Monday, February 27, 2012

Lefthandedness, and other things that should be hidden

4 year old G is pretty much ambidextrous. It's a handy skill, really. She draws with both hands, she eats with both hands, she can ride her scooter equally well leading with either foot. She seems to prefer to write her name with her left hand.

"a picture about cars
and motorbikes"
by G
The other day we were at playgroup and she was drawing with her left hand. G looked like she was ignoring everyone that day- she wasn't talking to people or interacting, just drawing. But she was listening. Someone commented (quite loudly) to me that she is left-handed.  G heard the comment, and her posture changed. She didn't look up. She didn't stop what she was doing. She simply changed hands and kept right on drawing. So I said, "actually, she can use both hands equally well- pretty clever hey?"

I framed my reply this way quite deliberately. You see, I know that just because G has some poor social skills, and sometimes seems to be in a world of her own, does not mean that she is not intelligent.  She might have some quirky interests, but she is a very bright little girl. In fact- the little bit of intelligence testing we did with her as part of her diagnostic process indicated that she is smarter than I am.

I also know that just because G often chooses not to engage with people she doesn't know and feel comfortable with because it is hard to understand/ interpret them, does not mean that she hasn't picked up on the fact that people think she is different. For some reason people think that because she doesn't talk to them she also doesn't hear them, and so they talk about her right where she can hear them, and she DOES listen to everything.

So- G knows that she is different, and she knows that she is seen as different, and I'm pretty sure she doesn't like it. Our psychologist once pointed out to me how hard my ASD kids have to work to appear normal to others. It takes up a lot of their energy to firstly learn by rote all the social cues you and I assimilate without even being aware of it, and then to consciously apply them in their behaviour (also something you & I do without being aware of it). They do a pretty good job of this too, managing to go to school and preschool and fit in with the routine that is expected of them. They don't always get it right, but they show such persistence and courage in trying again time after time after time.

People who understand them help them as much as they can. People who don't understand them seem to like to comment on them, particularly their differences. It was this I was responding to in my comment. G doesn't need to have her differences pointed out. She knows about them already. She spends a lot of her time compensating for them so that other people will accept her in their groups. She gets tired and frustrated, and has meltdowns, then picks herself up and has another go. Every single day. Her body and her sensory system betray her by interpreting light so brightly, and sound so harshly, and gentle touch as pain. Yet she gets on with it- this task of appearing normal. And I reckon she does OK. She hides her differences quite well most of the time. She needs encouragement. She needs praise. She needs recognition for all her hard work. She needs to be told that she is awesome just how she is- a bright, clever, tenacious kid whose good qualities will take her a long way.

Social norms become more and more a strange thing to me as I parent my awesome children. We moderate our behaviour as individuals to conform with what we believe society expects of us. I know it is a very complex thing, and I'm not even going to try to address it here, but to say that once you have kids who are classified as having a disability because they don't fit the expected norm it does make you question the whole thing. Why should people with ASD's need to modify their behaviour to be able to have what is perceived as a meaningful contribution to society? Is it simply to make the rest of us feel more comfortable? And why should that be the case?

Anyway, those are my thoughts today. If you are interested in reading further about some of the challenges in communication for ASD kids, read on-
Recent research has shown that an autistic persons brain does not have the same strength of connections between hemispheres that a neurotypical brain does, making processing multiple pieces of information at the same time much more difficult for them than for you and I. There is an excellent summary of this here in a great Facebook page I found out about recently. I also found this page called Inside Autism recently, and it has very interesting short articles about some issues in Autism here and here. It is a bit old (2004) and some of the thinking has changed a bit (particularly some of the information about the five categories of autism on the first page), but useful nonetheless. 


  1. These amazing kids are just so blessed to have such an amazing mother. (Yes, I read everything you said and heard it to - but that is my overarching, intial response). As to why our 'different' society members should have to work so hard to conform - I suppose it's just because most of us haven't had the 'opportunity' to have to learn to understand them and know how to react so that they can feel comfortable with the majority of us who are so 'different' to them. I'm thankful that we have people like you to help us with that.

    1. Yes- I guess you are right. I have moments when I feel it is all so unfair, but usually we just do the work required to help the kids gain the skills they need. There still needs to be a change at societal level in the way differences are viewed, but that is for another post, possibly in another lifetime, when I have less on my plate!!!

  2. This is a fantastic entry Michelle. Do you mind if I print it off and pass onto the teachers at school - they will really appreciate your insight into autism.

    1. Sure, Emma- thanks for asking. I hope they find it helpful!


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