Many do not know, but my first interaction with Autism actually happened during the reception at my daughter’s wedding nine years ago.
The interaction for me was awkward at best, and left me with a perception of the child’s mother as rude and anti-social. My perspective today is that I was the rude person – and had no idea that my interaction was probably confusing and freighting for the child.
We all ask, what is Autism?
The medical definition states it is a “developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted and repetitive patterns of thought and behavior.”
Today, I live in this world on a regular basis being a proud grandfather of an Autistic grandson. Autism changes how you communicate and interact with an autistic child, but also broadens your knowledge of the best way to relate to his world.
My grandson David is very intelligent, and he is a wonder to be around.
The trick is to understand his world and relate to him in matter that he can understand. David lives in a world where things are better understood when it is illustrated on a regular basis; therefore, repetitive actions stimulate his thought process.
It took me a long time to understand this concept, but now that I have, it is a real heartwarming experience to work with David and having him understand.
I remember the first break through I had with David; it was when he understood the concept of high five, low five and to the side five. David’s eye glistened each time we ran through the steps and the joy it gave him, as well as his grandpa when he got it, and when we would do it together. It became our greeting when we saw each other. We would do it once sometimes and other times we would do it a hundred times. But no matter the number of times, it was a way for David to communicate his love for seeing his grandfather.
And for his grandfather, it was a breakthrough in our relationship and it has grown into a great, loving, and rewarding relationship we continue to share today.
David, like many autistic children, like their stimulus on their terms, meaning you cannot always force a hug, or a conversation out of them. This does not mean he does not want to interact or he is antisocial – it just means you need to understand him and work within his needs.
I will tell you; when the time is right and the stimulus is wanted, there is no greater feeling for both David and I. David is a love machine and cannot get enough of the stimulus when it’s on his time.
It is not always rosy between us, because when the communication is broken between David and I and we do not understand each other things can become very difficult and awkward.
Sometimes the frustration is so difficult for David that he has a meltdown. The meltdown is frustrating for me, as many times I need mama’s help to relieve the frustration of David.
But the thing to remember is that this meltdown is a breakdown in the communication between us, and not a temper tantrum on David’s behalf.
It is also another signal that David and I have to understand the situation and figure out a way to better communication in that particular situation.
For me, David being autistic has made me grow in a matter that has developed into a long and lasting relationship that I would not give up for the world.
There is a lot more learning for me, as David and I continue to strengthen and nurture this relationship.
A huge thank you to Bob Ketelhohn, David’s Maternal Grandfather, for this beautifully written piece on his perspective as a Grandfather to an Autistic Grandson.