Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Explaining autism to 5 year olds

So today was the day I spoke to the midget's kindergarten class about autism. Perfect timing seeing that this month is autism awareness month. I decided on Sunday that I would take on this undertaking. Monday I spoke with the teacher and requested that Wednesday be the day. Obviously not much time to prepare. I would have liked to have finished my power point presentation complete with puppets, music and sound effects... but alas, i'm only a slacker. 

So a half assed rushed 8 minute speech was all I could come up with. In preparation I asked myself "how would I explain this to a 3 year old?" (One of my favorite things to say to people when they have over-complicated something by assuming I have information that I don't). This is what I came up with....

This is a regular normal kid. His head is open so that information can go into his brain. 

This is a piece of information. Maybe it's someone asking you a question. Maybe it's someone sneezing. Maybe it's the light in the ceiling. Either way, it goes into your brain. One piece of information at a time. 

This is how a non-autistic kid's brain processes that information. One piece at a time. Nice and neat and organized.

This is My first born male autistic child. 

Because he is autistic, he doesn't have filters like the rest of us have. So his brain takes in all the information at once. Someone asking him a question, a drawing on the wall, a foot tapping, water running, the refrigerator humming, his shirt tags itching him, someone talking near him. His brain absorbs all of this at once.

So this is what his brain does with the information. It has to sort through it and organize and process it. And since his brain is VERY busy doing this... some parts can't do their job. The parts that tell him to use his soft voice, or the parts that tell him to be patient and wait. His brain is working very hard all the time.

But luckily, the part of his brain that isn't busy is the part that helps him draw well. So he has learned to draw his feelings. If his brain is too busy, he can get upset, and then his brain is to busy to put into words how he feels. So he draws it. 

This is a picture of his dad telling him he couldn't do something.
(this is not a 100% accurate depiction of that situation. but it sort of gives you perspective on how he felt about it)

He was able to draw a picture that said "when daddy told me to stop [hence the stop sign] it made my heart sad because I really wanted to do that"

So if this little guy ever yells, or screams, or stomps around.... just remember that his brain is very full, and very busy. It's too busy to tell his mouth to talk  softly. 
When you see him wearing his headphones it is to block out all the extra information that comes into his brain. That way he can think more clearly and all the parts of his brain are free to do their jobs. 

~Obviously this explanation is only part of it, is over simplified and probably not even medically correct. But since i'm his mother I obviously know best. It is only a small portion of his autism but since I wanted the kids to be able to relate to it and understand it, that's what I came up with. They totally understood. They said "ohhhhhh, so it's his BRAIN. It's just really busy!" "EXACTLY!' I told them. So in their sweet innocent eyes, He is totally normal... his brain is to be blamed. Another little girl said "So it's like his brain is trying to be the boss of him". Ok, now I know it's over their heads. 
But at the end of the day there is an explanation of why he does the things he does. They might not understand 100%, but they know he's just like them in every way.... his brain just very busy, all of the time~

I know I must have taught them something, but they'll never learn as much as I have. This needed to be done as much for my sake as it was for theirs. I feel like I can be a better parent to him and a better person. Sometimes, we just need to simplify things in life to understand them better. 


  1. You inspire me. What an ingenuous, loving and practical way to connect with Aiden's classmates. You are an AMAZING mom.And I think I may take up drawing my feelings too... you know, instead of yelling them ;) His pictures are darn accurate- much more so than the blubbering mess I spew out when I'm frustrated! xoxo


  2. I love it! I can learn from it as well, I am guilty of spewing forth profanities and obsurd things when my frustration level reaches max (by the way the max level is very low). So I need to place my frustrations on paper, physically or metaphoricaly...doesn't matter. I think all parents of children with Autism should stand up like you have. I applaud you!!

  3. Lisa, getting down to a little kid's perspective is not an easy task, but I think you did a great job. You're a wonderful writer, and you have so much to offer. I'm glad you're sharing your life experiences with everyone.

    Always fun and enjoyable to read...serious subjects or funny ones...keep it up!

  4. I have to say you did a wonderful job on that! I too have a very autistic son, and he is the odd kid with the headphones, or that growls when he is upset. He was just moved into a regular class room instead of being in the autism room full time. I cannot tell you how that simple demonstration was so helpful. You gave me the material for a great dialog with these children. great job!

  5. Lisa, Thank you for this. I am trying to explain to my 6 year old the reason his friend at the bus stop is acting differently. I love your explanations and am hoping that I can help create a caring and sensitive young boy who can be understanding and kind to others.