Monday, November 18, 2013

He's purple.

Written by Meredith Dangel, mom of Henry

He's purple.

Try to imagine every possible shade of purple. Violet, lilac, periwinkle, eggplant, indigo, plum, heliotrope, lavender, orchid, mauve. Every hue in the Crayola box and ones you've never seen.

In my mind autism is the color purple. And if autism is purple, then every autistic person is a different shade. Temple Grandin is pansy and Henry is mulberry. This is precisely what makes autism so hard to define, understand, and diagnose. Their differences from neurotypical humans fall into three categories (social, communication, behavior), but the differences are manifested in a myriad of ways. Children with autism may flap their hands, bang their heads on walls, spin in circles.... or not. They speak early and they speak late or not at all. They are social with strangers and strangers make them anxious. They have high IQs and low IQs. Often, everything we think we know about autism is just not true. Today I would love to tell you about Henry.

He has a fantastic memory. In the game of Memory he has an unfair advantage over me almost every time!

He has keen hearing. He notices every sound and rushes to find its source, even if the sound is one he hears everyday (e.g. garbage truck, airplanes, etc.).

He is extraordinary with technology, as autistic individuals are highly visual learners.

He has no interest in playing sports, but he is mildly interested in seeing them on television. He enjoyed watching the Olympic divers.

Since he was very young (earlier than one year) he's had an abnormally long attention span for his preferred activities.

If you try to force him into non-preferred activities, he has an abnormally strong reaction.

He is affectionate and cuddly and makes excellent eye contact with a social smile when he wants your attention.

He makes little to no eye contact if he merely wants your help (e.g. opening a container, refilling his juice, fixing a toy) or is involved in one of his favorite activities.

He loves to be tickled, dance, listen to music, play with trains, read books and play with an ipad.

He likes routine.

His vocabulary is large and he self-talks, but he does not often engage in conversation. With therapy his conversational skills are improving.

His cognitive ability and functional academic skills are high, as evidenced by his love of learning; his social/behavioral skills are lower.

He is an extremely picky eater.

He loves to go anywhere in the car, but he reacts strongly to unfamiliar people and places.

As is typical for autism, Henry has a mental agenda that he assumes everyone else knows. For example, he often has an idea for which way he wants our car to go. If he wants to turn and I am going straight, he may become upset. Often, the turn he wants is going nowhere we have been before, so we cannot anticipate his agenda and when he will suddenly explode.

When we pick him up from Sunday School, we always hear how funny and sweet he is. He makes them laugh.

When we leave Henry with his grandparents or babysitters, he is perfectly happy after the initial leaving and never cries for us. This gives us enormous peace.

He is my angel with the big blue eyes and sweetest smile;
the boy who endears himself to every person he meets;
and my heart's deepest delight.

He's also purple. And we absolutely love purple.

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