Dealing with Samuel’s Autism

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Readers’ response to how our daughter Jean’s working with her mildly autistic son Samuel has been gratifying indeed, and makes me believe that there are lots of other first-time mothers and grandmas holding each others’ – and their children’s – hands as they navigate the treacherous waters of the childhood years together.

“Together” is the operative word here. I venture to say that until the present day there has been an unspoken agreement that the subject of autism will not be brought up except under the vigilance of the mother. Grandmothers tend to fall back on experience or lack of same.

What did we know from autism? It had not been invented yet. If it was obvious, and the child unable to care for himself, he would be labeled as retarded or a moron. The newer terms “special needs” and “spectrum” provide a somewhat softer blanket to land on.

I think a mother must have coined that terminology too, because it provides comfort not just for the child but for a grandmother as well. I admit, when the term “spectrum child” threw a rainbow of abilities over children who were different, this grandmother was relieved to realize her first grandbaby was placed in a certain spectrum of development. It could have been so much worse.

When faced with a crisis, our kids headed for the library (pre-Google days) and the youngest started writing. Lucky Samuel. Thanks to modern techniques his history may be shared all over the world, at little or no cost, offering comfort to other parents and reassurance that they’ll do all right simply by trusting their instincts.

Sharing information from Jean’s blog about Samuel, now 6 years old:

She writes about reading:

We've “discovered” a new author: David McPhail. His book, Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore delighted all of us. What makes a good book?

I like books with rhymes so Samuel hears how letter combinations are repeated and how a slight change in sound can make a complete change in words and meanings. Actual story lines are important too, even if it's totally silly. Wondering what happens next keeps a child engaged in the story – anyone can love stories, but few will truly enjoy the mechanics of phonics. Sadly, the latter is what so often is emphasized in child genius-type books.

A speaker I heard recently emphasized that these early reading years can be crucial for developing empathy and sympathy through imagination. Being able to put yourself in someone else's place greatly encourages kindness and helpfulness. Good books can help you feel what the main characters are going though and to emphasize – when they're scared, you're scared, when they're relieved by help, you're relieved. I think this will be a crucial skill to develop with Samuel since he is not likely to naturally be good at reading other's emotions and feelings.

Let's go find a good book!

About Haiti:

The extent of human suffering in Haiti is truly unimaginable. I have spoken of it only in general terms – that there was a disaster and that people have been hurt – and the kids have heard me pray for the people in that tiny island nation.

When Samuel, his brother Uriah, and I sit down again in a few minutes, we'll find Haiti on their earth ball. I had thought of using it to show them how the surface of the earth can quake, but decided that it would be a concept far too scary. Thank God I can teach them that “he who trusts in God's unchanging love, leans on a rock that naught can move.”

Samuel in church:

Samuel, bless his heart, can be a real challenge in church: .

We had followed every bit of advice that came our way, including suggestions from someone who had grown up with challenges similar to Samuel's. But his spontaneous outbursts and movement just couldn't be tamed.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, a dear friend stopped by the house. She suggested having friends sit with Samuel in a quiet room in the lower part of the church where the services could still be heard. He could learn and participate, and I could fully participate again in church.

This has worked out beautifully. Last week, Samuel worshiped with a teenager that he just adores. It sounds like Samuel is learning a lot about the service and is able to participate in his own way. Others are getting to know Samuel even better, and I don't end up physically and emotionally drained every week.

I thank God for the wonderful people he puts in our lives to help carry our burdens!

More another time.

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