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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Through the Eyes of Autism - part 4

How many little kids are "too many little kids"? What follows is a story of autism and spring-time, love, respect, understanding, and family ties.
To understand the events of this story, you first need to know that spring is a very difficult time for Adam. He has allergies to multiple substances that appear as soon as the snow starts to melt. He suffers traditional allergic reactions (sniffling, sneezing, congestion), but also experiences multiple sensory and cognitive changes in the spring-time months. His sensory hyper-sensitivities increase, his ability to process language and new information drops, and his tolerance for dealing with the challenges of everyday life out in the world is sharply reduced.
For more background details, take a look at this previous blog post:

Here's the story: 

A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of the spring-time melt in Ottawa, Adam's sister Laura and her boyfriend Ryan took Adam out for a "fun" afternoon. Adam loves McDonald's, and on previous outings, starting off with lunch at McD's had worked out really well .... but not that day.

I have written previously about Adam's views on "babies" - a category that includes "little kids" (see blog post: ... of babies and monsters for more details). They are too short, too loud, too active and too unpredictable for Adam to feel comfortable and safe when they're around.

They get to McDonald's ... the moment Adam entered with his sister and her boyfriend, they all realized there was a problem. The restaurant was full of little kids. They were loud, they were active, they were everywhere. Laura and Ryan did what they could - helped Adam find a table that was less chaotic, tag-teamed at the counter to order the food - and Adam did what he could, distracting himself with his iPad. They managed McDonald's, but it cost all of them energy and sanity.

Adam entered the book store (next on the "fun" afternoon agenda) with few reserves left. What had been envisioned as a long relaxed browse through one of Adam's favourite stores instead became a "dash, grab, buy & leave" mission. Laura and Ryan understood this and were totally prepared to go with Adam's altered agenda.

And then they got to the cash ...

Problem ...

Laura had forgotten her wallet, and Ryan didn't have any cash either .... Adam was on the ropes, but he held it together.
Thinking quickly, Ryan suggested that he could go next door to Walmart and get some cash with his bank card:
When Ryan and Laura were relating this story (post-trip) to Adam's parents, they described their state of high panic in these moments, knowing that Adam was feeling stressed and very close to the edge of what he could manage - they had tried to present a calm exterior, and were hopeful they had not broadcast their distress to Adam. But look at Adam's drawings, the facial expressions, the hand-waving .... he knew their emotional state, he absorbed it, dealt with it and later drew it quite accurately ....
Fortunately, the story has a happy ending:
Ryan was able to get some cash (and chips) at Walmart. Laura and Adam waited in the car (the chips and iPad helped Adam to stay calm) while Ryan ran back to the book store, paid for the items Adam had picked out and brought them to the car. Then they drove home and all separately collapsed.
Whew! Triple whew! (one for each of them)

I said at the beginning that this was a story of love, respect, understanding and family ties.

From the earliest days, when Adam was a small, non-verbal, incredibly complex, medically fragile boy, his family has always treated him with respect - seeing him as intelligent with his own view-point and perspective, following at times the faintest of clues to figure out what he needed and wanted, paying attention to his reactions to decide what was tolerable and what was not, giving him choices and power over the direction of his own life, apologizing if they accidentally took him over the edge. As a result, Adam has developed a cool confidence - confidence that he will be heard, that "his people" won't intentionally ask him to do things that are beyond his ability or desire to manage, and that they will understand and help him out when the world coughs up situations that are not reasonable.

Great story, great kid, great family.

Love (and true liking), respect and understanding are the best gifts that families can give to their ASD relatives ... when the world gets tough, it helps to know your family has your back

P.S ... oh, and humour, the story is about humour .... finding comedy in the chaos .... the picture of "there are too many little kids at McDonald's" took over an hour to draw, with Adam periodically pausing, sitting back, reconsidering and adding more and more kids to the picture .... Adam's mom and I were laughing (so hard I had tears in my eyes) and Adam was looking at us sideways and smiling and drawing more kids .... then Adam's dad came in, saw the picture and burst out laughing too .... and when that picture was done, it was scanned and immediately sent out via e-mail for Laura and Ryan to enjoy ... humour is the other key tie that binds this family together ...

note: the concept of ASD individuals having a finite amount of energy to spend daily is well-put by Karla, an ASD adult who is an advocate and a mentor for others on the spectrum (click the link for more information on her "Token Theory"):
Karla's ASD Page - Token Theory


  1. LOVE this story so much. And not just because it reminds me of my child and our family. I love that they didn't present it as the child's problems that need to be fixed - but as providing him with the supports that he needs. Thank you for sharing this beautiful family.

  2. Glad you liked it Brenda. One of the things I have always loved about this family is the respect they have given and continue to give to Adam in every circumstance. I've known and worked with Adam since he was 3 years old, and he's a one-of-a-kind incredibly interesting and bright person. When we first met, I thought I was going to be the one doing the teaching, and I have, but I think in the end he has taught me more.

  3. Great post! Just today, our family went to a new church to visit and my son was having a lot of anxiety due to this. When it was time for Sunday School he said he wanted to off we went to take him to his class...until we got closer and heard how loud it was. The teacher was using a microphone, they were having some sort of party and all the classes were together. Immediately, he looked scared and said "too loud, too many kids!" So we asked him if he wanted to go back with us and he said yes. The lady who helped us find the classroom looked a little confused as to why we would ask an 8 year old if he could stay or not. At first I felt bad, thinking she might have thought we were bad parents who are controlled by our kids....cause that's what people say, that we just don't know how to control them. But reading this confirms we made the right choice. To listen to him and avoid a sensory overload and meltdown.

    1. Karla, so glad you listened to your son and respected his perspective on what he could and couldn't manage. You're right that other people may not understand, but your son is learning that you won't put him into overwhelming situations, and that will help him to feel safer in a world that often doesn't feel too safe - he knows you've got his back. Thanks so much for sharing this story.