Recently, I was rounding up my three boys for bedtime. The younger two had already gone up the stairs, but my oldest son Jack, 11, who has autism, was still in the family room. He was intensely involved with a set of different-colored plastic cubes from one of those marble run games.
He dropped a green one, positioning himself really close to the countertop as it struck. He chose a different green one and repeated the ritual a few times until he was seemingly satisfied. Then he moved on to dropping a blue piece.
In the past, I would have looked at this behavior as "very autistic” and proceeded to stop it. But I knew better now. I watched him with curiosity for a few more moments before I asked, “Jack, what do you hear?”
A blue piece struck the counter and he smiled: “It’s a C.”
“Cool,” I said. “What do you hear now?” and I dropped a green piece. “That’s a D,” he replied, and with that he grabbed his pieces and ran up the stairs to bed.
My son was hearing the musical notes in the plastic pieces of a toy. Had I chosen to approach the situation from a place of fear, and stopped his behavior without understanding it, I would never have had the experience of that interaction.
After years of both my own research into my son's condition and my experience as a physician working with families affected by autism, I completely shifted my approach. I realized that the need to make these kids behave “normally” was actually a detriment to forming a meaningful relationship with them.
Since I have let go of my need for Jack to behave in a certain way, I've freed up the space to interact with him and connect with him on a deeper level. And the great paradox: All of his communication and social skills are emerging beautifully as a result.
Most of us choose to believe things about autism because that’s what we’ve been taught to do. So we stay stuck in a very limited, tiny box of possibilities. But when we choose to question those limiting beliefs, we open up a world of possibilities for ourselves and our children.
Here are three of the biggest myths about autism that, once I gave them up, allowed Jack to enter my world. I wish more parents understood that they can discard them too.