A loaf of bread, a glass of wine and Farm Ville...

If I want to understand Katie’s mind, I need only go as far as Farm Ville on facebook.

Farm Ville on facebook… yeah… right… that’s all you need to understand the mind of an autistic child. Ahhh, you are cynical.

Over the years since Katie’s diagnosis I have read every book that would help me understand the way she experiences life. The best tool that I have found to date is to stop and watch her as I see her slipping into meltdown.

Here is an example. Katie has chronic pain in her feet from years of toe-walking followed by months of wearing casts to enable her to walk correctly. First memories? Well, for you it may be when your baby rolled-over, smiled, sat up… but for me it was Katie pulling her socks and shoes off. Especially her right sock and shoe. I wish that I had photographed Katie with one sock/shoe on and one off, because this was a daily event that went on forever.

I didn’t understand the significance of Katie’s needing to have bare feet, not even when her shoe became a heat-seeking missile directed squarely at my head while I was driving the car. You know the drill, “If only I knew then what I know now.”

Which brings me to getting inside our autistic child’s head. Katie was diagnosed just before her eighth birthday. Never look back, I remind myself.

1. Katie’s hands cover her ears, head goes down, eyes close. ”I can’t take this. I want to go home. IT’S TOO LOUD!” We are sitting in the shoe department as I desperately try to find a pair that she finds, a) aren’t too tight, b) aren’t ugly, c) don’t rub, d) aren’t irritating in one of 1,000 ways. I begin with a budget but after 45 minutes am willing to pay $1,000 if I can JUST FIND THIS CHILD A PAIR OF SHOES SHE IS HAPPY WITH!

Then I stop and close my eyes. The first thing that I experience is the loud music being played in the store that I didn’t even notice before. I had tuned it out, just as most of us are able to do.

Next, I look around. Racks of shoes, people milling around, fluorescent lights, large, open department store with one department flowing into the next and every color imaginable entering my brain… all at one time.

This is a living hell for an autistic mind. Everything that I make a point of avoiding at home so that Katie has a sense of calm and order is lost in this sensory overload environment.

It is the end of the shopping trip. I limit outings to 2 1/2 hours at the most, if I am able. Unfortunately, the constant stream of shoes for Katie to try on has added to her inability to tune-out the chaos and has catapulted her into an early melt-down. There will be no shoes to comfort her poor, suffering feet today.

The above experience can be applied to every outing and every school experience that Katie has had in her lifetime. She did, however, enjoy “Boo at the Zoo”, the halloween event at the Santa Barbara Zoo. I had anticipated nothing pleasant for Katie, but both she and her brother wanted to dress-up and trick-or-treat at the event. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that Katie had a wonderful time. The event was at night, outdoors and it followed her daily medication management. Trick-or-treating in our neighborhood previous years had only last three houses for Katie. The candy collecting was orderly at the zoo, where the children went from table to table. Maybe this made the activity easier but the next time may be an entirely different story… I know you hear me, parents!

Now, to Farm Ville. The reason this game helps me understand Katie is that I can compare her farm to mine, Jamie’s and all of our Farm Ville neighbors. If you have played the game, you know that you collect Farm Ville money, grow crops, collect animals and build a farm.

Katie’s farm is in complete order. When you look at her design, you see no chaos. The animals are in ’stay’ mode so that she can line them up, they blink at the same time, they are fenced-off by animal type, the crops are orderly and you have a sense of calm. Jamie’s farm is also orderly and I think that his mathematical, engineering brain is what helps him understand Katie. The dynamic between these two makes for a good balance. Jamie seems to innately understand Katie and she is comfortable with him.

As parents we are constantly working toward helping our children cope with the world around them. ”Getting into their heads” isn’t easy, but so much is understood when we are able to open the window to their world, if only a little. Helping an overloaded child learn to decompress by finding an enclosed, quiet environment to refill their buckets is well worth the time.

“Mommy, you need to change your farm. If it was my farm, I would do this and this and this…”

WELL! I am so insulted as I gaze at my animals, (crammed into too small pastures because I can’t bare to sell them) and my vineyard… ahh… my vineyard, which covers so much of my land that there just isn’t’ enough room for all my animals. Maybe it’s somewhat chaotic, but it’s my chaos and playing Farm Ville helps me decompress…

… well, Farm Ville and a real glass of wine.

I never forget to laugh.

© Cassie French Ferguson, 2009, Autism Funhouse and autismfunhouse.com. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cassie French Ferguson, Autism Funhouse and autismfunhouse.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

sensory overload

I have a sister who suffered brain damage from vaccines 48 years ago. I agree with the sensory overload. i had a tenant who has a neice with autism and she was visting their apartment, I had to go up there to do some work and the child was starting to melt down, instead of reacting I just calmed my brain down and walked into the room where I needed to work.Well the child followed me in there and was completely quiet. her mother was amazed at how she just got quiet. I strongly believe that when we are at peace with ourselves it will cause others to be at peace also. My sister is still the most facinating person I have ever met. Take care.