When you boil it down, Autism can be summarized into a list of mixed signals, whether it be muscle responses, sensory input, language, reading… all that fun stuff. However there’s another level of mixed signals that is potentially dangerous to your child, that you must be absolutely aware of at all times and that is the mixed signals of fear.
Chances are that if you’ve been dealing with Autism for any good length of time, you’ve already heard the news stories about people with Autism just up and walking out of their house and not being heard again for hours, days… even weeks! And I say people because sometimes it’s even adults with Autism that actually have the intellect of a child.
They don’t register fear in these cases, they simply focus on what is on their mind and they go for it… there is nothing else, only their focus. And so they will wander out in search of it.
Now, I’m sure you are like most people when I say this and you picture the dangers lurking in the shadows, like prowlers, animals and so forth… but remember, this is a person that has no fear. None. Nothing but focus. That means that they won’t do the obvious thing like you and stick to the sidewalks and cross at the cross walks. No, these people will just walk in a straight line no matter what road it takes them across. They will walk into what ever building they can find that either is or resembles the one they’re looking for.
But that’s getting to be a bit of a digression from where you probably are, so I’ll give you two ‘close to home’ examples.
Imagine your child is playing in the yard and spots a puppy across the street that he/she recognizes. Or perhaps playing with a ball that is out of control and goes out into the street. This child will run out after it, or across the street to see the puppy! And all the hand holding, and looking both ways practice and caution that you’ve drilled into them for years and years is immediately forgotten as they’ve not abandoned all fears and focused on their target.
You would be surprised at how fast it can happen.
Another example is a very real one which I experienced just yesterday… I took my boys swimming and despite repeated warnings and threats to go home, Cameron still ventured out too far. Now, he had a floaty that went under his arms, also he wasn’t really that far out as he is still only 5… but it’s still something that he should inherently be afraid of. Either drowning, losing control, being stuck out there… something should register and have him asking for help.
Conversely, my 2 year old did go out too far as well (not near as far, he’s only 2 so fairly short).. and he had that look of panic, that desperation “Please come get me!” fear to him.
Cameron did not, and he just accepted that he’d be stuck and have to stay there for ever if I don’t get him…. ho hum.
Now, there is a flip side… as I said, this is a problem of mixed signals. The opposite end of this is where you get to deal with a child that is afraid to go to bed… not because of monsters, not because it’s dark and not because of bad dreams but because he *might* have bad dreams.
Cameron is quite literally afraid to go to bed by himself because he may have bad dreams. I think he’s had bad dreams once in his life, and it didn’t bother him in the slightest for over a year after. But one night, he suddenly realized that he may have bad dreams and it scared him.
At the playground, he gets scared going up the ladder… not when he’s up too high, but when he gets to the second step and isn’t sure what to do with his feet. Tyler, who is 2, climbs right on up.
Now, I recognize, like always, that some children simply are like this… some have no fear, some have irrational fears, some fear everything but again, this is a “many children with Autism experience” type of situation.
Your child may very well be very different from this, it’s not a hard and fast rule much like everything else with Autism. But in general, it does summarize a good deal of Autistic children… and it’s for that reason, even if you know that your child would never put themselves into harms way… you still need to be aware. Because when it comes to Autism, anything could happen.