He never got bored talking about his areas of interests and could recall the minutest of details with ease. He could keep himself occupied for hours on end which in some respects made him very easy to care for. At the same time, letting him live in his own world without interaction wasn't good for his long-term social skills growth. Today I know more than the average dad does about Spongebob Squarepants, Patrick , Squidward, Sandy, Mr. Krabs, Plankton, and Pearl (Mr. Krabs sperm whale daughter).
Now I love watching movies, and I LOVE food. Given his passion for both, these are two natural connection points that we have together. One of our favorite movies is Men in Black. We've seen it many times over the years. In fact when the third Men in Black movie came out we went to see it together in the theater. Prior to the movie they had a MIB trivia contest. Trevor and I nailed the questions and came home the proud owners of black MIB t-shirts. We also love going out for breakfast, lunch or dinner together at places ranging from The Melting Pot to Costco for hot dogs. These are things that we both love doing together and as a dad I fiercely protect our time for these activities.
Do you see this as an area to work on? Here's a few pointers that may help you strengthen those connection points as well as help your child with socialization and exposure to new things:
I cannot express enough the importance of finding those connection points with your autistic child. While there have been struggles along the way, I am thankful that Trevor and I have those connection points where we are able to enjoy activities together and build upon the great relationship we have.
By Trevor Pacelli
Aliens. Hollywood’s always been obsessed with them. As far back as Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon in 1902, the concept of life on other planets has been meticulously explored. Many film critics have pointed out numerous parallels between aliens and international relations, The Day the Earth Stood Still being a common example, but never pointed out a parallel that makes perfect sense: the similarities between aliens and autism.
Here are some examples:
War of the Worlds (1953)
Martians arrive with the intent of annihilating the human race. From the human’s perspective, they are here to cause chaos and mass hysteria. Think about how people looked at autism back in the 1950’s, as back then it was dismissed as the now unacceptable phrase, “mental retardation.” They too thought at the time that anyone who was mentally handicapped was a recipe for chaos in social order.
Star Wars (1977)
All the aliens speak different languages, yet can still understand each other’s words. The language barrier doesn’t help though in understanding what the other means (think of Han Solo’s exchange with Greedo). While the immediate interpretation would be other word languages, those on the spectrum possess an entirely different sense of body language and social cues that gets in the way of proper interaction from both ends of a conversation.
Six-Word Lessons for Dads with Autistic Kids, Lesson #16: They Don’t Read Other People Well.
Humans are curious about a creature from a world beyond their understanding. They go out to explore it, only to be killed one by one from the inside out by a hideous lifeform. In the same way, people at times feel somehow intrigued by autism, seeing how different it is, yet at the same time, they fear that getting too close to anyone on the spectrum will mentally destroy them from the inside out.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
He came here with a curiosity about the way people live. Yet his fear of blaring lights, loud sounds, and unexpected surprises overpowers curiosity. These are all traits to autism, especially when they’re in a place of frightening unfamiliarity.
Six-Word Lessons on Female Asperger Syndrome, Lesson #34: We are Socially Clumsy and Unaware.
Nobody knows what to make of these odd foreign invaders, so language interpretation becomes the means to communicate with them to see whether they’re dangerous or not. Many would also rely on interpretation of speech to understand somebody with autism, as it’s not always clear. You can read more in my autism lesson on the movie here.
So the next time you watch a movie with intelligent beings outside of Earth, such as Life, don’t just think of it as mindless entertainment. So much deeper meaning exists in sci-fi than what meets the eye.
By Patty Pacelli
Like many people with autism, our son Trevor has always been very aware of time, and likes to stick to a schedule. He owned and used a watch from preschool on, and that attention to timeliness helped him when he had a job. Because autistic individuals thrive on routine, schedules and predictability, they will rarely, if ever, be late to work or meetings, which is a dream for employers.
Trevor's job doing nightly security lock-up at a church was perfect for him, because he never forgot to show up and do the very important job of securing a public building. His supervisor said Trevor was his "right-hand man" and he was more reliable than many of his other employees, and he could always count on him to do what he was asked. He took "literally no supervision" and he didn't have to check up on him. "As a supervisor, that's huge," he said.
For more tips on helping prepare kids with autism for the workplace, and to learn how employers can take advantage of the special skills of people with autism, check out Patty's book, Six-Word Lessons for Autism-Friendly Workplaces.
By Trevor Pacelli
I have never respected Sesame Street as much as I do now that they've added Julia to the cast. Over the years of watching the show in my early days and laughing at the skits as an adult while pulling them up on YouTube, I saw it as just a really good children's program that was popular enough to last nearly fifty years. But now, after seeing all the hard work and research they put into creating their first autistic muppet, as explained in the above video from a 60 Minutes feature, I can see that they are so much more than just a really good children's program.
I have been watching the interviews and "making of" features surrounding Julia, and all I saw was a tremendous leap forward in the autism community's public normalization. They said plenty about how portraying autism in a children's program in a way they can understand was a challenge, as autism is different with so many people. They even addressed it in the episode that debuted Julia, but emphasized the commonalities of autism: a delay in response, a lack of eye contact, speech delay, peculiar hand motions, a unique way of doing things, and a sensitivity to noise.
What I like best is in the way Julia interacts with her friends Abby and Elmo, they each know that she does things in a more "Julia" kind of way, but that doesn't mean they can't be friends with her. They just find common ground with their interests. Abby and Julia both love to blow bubbles, so that's how they play together. Elmo and Julia both love to sing, so that's how they play together.
As a bonus, the Sesame Street producers made the wise decision to make their autistic muppet a girl, teaching kids how there are girls on the autism spectrum, despite statistics proving it's more common with boys.
There are so many children's programs out there that are so drab, creepy, and demeaning of their audience's intelligence. They speak down to kids and assume that are only capable of noticing bright colors and silly noises. Not only is it detrimental to their development, but it annoys the parents who have to watch it with them as well. But not Sesame Street. While browsing through YouTube, I was so amazed at how funny their skits are, and how they keep making strides to keep the Sesame Street brand modern with the changing times; they care just as much about educating the parents as their kids! I lately just saw that the show has tackled other difficult issues that other children's shows would not have the courage to discuss, including racism, death, and even 9/11. Now they've done something wonderful that I can't recall any other children's programs attempting, and I hope that this leads to many other fantastic opportunities to normalize autism in the minds of our youth.
For a book that helps children understand autism in their classmates, read my sister's book, The Kindergarten Adventures of Amazing Grace: What in the World is Autism?
Inspiration for Life with Autism
This blog has a variety of articles about people living life with autism, and topics and ideas that can help in the journey. Guest bloggers are welcome. Inspired by Trevor, a young adult film critic, photographer and college graduate on the autism spectrum.