AUTISM AWARENESS: WHERE I VENT ABOUT CLAIRE DAINES

The Temple Grandin movie with Claire Danes pissed me off.

There was an implication that all Temple’s mother had to do to ‘teach her’ life skills was to make her do them HERSELF. IE — you can’t go outside until you put your shoes on, I’m not going to do it for you or sorry, I’m not cooking you dinner, do it yourself.

Once she did this — Temple was forced to learn. And did! Ta-da! The ‘fix’ for autism is not tying shoes!

Bio-pics have to cheat this way. Simplify long complicated processes in quick snippets. All the other kids with autism could be just like Temple if silly mom would just make them put their coats on themselves.

There’s a balance that ultimately happens in home’s with autism. You quickly figure out how to ‘work around’ the child. You adjust your home to meet the kids needs. Your child is jumping up and down on the couch all day, you buy a big trampoline and put it in the living room. The kid keeps going into the refrigerator and dumping the food out, you put a lock on the door. Biting kid? Buy some chewelry. Can’t put on shoes, get velcro ones that are easy to slip on. Kid keeps spilling his drink out of a cup, use sippy-cups. Kid steals everyone’s coffee at the Starbucks and drinks all the creamers, don’t go to the Starbucks. Etc, etc, etc.

I think everyone is seeking ‘peace’ at home. So we work to solve problems there. We have enough to deal with at work, with health, with money…why fight wars over shoes and Doritos?

And these aren’t just issues for kids with autism, all kids/parents have issues with similar things (maybe not so much of the minutiae of daily life and the specific life skills like hygiene and putting on clothes and stuff, but doing homework for your kids or getting them out of bed every morning and getting them out of trouble when facing the consequences is often an important lesson)

The tricky part is you can get comfortable. A couple years go by and things your child is now developmentally ready to do aren’t learned. Maybe he could get himself dressed but he’s never been given the chance. Maybe he’s ready.

It might be one of the hardest things as parents. Potty training is one of the trickier ones many parents of kids with autism have trouble with. Lots of kids with autism pick it up later — at 4 or 5 years old or older. Luke went through phases where he liked to ‘paint’ our walls. We envisioned the worst. He was around 4 and a half when we gave it a go. Day 1 was horrible. We were yelling at each other. Panicking. Cleaning everything. He just kept going in his pants. Second day was worse. We were ready to give up. Pull the trigger. This wasn’t going to work.

And then the second day…he pretty much got it. He was ready. We spent a very difficult/stressful weekend figuring it out (and a few weeks of minor inconsistency) but pretty much got it.

I think that’s where Claire Danes got it wrong. It didn’t show how stressful and hard the initial round of ‘putting your coat on the hook’ would be. How consistent you had to be as parents(100%). How you had to keep up the demand every single time. How you had to fight every single parental urge to not intervene and let the learning happen at its own pace. It also didn’t show how each of these decisions take careful consideration, how they’re hard and not frivolous, even for something ‘simple’ like ‘now you’re going to drink out of a regular cup’. They take applied and conscious effort to work out. They take surrendering some of the ‘peace’ you have made for yourself.

We forced ourself through some of these this year. We saw Luke was doing things like dressing himself(mostly), putting on shoes(kind of) and putting his stuff away. We made a conscious effort to let him put his own shoes on(among many other things). Some days he went to school, with the tongue folded against his foot or the back twisted down in a blister causing way. Our BCBA would say “he’ll learn to fix it when he’s uncomfortable”…8 months in…he really doesn’t fix it.

In screenwriting there’s a thing called ‘character arc’. In a nutshell, it’s how Scrooge goes from penny-pinching miser to generous turkey giving Christmas fun-ster. Essentially, it illustrates that any big change in life requires conflict and battle and stress. It’s the heart of storytelling.

I’m not sure I believe it always happens that way in life. But in autism, on a lesser level, even going from stubborn sippy cup drinker to kid with a cup and a straw has some modicum of stress/conflict/battle…but sometimes it’s not the kid who deals with it…often it’s the parents.

Homeland returns this fall on SHOWTIME….

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