Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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Understanding autism

1.4 Parents’ reflections on their children’s behaviour

In the following activity, video clips will show parents' observations of their children's behaviour.

Activity 1 What parents noticed

Allow about 20 minutes

Watch the following video clips from The Autism Puzzle (2003), in which parents and family members, some whose children were diagnosed in the 1960s, and others from recent years, talk about their children’s behaviour in the first few years. List some key behavioural features mentioned for each child.

Michael Baron on his son Timothy

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MICHAEL BARON:
He wasn't mentally handicapped, as people understood it. There wasn't Down syndrome. He wasn't grossly retarded or anything.
That's right. Want to hold my hands?
TIMOTHY BARON:
Hold my hands.
MICHAEL BARON:
See what it is like. That's it.
Physically, he was quite perfect. He was a very handsome, pretty little boy.
About 15 months old, such childhood babble, as he had, which wasn't speech. It stopped, and he fell completely silent. And it was then that one got worried and wondered what really was going on.

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Saskia Baron on Timothy

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SASKIA BARON:
Right from the day he was born, my mother thought that there was something odd about the way Tim looked at her, always out of the corner of his eye. We've always wondered what made him autistic. And although no one knows for sure, scientists have found that it can run in families.
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Lorna Wing on her daughter Susan

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NARRATOR:
Lorna Wing was working as a psychologist when she discovered that Susan, her only child, was autistic.
LORNA WING:
Our Sue was not one of the quiet, placid babies. Our Sue was a baby who screamed the whole time. And I don't think we got a night's sleep until she was about five years old. She really was extremely difficult.
My husband began to notice that she paid no attention when he came home from work, whereas other babies of her age were thrilled when daddy came home. She became more socially remote when she started to walk. And then we could-- the repetitive behaviour came out more and more. And we knew something was wrong.
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Hannelore Braunsberg on her son David

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HANNELORE BRAUNSBERG:
He was four years old. He was still in nappies. He wouldn't eat solid food. He had practically no communication. And he was highly active. I mean, he would just he wouldn't sit at table to eat or anything like that, just run around the room and just a very difficult child.
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Charlotte Moore on her son George

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CHARLOTTE MOORE:
George was a very noticeable baby he was the sort of baby who people would come up in the street and sort of comment on. And he was very, very alert. And the usual comment was, oh, he must be terribly bright because he gave the impression of paying such an enormous amount of attention to everything that was going on around him.
That's enough.
He slept very, very little-- I mean really little for a newborn. And this has continued to be the case. He's 12 and 1/2 now, but he still doesn't sleep very much. He really did seem to be very advanced right from the start.
That was a strong characteristic. He smiled very early. He stood on his own at seven months old and walked on his own on the day he was nine months old.
He spoke very early. He spoke very, very clearly. He loved stories, and we would read to. Him and he would learn these off by heart.
I remember about 13, 14 months when I started pausing. And he would always fit in the missing word. He was a very good mimic. And he would learn phrases from books or videos or songs or even from just adult conversation. And he would use these phrases quite accurately.
Which often did sound very poetic. Just one little example that springs to mind of many is he was trying to persuade me to walk to the pond. And I said that he couldn't because it was too late. And then the next morning, he said, the water lilies have opened their eyes now, meaning that he wanted to go to the pond.
But he wasn't capable of simply saying, let's go to the pond now. It's morning. So he was like a foreigner with a phrasebook. And he had to flick through and find the right phrase or what he hoped was the right phrase for a situation.
Tell me an animal that is pink.
GEORGE:
A pig.
CHARLOTTE MOORE:
Yes. Can you spell pig?
GEORGE:
P-I-G.
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Acis Peters and his mother Samantha

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ACIS PETERS:
My brother Harry, he sometimes gives you real pain. He fights me a lot of times. But my brother does have something that's special, autism. And I've got Asperger's.
INTERVIEWER:
What does it mean, having Asperger's?
ACIS PETERS:
It means you're special and have problems at school.
SAMANTHA PETERS:
Acis didn't really start stringing words together until he was way going four years old. Prior to that, I got absolutely nothing. And he would simply use me as a prop to get things that he wanted rather than pointing. I couldn't get him to look at me for love nor money. I'd actually have to take his face in my hands when I was trying to talk to him and say, look at Mommy. Please look at Mommy. And his eyes would still be anywhere but on my face. He didn't appear to hear anything that you said.
And, certainly, when he entered nursery, the first thing that his teacher said to me was, he's either extremely disobedient, or he's totally deaf, because he doesn't seem to hear a word that we say to him.
ACIS PETERS:
Make sure that nothing like ants or wasps or bees get into our house. If it does, just take one spray. Now you need eye gear in case it bounces back. Because if it a flat surface, it will spread. And if it spreads over your eyes, it will give you a nasty infection.
Mouth protection to protect your mouth, because if you breathe it in, you get kind of an infection as well as eye.
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Harry Peters and his mother Samantha

Download this video clip.Video player: aut_1_wk03_autism-puzzle_7_harry.mp4
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SAMANTHA PETERS:
Yes, come on.

[CRYING]

SAMANTHA PETERS:
Come on. We have to do something. Let's do something different. How about bubbles? Should we do bubbles? You like bubbles. Don't wipe your face on there. Come on.
We had a huge problem with Harry when he commenced school, because he didn't want to wear his school uniform. He wanted to wear his Buzz Lightyear pyjamas. And this was an obsession that had gripped Harry for around about two, two and a half years, maybe. He had lived in a set of Buzz Lightyear pyjamas, and he didn't want to wear anything else but those. He couldn't tolerate putting anything else on. And it was becoming more and more difficult, because, if I can show you what the pyjamas actually look like, that's the top. And these are the bottoms. I mean, he didn't take them off at all. And if he couldn't wear them, he simply didn't go out.
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Discussion

Key behaviours and problems noted by parents include:

  • Timothy Baron: initial pre-speech sounds disappeared; odd way of looking at mother.

  • Susan Wing: socially remote; did not look straight at people or pay attention to them; screamed, was ‘difficult’ and did not sleep; repetitive behaviours.

  • David Braunsberg: no communication; rejected solid foods; active and ‘difficult’; still in nappies at 4.

  • George Moore: initially seemed bright, advanced and attentive to everything; was early to smile, speak, stand and walk; liked stories, had excellent memory for words and phrases; language use quaint or unusual; sleep problems.

  • Acis: language developed late; would not look at his Mum or point; appeared indifferent to sounds including others talking to him.

  • Harry: obsession with wearing the same pyjamas; wouldn’t tolerate anything different.

As this activity shows, there are both similarities and differences in what parents notice. For some parents sleep problems, inflexibility or just ‘difficult behaviour’ stood out, while for others, it was differences in attention, looking or language. Two parents, Michael and Charlotte, thought that their child had regressed. Notice that despite his earlier language delay, 8 year old Acis is a very verbal child.

AUT_1

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