Our story was featured on Gainesville's Home Magazine, Written by Cathy Zenko of UF CARD. She explains, "What is Autism?"
Here is the story, re-blogged from Home Magazine.
What is Autism?
Letter To Parents:
Here is a letter I wrote to the parents of A.J.'s class when she was in Kindergarten. Now I write a letter each school year to the parents because it is important that they udnerstand why my daughter doesn't seem interested in playing with their child...when she actually is. I hope that this letter can help someone else who is dealing with the confusing aspects as how to help your spectrum child.
I am writing a note to talk a little bit about autism. I am not sure how many parents know that my daughter, A.J., has high functioning autism. It is hard to tell at first because she does not have many of the “classic symptoms.” I don’t know if your child has mentioned A.J. at all, or her differences, but I would like to give you a brief explanation about how the autism affects her and perhaps your child in the class.
A.J. is a remarkably intelligent little girl with many gifts. She is able to think in a creative way that is surprising and enjoyable to her progressive teachers. Although there are many things that she can do very well and beyond her years, socializing is not one of them. It is difficult for A.J. to make eye contact for more than a few seconds at a time. Sometimes she will walk away while her classmates are talking to her and even speak to them while walking away from them. I think this is confusing for her peers and may often be perceived as her being rude or that she doesn’t like them. It also may imply a lack of intelligence, which simply is not the case.
At one point we had a friend from the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities come and talk to the class about A.J. and during this talk she mentioned that when A.J. ignores her classmates she is not being intentionally rude. I think, however, this is a difficult concept for children to really understand and the guidance of a parent will help. A.J. does very much enjoy interacting with her classmates but a real connection takes a patience on the part of her peers which just isn’t practical to expect in a Kindergartener. Surprisingly though, I have found that many of her peers are very sophisticated in their ability to interpret her actions and are very sweet to her. This is huge for A.J. and keeps her happy while she learns. (A small gesture such as making a space in the morning circle for her to sit down goes further than you can imagine!)
One of the most interesting things about A.J.’s autism is that she does completely understand facial expressions and actions towards her, although she does not have the ability to consistently and effectively express back what she is also thinking and feeling…thus ending a conversation. She does know who are best friends in the class and she often plays at home with toys that represent the kids that she spends the most time with. I am sure she is much more interested in her classmates than they would ever guess or imagine.
On a final note, we are able to help her enormously by taking wheat-gluten, soy and casein (a protein found in cows milk) out of her diet. We do low sugar and salt, and keep preservatives out of her diet. The difference that diet makes in her ability to interact and focus well is incredible. Autism is not “who she is.” It is a barrier that we are able to shed at times and we get remarkable, occasional glimpses of “typical behavior.”
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I wanted to offer up some information as I am sure some parents have heard different bits and pieces so I wanted to be more clear. I will be happy to answer any questions and so will Ms. Davies. A.J. is having such a great year with her class and we are proud of her huge accomplishments and the insight and encouragement that her teachers bring to the table on a daily basis.
Shena and Jeff
Owner, Platinum Digital Video