Recently there has been talk and speculation linking some very serious and horrifying acts of some young men, with asperger’s. I do not know those boys. I cannot speculate on if they were struggling with ASD or not. I also will not name them, you probably already know who they are, I will not add to the fame they have achieved through these violent acts. I can however talk about my experience with boys with asperger’s/autism and why all of the speculation terrifies me.
Telling the world that asperger’s and autism cause violence is wrong. Giving people the idea that they should fear our children. Children who are statistically shown to be more likely to be a victim then a perpetrator. Though it may be true that young children with ASD show violent behavior assuming that means they will grow up to be violent offenders is wrong. I have known NT children who throw some pretty epic violent tantrums, no one assumes they will be a danger to society. Why do you assume that a child like mine will be.
When River was in the worst of his battle we had only just gotten the diagnosis of asperger’s. At 8 years old he was brilliant, withdrawn, occasionally violent, scared and sometimes very scary. I didn’t understand it all then. All I knew was I had to help my baby come out of the dark place he was in.
When life got too hard for him, River reacted violently. Daily, I would have to restrain him. Literally wrapping my whole body around his little body and hold on for dear life. I would always get my arms around his torso and pull him backwards until I was up against a wall. I could slide down the wall into a sitting position and wrap my legs around his and just hold him as tight as I could. He would thrash and scream and bite and pinch and scratch. He would say terrible things and I would just hold him tighter and try to talk to him calmly and tell him I loved him and that it was going to be ok. I would cry sometimes and sometimes I would scream right along with him. But I never let him go. I never let that darkness swallow him. He always came out of it.
From the time he was little holding him tight calmed him. Wrapping a blanket tight around him and putting a leg over his leg and my arm across his chest was how I got him to nap or sleep. I never held him too tight. I never hurt him. I wrapped myself around him and eventually his breathing would match the slow pace of mine. As life progressed and I learned more about ASD, I learned that the pressure and weight on the body often has a calming effect. Holding my baby became the only way to reach him when life overwhelmed him.
For a child with ASD, sensory overload is often a trigger into a very dark place. It can happen anywhere and is sometimes easy to anticipate and sometimes out of the blue. The everyday stimuli that NT people walk through with ease are an assault on a child with ASD. I have watched both of my children fight that war. Constant beatings from the noise and the lights and the smells. The way the tag on his shirt keeps scratching his neck, the way the seam of his pants rubs against his calf. Such minor annoyances that an NT body would adjust to and ignore after a few minutes become the slushy flakes of snow piling on the unstable side of a mountain in spring.
Can you imagine spending your whole day being screamed at and scratched and blinded while someone follows you around with a freshly sliced onion. Now ratchet that up times 100. This is how I associate to the excess sensory stimulation my boys have lived with.
It is hard for me to figure out how I could handle doing anything but scream.I know when I have had enough noise and need some quiet time I get pretty cranky. I don’t have trouble processing sensory stimuli though.
This over stimulation was pretty much always the cause of River’s extreme outbursts. He would get to a point where it was just too much. So he would hit me and I would hold him. He would scream and I would whisper. He would thrash and I would rock him. He would calm and we would cry. He would tell me how sorry he was that he hurt me. He would tell me he couldn’t remember it all. He would tell me how much he hates to feel that way. We would lay on the floor, me and my beautiful 8-year-old boy, the little boy who saved my life, and I would tell myself over and over again that I would not stop until we found a way through this.
After the screaming was over and the crying had stopped, that was when the work started. We spent years with therapists at Easter seals. Teaching us to see the signs. Giving us coping tools and a better understanding of what to avoid before the meltdown. Many meltdowns earned River consequences. Not because he got in trouble for falling apart, but because this was how he had to face and learn about what he was doing that could have kept him from having those meltdowns.
With time he learned. River has grown into an amazing young man. Yes he is still struggling. He doesn’t understand the world but, he has gotten to where he pretty much understands himself. When River has had enough, he can sit and calm himself. He can handle the excess noise and will put on his headphones to drown it out. He can handle the crowds, the smells and the heat. If you saw him wandering around somewhere you would not see his struggle.
Asperger’s still keeps him on his toes. He still has trouble talking with people and he may not want to be around a big group. When he has had enough he will let me know and that is good. River has become very nurturing. He hangs out with and is protective of young kids. He lately has really been bonding with a little girl who is living the struggle of ASD everyday and he seems to have a calming effect on her (more on that in another post). He is calm and kind would never hurt another person.
I am not saying the way I raised him is THE RIGHT WAY to raise a child with ASD. It was our right way. We grew together and learned alot and go to a really good place.
River is actually a pretty good picture of what a young man with AS is like. I have met quite a few. A large part of who they become depends on the same basics that guide every childs development.
Have they been loved?
Have they been nurtured?
Do they have a stable support system?
Are they being taught wrong from right?
Do they have consequences?
Are they loved? (Yes being loved is important enough to mention twice.)
Without those basic needs being filled any child can become a monster.
Lastly, please stop lumping ASD’s in with mental illness. Autism is a neurological disorder. There is no little pill to manage it. It is just a brain that works differently. Yes there are underlying medical conditions. These need to be addressed. Yes sometimes therapies can make a big difference in their lives. Our children are not mentally ill though. Many of the people who have committed these atrocities are mentally ill. That needs to be addressed in our country. Shifting the blame to a disorder that isn’t understood in the community at large only incites fear in the ignorant. Please learn about ASD.
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