For Families

What is going on in the world and how do I relate to kids diagnosed with ASD?

June 4, 2020

We have been following the news closely, as it’s difficult not to at the moment.  From the very intense pandemic to terrible deaths and extreme riots and it’s only June… As always, we have been focusing on teaching our kids what they should do to stay safe and calm with all of this going on.  Many of our kids struggle with processing sensory information, such as an increase in visual stimulation, auditory noise or various textures.  Many also find transitions and changes to their environment or routine confusing and disruptive.  

I believe that we as a global community can possibly relate more with the ways in which our kids might struggle with sudden changes now that it has become a relevant issue for us all.  At AIMS we always try and relate as much as possible with the way in which our kids experience the world and we try and find a connection by allowing ourselves to put aside our beliefs of a certain occurrence or feeling.  I tried to place myself in the shoes of our kids lately and the only way I could relate was to think of my current situation, living abroad in Portugal.  

Do I think that living in a different country can be compared to ASD? 

No, but I will explain subtle changes to my norm that have made me even more emphatic with our kids and the way they experience the world.  

  • The language – I don’t believe I am capable of learning to speak Portuguese.  It is an extremely difficult language (for me) and I find the pronunciation almost impossible.  I am not a native English speaker as my home language is Afrikaans (from South Africa) and thus, I comfort myself by saying I am already bilingual 🙂 

Relating this to some of our kids, I believe that expressive speech might seem like a foreign language to them at times.  Especially our kids that struggle with apraxia who probably hear some of the sounds we make similarly to those sounds I hear so often around me in  Portugal.  

  • Body language.  Seeing that I can only say (in Portuguese) good morning, order a cup of coffee and wish people well, I have to rely a lot on body language.  I find myself staring at people and then feeling awkward when they seem to turn away slightly.  I also find myself smiling more than what is needed at times, as I understand that I can’t express myself vocally, so I should show that I’m enjoying their company.  

Our kids probably feel a combination of both of these sides – trying to figure out our body language and what this all means as well as feeling awkward when we stare at them and wait to “perform”.  This really got me thinking yesterday as I was smiling and staring at the hairdresser.  I quickly reverted to my phone to translate that I am extremely happy with the cut.  

  • Mental exhaustion.  I am usually quite energetic and can work from early in the morning until late at night.  I work from home and thus, when I go out, it’s usual for the essentials.  As mentioned, yesterday as I was at the hairdresser I decided I should probably walk around the town a bit and try and meet people in my neighbourhood.  I was completely exhausted by the end of the day as it takes a lot more mental energy to “find words” that you can relate to or pick up when people speak in a foreign language or to constantly explain where you are from and why you can’t speak their language.  Don’t get me wrong – the Portuguese are absolutely lovely, but there is a barrier (of language and culture) and you do find yourself “trying to fit in” or to associate with parts of what they do or say continuously.  

I thought about our kids here and I truly believe there is a lot of pressure on them throughout their day.  They know that they feel, act and speak differently at times and honestly, I have found our kids more trying to “fit in” with society than the other way around.  This must be exhausting to them on a daily basis.  

  • Food.  I believe I am not a fussy eater, but I am a pescatarian and prefer to only eat fish that doesn’t look like it was a live animal at some point.  So, maybe I am a bit fussy, but nevertheless, I find Portuguese food to be lovely, for the most part.  Again though, as I don’t speak the language, it is difficult (and sometimes too draining) to ask someone to explain what is in the dish or to even google translate the menus.  So, I try things that I can’t pronunciate and most of the time I politely choose another dish that I am familiar with… The cakes here are dangerously good, so I try and skip some of the bakeries on my way home! 

When I thought about what I should try next on a Portuguese menu I thought of some of our kids and the way they prefer only certain textures.  I had a quick nostalgic memory of the food that I am used to in South Africa – I know what’s in these dishes, I can even make some of it, but here it seems like every dish is a surprise to me.  The difference is that I like surprises, where I think some of the kids we work with prefer predictability and “sameness”, which should be respected.  

There are more ways I was able to relate to our kids, but I don’t want to keep you too busy.  The point of this blog was to provide insight in how a simple move to a new country has helped me think of reasons why our kids react to certain stimuli the way they do.  I am going to ask some of the kids we work with how to manage these changes to my routine, as I truly believe they are the experts.  

With all that is happening in the world lately, I think it shows us that we all have a comfort zone and we should understand that our kids manage the changes we are dealing with now on a daily basis.  

Thank you for reading, 

Karla