It is crucial that all parents and professionals recognize that autistic children think differently, feel differently and react differently to typically developing children. It is imperative that we teach their siblings this and that we are confident that others understand just how impor tant safety issues are - particularly for autistic children who often react differently to pain or cannot tell us they are in distress.
Eighteen months ago Ben seemed to be locked into his own silent world, whereas now he can talk the hind leg off a donkey, is extremely sociable in his own unique way and is developing at a great rate of knots. One thing that is still the same however, is his lack of awareness of danger. I am not able to let him walk freely in a street as he loves to make a dash for cars; their spinning wheels fascinate him and he has no understanding of their danger at all. In the street he runs at dogs, tries to climb into parked cars and runs up to strangers and grabs their legs.
Little Ben should be nicknamed Houdini - he can escape from anything. Ben doesn't head madly towards a door as if he wants releasing, but merely sidles off past people's legs as he embarks on his own silent little mission. Not too long ago I was chatting on the phone whilst one of the older children watched Ben and Joe in the next room. As I looked out of the window I noticed that cars had stopped in the middle of the road. Presuming there had been an accident and being the nosey creature that I am, I strained to look out of the window -only to see a man carrying Ben! As far as I knew my house was already akin to Fort Knox, with chains and bolts everywhere; however I do remember that Ben had been watching out of the window intently and laughing hysterically as a paper bag swirled and spun in the wind. Equipped with only a dummy and a nappy, he had climbed up chairs, unwound ties, undid bolts and crawled off onto the main road outside our house - maybe in search of the source of his amusement?
Now, like the keeper of the keys, I have double locks and alarms on doors and cupboards, ensuring any dangerous contents are well out of reach of the children. For parents reading this who worry about safety issues, take it from one who knows; the best source ofrelaxation is the knowledge that your children are safe. Before my house was so secure, I would not have been able to sit writing as I am now, delegating responsibility to the older children. I can now ask them to watch Ben, in the knowledge that the worst that can happen is he smears poo everywhere or rips up a few books.
Our educational psychologist, Julia Leach, talks of looking at the world through 'autism lenses' (Cumine, Leach and Stevenson 1998), asking: Where could they hide? How could they escape? What could they use to stand on in order to reach doors with high locks? What could do them harm if they tried to eat it or put it in their mouths? For non verbal children there is also the issue of what would happen if they did manage to get out. One idea is to get the child used to wearing an SOS talisman with contact details. (OK, easier said than done I know!) I may seem paranoid, but unfortunately I know too well how our children can get into difficulties and not even realize it.
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Whenever a doctor informs the parents that their child is suffering with Autism, the first & foremost question that is thrown over him is - How did it happen? How did my child get this disease? Well, there is no definite answer to what are the exact causes of Autism.