Coping with Energy and Autism

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

His apparent inability to control himself and to communicate clearly has earned grandson Samuel, 6, the title of “high functioning autism” or “Spectrum Kid.” He’s so incredibly smart, a happy little boy, but he is going to have to learn how to cope with life on its own terms. Not to mention the determination of his mother, our daughter Jean. Join their journey:

How do you burn off a child’s energy on a glorious October day? That’s a question any Mama asks, but it seems especially important for a spectrum kid.

Just north of town, we have a regional park that is a fully operating farm. The boys love it, and the outing gives plenty of opportunity to run, jump, and explore. Plus, I think it’s important for children reared in suburbia to know how we get our food.

We walk a loop that’s maybe half a mile for big people but several miles for little guys running up and down and back and forth. I slow the boys ’way down as we approach any critters, and have been trying to show them how to properly interact with the animals. Today, I was pleased to see how quickly they learned to give hay to the horses from the palms of their hands with their fingers back.

Or I was pleased until I saw the sign saying not to feed the horses. Oops. Bad Mommy! The lesson wasn’t entirely lost – when I told the boys to quit, I had Samuel read the sign to us so he sees that it applies to everybody.

The boys seem especially intrigued by the hogs; perhaps they admire their freedom to roll in the mud. They also love the chickens, turkeys, and geese. I’m always impressed by the big draft horses and the seasonal changes.

Each visit, the boys find feathers and spend the rest of their outing trying to fly. We will only have another week or so to visit this year. Then the farm will slip into the quiet of winter when only the geese can fly and little boys dream of the coming spring.

So why can Samuel do what he does? Is he born with it? Is he learning it? How much is he hampered by being a spectrum kid?

These thoughts were going through my mind this morning while the little guys were playing with their Thomas trains and track. One of the trains needed a new battery and the cover was held on by a tiny screw. As I put the battery in, Samuel picked up the screw and insisted he wanted to put it back in, which required fitting it through a larger hole, then a smaller hole, then using a tiny screwdriver to tighten it.

With his fine motor challenges, I didn’t think he could do it.

Samuel had to restart several times to get this screw through the holes, but he finally got it. And he seems to know instinctively which way the threading runs on a screw – he immediately turned it to the right. I find it hard to work with those screws, so how did he do it?

And it is a common part of autism to have a desire to know how things work, but this was showing an innate mechanical sense. One grandfather is an engineer, the other a chemist and life-long mechanic. Perhaps the kid was just born with these abilities?

Science: It can be a lot of fun when homeschooling, even though it takes preparation. Today a Q-tip became a spinal cord and pasta O’s formed the vertebrae; the fine motor skills needed to manipulate the pasta provided a bonus for Samuel.

We’ve loved Janice VanCleave’s “Play and Find Out about the Human Body.” She suggested threading empty thread spools onto yarn to demonstrate how the vertebrae line up to provide a strong but flexible backbone. Though I’m an avid seamstress, I’ve not held onto thread spools. Ah, but I had the pasta O’s and adapted those to the “experiment” by using the much larger Q-tip to “thread” the bones.

Homeschooling refines the art of improvisation!

Samuel has been so “off” lately. Even his speech teacher was shaking her head yesterday about all the computer gibberish he had been giving her. He tried to “exit” out of class as if he could hit a function key and make his speech class disappear at will.

I am at a loss as to how to handle these off times – for whatever reason he seems to need, from time to time, to be more noisy and active and calling his own shots. Not unlike, I suppose, a 2-year-old. From that perspective, a 2-year-old has to be taught what is appropriate. The same is likely true for Samuel.

I pray for wisdom ...

Yesterday, as we cut out and put together a skeleton as part of our science unit on bones, I noticed that Samuel was working really hard and did a great job following the lines while cutting. Several times when I praised him, his little face lit up like a million-watt bulb. I sometimes get the feeling that I have a very bright boy trapped in a quagmire of behavior.

On a lighter note, I was baffled this morning when his brother, 3, started asking for “bone boy,” until I figured out he wanted the skeleton I helped him make.

The workmen completed our new deck today, and school went out the window. I’d been telling the boys for the last two weeks that they couldn’t go out back until it was done. Seconds after the men left, the boys were running their trucks up and down the new wood.

I recognize that physical activity is essential for Samuel. During the interim, we had been going out front so he could do his handwriting with chalk. (Making large letters apparently stimulates a different part of the brain than the tiny handwriting we do on paper and helps, in the long run, with letter formation.) He and his brother also worked out their energy running up and down the walk with their wagon.

We did get history, science, and math done today. And we’ll find some time for reading, which I love doing with the boys any day….

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