“I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed.” – Booker T. Washington
Previously, I wrote Part I of the presentation by James Williams at Lamarque Elementary. In part I, James touched on how much our perception of the symptoms of Autism are influenced by our society, generally as a country but even as specifically as our town or family. If the severity of a child’s autistic symptoms is partially shaped by our socially prompted expectations, then are the milestones we watch for in our children’s developmental progress also shaped by our society.
I think that I agree with James Williams to some degree. Most of us were first alerted to our child’s condition by a failure to meet a milestone. This milestone may have been on a hand-out from a doctors office, “What to expect from your 18 mo. old” was the handout I used to receive. However, how have these milestones come to be the standard? The expectations that we have had for our children have changed over time. As modern medicine has developed so has a list of Neurotypical Developmental Milestones to expect from a typical child.
James pointed out a study regarding the Theory of Developmental Tests. In this study, it was determined that adults have expectations that Autistic children simply can’t meet. In the frustration and fear brought on by the realization that our Autistic Child is not meeting specific expectations, we can be blinded by expectation to see the ways in which our Autistic child is moving forward. In this study it was determined that a child will only complete a milestone if the following elements are in place:
- Physically Ready – Physical limitations for some Autistic Children, such as weak muscle structure.
- Social Pressure – As I mentioned in Part I of the presentation, James mentioned that social pressure does not work with Autistic Children in the same way as Nuerotypical (NT) Children. As I have realized after interviewing James, it is not that social pressure does not exist at all for Autistic Children, it just works differently for them. I will explain this further in my article about our interview.
- Self Motivation for the task. As a parent of an Aspie son, this seems to be my biggest challenge, how to help my son become self motivated for a task.
James pointed out the first step we as parents must take is to stop focusing on the expectation our child is not meeting. Instead we need to focus on the areas that they are physically ready, have some sort of social pressure to achieve (social pressure that means something to them) and self motivation for the task.
In the movie, “Elf”, Will Farrell plays a human raised by Santa’s Elves at the north pole who later comes to New York City to find his real father. A classic comedy of errors, Will Farrell’s character is constantly misunderstood. Often times, there is an assumption regarding his intentions based on the fact that he looks like a full grown human man. .
In one scene, he is speaking to the female lead, a woman named Jovie.
Jovie:How come you were in the women’s locker room this morning?
Buddy:I heard you singing.
Jovie: Are you sure it had nothing to do with the fact that I was naked in the shower?
Buddy: I didn’t know you were naked.
The humor is of course from the fact that it would be assumed that a man would only go into a woman’s locker room for one reason, naked women.
As I pointed out previously, the social pressures that motivate an Autistic Child are different than those that motivate a NT Child and Adult. James pointed out that similarly, the reasons for a behavior in an Autistic Child will be different then the reason for the same behavior in a NT child. For a variety of reasons, including but not limited to developmental age vs chronological age, an Autistic Child often finds him or herself being inaccurately attributed negative motivations for actions. James has named this the “Elf Effect”.
For all parents, teachers, aids, etc. of children on the spectrum, this is a struggle we frequently experience first hand. We seem to constantly be trying to explain why our child is loud, laughs inappropriately, is interested in trains at 13, is flapping, stands too closely, touches inappropriately, etc. The list is as long as the number of children on the spectrum.
James explained that one of the most difficult things for an Autistic Child to understand is why a rule exists. Understanding the “why” is crucial to an Autistic Child being able to incorporate the rule into their life. Because they do not feel discomfort at certain kinds of actions by other people, some rules such as no picking your nose, seem arbitrary. Also, often times the world allows NT children to do things that make Autistic Children uncomfortable. Logically, it seems strange to the Autistic Child that they must follow the No Picking Your Nose rule to accommodate the NT child but not vice versa.
This leads into James’ next point. While we, the adults can explain the rules and the whys of the rules for our world to the Autistic Child, there is another world that our Autistic Children must navigate. This world is one that even we, the adults, have limited influence and power. I will address this world in my final installment, James Williams Part III the Navigating the World of NT Children.
Do you think that developmental milestones are set in stone or are they just our best guess?