Life is the key to decyphering Autism

A “cipher (or cypher)” is essentially a scrambled up message that requires a “key” to unscramble it. For example, if you used 1-26 instead of a-z to write out a message. You’d take that long list of numbers, change the numbers back to the letters they represent and presto, you’d have a readable message.

The reason I’m explaining this is that there’s a stage in Autism where a person goes from non-verbal to being very cryptic to being a person capable of appropriate conversations. Sometimes this “stage” happens in childhood, sometimes it’s adulthood, sometimes it’s for a year and sometimes it’s for many years.

What happens is that a person with Autism will likely think very differently than most “normal” people but not really realize that there is a difference. Therefore what they imagine is happening, or their ability (or lack there of) to explain it, often ends up in something that sounds like some sort of code and often leaves us parents having to crack it.

The good news is that we have the tools to do it. The bad news is that we’re the only ones with the tools to do it because the key to cracking the cipher is that person’s life.

I’ll give you two examples of what I mean, the first happened just tonight.

Cameron has been having it particularly rough the last couple of weeks, outbursts, crying fits, general bad behavior… so finally, tonight, I sat him down and had a talk with him.

  • Me: Cameron, what is going on? We need to stop and talk… we need to find out why you are doing more bad things than good things.
  • Cameron: …
  • Me: Does your tummy hurt? Does your head hurt? Are you sad because we changed your bedroom? Are you sad because a teacher left your class?
  • Cameron: When I do bad things… when… bad stuff… I have bad things dancing around in my head.
  • Me: You have bad things dancing around in your head? What do you mean? What bad things?
  • Cameron: bad things like… hitting… and pushing… and cutting…
  • Me: Those things dance around in your head?
  • Cameron: ya… and I can’t get them out.
  • Me: Who is doing the hitting and pushing and cutting in your head?
  • Cameron: <names another child at school>… he cuts… the teachers…
  • Me: I see, he does these things in your head?
  • Cameron: Ya… and I can’t get them out.

So at bed time, while putting on his PJ’s, I talk to him about it again.

  • Me: So what do you think we should do about these bad things dancing around in your head?
  • Cameron: We have to cut them out.
  • Me: Well, we can’t just cut things out of your head.
  • Cameron: Ya.. we have to make a hole… and cut them out and put it back again.
  • Me: Sorry buddy, but it doesn’t work that way.
  • Cameron: Why?
  • Me: It’s just not that easy. We can’t cut you and take ideas out of your head. We have to find another way.
  • Me: What do you do with food that you don’t like?
  • Cameron: Throw it in the garbage.
  • Me: So what can you do if it’s bad ideas dancing in your head that you don’t like.
  • Cameron: Throw it in the garbage!!
  • Me: And what is left if you throw the bad ideas in the garbage?
  • Cameron: …. uhmm.. good ideas?
  • Me: Right. Do you think that would work?
  • Cameron: Ya!!!

Do I think that will work? Who knows. On some movie set or episode of Dr. Phil maybe… but it’s a start. At least I have a good idea now that the actions of his lower functioning class mate are starting to wear on him. This gives me, and his teachers something to work with.

And it fits because this is very very similar to the outbursts we had with him when he first started school over a year and a half ago. He didn’t feel safe. Now it’s happening again.

My second example (I didn’t forget) was when his teachers wrote in his journal that he was complaining about a strange noise in his head. Again, close to bed time, I talked to him about it. He described it as a strange noise in his head, that he couldn’t stop and couldn’t get out.

After some world class interrogation skills and deductive reasoning on my part (ya right), I was able to determine that the “noise” was mooing and it was part of a song that he liked but hadn’t heard in a while. A line or two from that song was stuck in his head, playing over and over again. He didn’t know what song and couldn’t make it stop. We’ve all had that happen before!

So again, both examples show that not many people could have figured out what exactly was going on in that marvellously complex mind of his because you need the key to unscramble the messages… and that key is his life.

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of http://www.stuartduncan.name. My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

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One Response to Life is the key to decyphering Autism

  1. Andrew January 27, 2011 at 8:18 am #

    Stuart
    great post. For me you highlight what many parents know. While our children see the world in their own beautifully unique way, we are often the lens thru which the world sees our kids.
    We are the interpreter, or in your words, cypher.

    Keep up the great writing. It makes a positive difference.

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