Autism Whisperer's Advice on Getting through the Holidays
Getting through the holidays might not always be easy, but for those diagnosed with autism, it could become one of the hardest things to get through. Autism is a genetic disorder that manifests itself in 1 in every 50 schoolchildren, with a four time higher prevalence in the male population of the world.
You have managed to get through Christmas and you have greeted the new year with a sigh. You are not alone, however. You wanted things to go smoothly, but they rarely do as you have found. You don't know what you do wrong but few things ever seem to go right. Your children are not like other children though and you cannot act with them as other parents act with their children. Your children are special in many ways. They may see or hear things most neurotypical individuals cannot. They are probably some of the smartest in their classes.
As part of the inspiration series, true stories about people living with autism in the home are shared to show others in similar situation they are not alone. If you had problems over the holidays, it might be important to also know your child had an even harder time with it. They don't act out because they are undisciplined. They face things they cannot cope with. Noises are louder and more piercing, lights are brighter and burning. Sensations are heightened to the point where a child may experience overload. That is why we offered these tips to help a child cope in such situations.
I am happy to say that though David Doe has regretfully passed, his wife shares his story and continues his work on spreading awareness and understanding of what autism is all about. Cheryl Wagner Doe has been kind enough to share David Doe's words written in 2010. She has also provided extra information, about how her husband managed to cope with the holidays and in life's most difficult moments.
The Holiday Message
David didn't enjoy the holidays. It wasn't that he didn't want to, he just couldn't. For him, holidays were so over stimulating to his neurological system. He worked hard to avoid the malls, the bright lights, loud music and the extra demands. His advice to people who wrote was always, always, lower the stimuli the best you can, and keep routines for your child. Tomorrow is going to be a hard day, it always was for him. The crinkling of the wrapping paper that I didn't hear was like a thunderstorm in his ear, the brunch that was served in the middle of the morning instead of coffee for breakfast and lunch at noon was upsetting, the plates that were paper instead of the light white Correll were not the same routine. More people entered the house to make more noise. Then the music began and more people arrived with more presents and more noise. Then as his nerves were on end he would sit down at a different, larger table for another meal while the drone of people's voices became inaudible to him as he tried to eat foods that were not part of his daily routine. The whirlwind was exhausting for him and by the end of day, he just had to go off and be alone to calm himself and practice all the calming techniques it took him a lifetime to learn.
This was David as an adult, a man who had learned how to handle autism most other days of the year to a point that many who did not live with him wouldn't really notice. Remember these lessons he was able to teach us, your child may lose it tomorrow. They may meltdown soon into the day or refuse to eat with the family they love. They may throw a toy you were sure would be their favorite or embarrass you in front of a relative. Know that is not their fault, they are just trying to make it through the day while the rest of us are laughing and playing and joyous in the midst of a very painful day for them.
The thing that made David so remarkable was he had learned to care about others so deeply in the midst of day to day pain. He always made the kids and I special gifts and his own quiet way outside the hustle and bustle of Christmas and was incredibly giving. This was what was in his heart, not what was happening on the outside. Understanding your loved one with autism is the greatest gift you can them at the holidays. For through this understanding we can see love and generosity and the true spirit of Christmas. in spite of how it appears on the surface.
Who was David Doe?
David Doe was dumped in a boys home run by the Salvation Army at age eleven. By thirteen he was an orphan that had been frequently abused by both adults and other bullies that lived at the home. After taking one last public beating from his biology teacher at sixteen, he left school and started out life on his own. Homeless and alone at seventeen, David realized work meant survival. He took this theory and hyper focused on work and it was not uncommon for him to have three or more jobs at one time.
At eighteen he tasted a new found freedom and saw the world as a playground. Naive of any dangers, he set out to explore planet earth. In his travels he became fascinated with Asia and Japan in particular. Within eighteen months he had a very good grasp of not only the language but, the culture and was living much like a Japanese person. By twenty five David had embraced the Japanese work ethic and had become a true workaholic,working eighteen hours a day, six and seven days a week. At one point he was holding five jobs.
David had not learned to say no when it came to work and almost lost his life to exhaustion by the end of the eighties. This would also be the end of his Neurotypical life as he could no longer pretend there was nothing wrong with him. Nor did he have the strength to be what others wanted him to be any longer. He was forced to be himself for the first time. In the early nineties, he started his life over with the help of medical intervention. He now realized he had to deal with PTSD and Disassociation Disorder on top of something else still yet to be diagnosed. David lived in Denver, Colorado for about fifteen years where he got an education and became a certified nurse’s assistant. This passion came from his love for nurses since he spent so much of his younger years in and out of the hospital with an unknown seizure disorder. David made a name for himself throughout the nursing community in Denver and was often asked to train new staff. In 2005 David met his wife Cheryl, a special education teacher from San Diego and they fell in love and were married in 2008. With Cheryl’s Masters Degree in Special Education and her training in neuro deficits, she was able to see many characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome. After seeing a specialist, David was officially given a medical diagnosis of autism. Today David lives in San Diego with his wife and three adopted children and shares his experiences and knowledge with those in the autism community.
Why the Name of Autism Whisperer?
The Autism Whisperer is a title my wife gave me as I try to translate some of her special education students behaviors for her. I would hardly call myself a Cesar Milan (the dog whisperer). Ironically, looking back at many of the Q & A’s I have done with parents, there is an all too familiar scene that plays out. If you are like me, a fan of the Dog Whisperer, I think you will follow this article without any trouble. When I watch the Dog Whisperer the one thing I see on almost every episode is Cesar ends up doing more training on the dog owners than on the dogs themselves. It turns out on most episodes that, most of the owners don’t understand the language of a dog and therefore always misread the dog’s behaviors. Once Cesar has explained the dog’s behavior and alerted the owners to the environmental problems the dog deals with, the problems the owners were up against almost disappear. I can honestly say, I find myself in a very similar situation with Autism. Sometimes I see such an obvious problem that the parents cannot see and this would only be because they are neuro-typical. See, we witness all the time people expecting dogs to think like people when they teach them and give them commands. But dogs think like dogs. You want to teach a dog to do something you have to approach the training in a fashion the dog can understand. I really don’t want you to think we with Autism are dogs. But, Autism is another language and is a different way of learning. Therefore, it requires knowledge on how to communicate and how to teach. You can’t teach a person with Autism the same way that is taught to neuro-typical’s because they are not neuro-typical and like the dogs, they see the environment you are in much differently. Once you are as aware of your child’s surroundings as your child you start to see and hear the things that obstruct the communication between you. As you start to eliminate the obstructions you automatically open the communication channel and start to see your child responding/learning faster.
How did David Doe Cope?
As far as coping techniques, he learned so many on his own since he never had any formal training, operational therapy or speech help. He had a therapy dog that helped him cope a lot. He loved nature and spending time there and it would refresh and reset him. He would still stim at times, combing his hair, pacing the yard. He had a tent he loved to go sit in to refresh himself and we had nice big yard he could escape to. He had learned when he was feeling overloaded and could remove himself before meltdowns occurred. Occasionally, he lost this self perception and would still have a meltdown, out of sight of the rest of the world. He also used media, art and music as an outlet. He had natural and self taught talents and could dive into a project for days as an escape. Some beautiful art came out of those escapes. He generously gave to others but learned when it was time to retreat into his own world so he could re-charge.
David Doe's story is inspiring and a glimpse into the life of a man grown up, with a family and dealing with autism on his own. It is never easy, but with the right support and those around who understand who you are and why you act a certain way, life for autistic individuals need not be the absolute hardship it is made out to be.