the other kids, I have helped to teach, this is not true. Most of our kids learn differently, they are visual learners. When Ethan was first starting to learn word recognition, he learned the word scissors before he learned the word cat.
We found the same was true when we taught skip counting. The standard model of teaching says that we start by teaching the child to count in twos. Linear teaching (and learning) requires that the child master counting in twos before they progress to the next step. However, most of our kids find counting in twos very difficult and we in fact start by teaching them to count in tens, then hundreds, etc., until we finally get to the twos. We teach them in a non-linear manner as they learn in a non-linear manner.