This post continues the 3-Step Integrative Approach to Autism series. Today Part 22: BEHAVIORAL Requirements for Growth: Freedom of Expression
Freedom of Expression:
Never ever let yourself slide into the fallacy that your autistic child is not speaking because he or she has nothing to say, that may be they have no thoughts, their brain is not functioning and therefore cannot compose any words. It is NOT true. Actually, autistic children have so many thoughts; their problem is in expressing these thoughts and not in thinking them.
We live in a beautiful country where absolute freedom of expression is so central to our lives, and rightly so. One might ask, “What is it about autistic individuals that make it difficult for them to express their thoughts?” Imagine yourself standing in front of your house waiting for your neighbor so the two of you can go jogging. Then imagine that a car runs your neighbor over. At the same time, a bulldozer razes through your house cutting it into pieces. At the same time, your accountant calls telling you that you are bankrupt and you don’t know it. At the same time, your spouse shows up with a boy/girlfriend to tell you that the only choice you have now is a divorce. At the same time, imagine a stranger putting a gun to your head and threatening to pull the trigger if you speak. Now imagine that all these devastating things are happening simultaneously, and then multiply them by a hundred, then try to speak! Maybe then, one can arrive at an understanding of why a highly sensitive child has difficulty expressing his or her thoughts. Having experienced it myself for prolonged periods in the past, I can tell you that it feels even worse than my description.
I tried rewriting this last paragraph several times to make it read a little easier but there is no way around this one. Multiple frustrating and emotional inputs bombarding the brain simultaneously can prevent any intelligent expression of what one is thinking or what one wants. Every input you can imagine counts with sensitive children. The simplest things that everyone else takes for granted only add to the over-stimulation of an autistic child. For example, television sounds and blinking brightness, voicemail being heard, a door opened or shut, the neighbors fighting. Every fume, chemical, toxin, artificial flavoring in food; every single sensory stimulus, is for a sensitive child a world of unknowns that must be figured out completely before they can move on. This is very difficult. How do insensitive children do it? Well, it is easier for them to tune out any sound, light, or touch or smell that does not make sense to them. They can also delay the interpretation of it. Sensitive children on the other hand get stuck trying to figure out this one smell or that one sound. That can be very frustrating, especially when on an average day several people might touch the child. Many more will say something. Others will drive their car by the house and the parents and other children will have to use computers, radios, iPods and cell phones. Still others make noise taking showers and discussing things. And on and on.
It is very difficult to be a sensitive soul looking for serenity from day one on this earth in a world that is too noisy, too intrusive and too negligent of privacy. This may be the most damning evidence of the presence of the outlying spectrum in the species. One group cannot get enough sensory stimulation and is always looking for more and another group cannot stand any sensory stimulation and is always looking for less. I do not want to sound extreme. Part of the known comfort sensitive people have is with natural laws; being around nature with its quietness and effortless coherence. Consider raising a sensitive child certainly outside the city, in a quiet small town where nature is at the fingertips, and sensory stimulation is a choice rather than imposed. The suburbs don’t count by the way. This might be a radical idea, but autistic children raised in a small town may start speaking earlier than those raised near population centers.
You may think that beyond that are hurdles regarding finding professional help near population centers and financial considerations. We all think, ‘if my son needs treatment then I will stop at nothing to get him the help he needs.’ However, autism is not a disease and it may not need treatment. It only needs loving care and some habituation to this world. If the family moves to a small town it won’t be easy to find professional help, but your son may not need professional help anyway. Regarding finances, you are probably thinking I might have to take a pay cut going to a small town. Well, five hundred years ago bankers and money dealers were looked at no differently than we look at prostitutes today. Let your autistic child take you back to a more natural way of life. You will discover the beauty of not needing as much money to live decently. After all most of things, we spend money on are not necessities but rather luxuries. We are erroneously convinced by the media and corporations that these luxuries are necessities. Today we live with the illusion that if my neighbor buys a new car then I must buy one too, otherwise I am not as successful as my neighbor. We are convinced we are in competition with this neighbor who suddenly appeared in our life and arbitrarily became our standard for excellence. This is of course typical insensitive mainstream thinking which has no basis in survival strategies. A friend of mine who recently moved from Florida to Colombia spoke to me of farmers he meets over there who have nothing, practically no possessions, not even their teeth, and yet they find time to smile at a stranger and to entertain anyone who comes their way. He said these people shine with more happiness than he had ever seen in his years in Kentucky and Florida. These farmers are poor by an objective count of the dollars they own. However, they achieve riches by transcending the need to hoard material possessions and find their happiness in not needing anything beyond what is necessary for survival.
What would you get in return for living a simpler life closer to nature? Years! Many studies prove that for people living in Manhattan the life expectancy is significantly reduced over someone living in a town in eastern Washington or in rural Wisconsin. The reasons are related to inescapable overstimulation, which tends to over-utilize our capacity for adaptation and exhaust it at a younger age. Consequently, the decompensation accelerates various diseases of aging from hypertension and heart disease to cancer.
Realistically, if moving to the country is not an immediately attainable good, it might be a good idea to make it a long-term goal. If at any time you want to consider this option, you may benefit a lot from a classic book written on the subject entitled, Finding and Buying Your Place in the Country by Les & Carol Scher.
Rami Serhan, MD
Author, Psyche-Smart Autism; Integrative Medicine Consultant
(206) 659-1ASD (273)
Psyche-Smart Autism book