Sunflower photo by Gabrielle Bryden (Sunflower planted by Michael Bryden)

Most people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) don’t like changes in their routines. It is all about rules, regulations, and order. This can be because they experience the world as confusing and chaotic, and it is their way of clawing back some sense of control. They like the predictability that a routine provides. If you know the end of the story you can relax and pay more attention to what is going on in the middle. People with autism call ‘normal’ people Neurotypicals (nt’s). Nt’s generally don’t like to know the end of the story – we like a surprise. You could say that I am the opposite of a person with autism – I don’t like routine and rules and will change my schedule at the drop of a hat depending on my mood.

My son Michael was diagnosed with autism a couple of months after turning three. He  was lucky to soon get into the AEIOU – an intensive early intervention program in Brisbane for young children with autism. This was very stressful for him – a new place, new routine, and having to deal with other children with autism (they were often noisy and upset).He went there for 5 days a week and I drove him from the suburb of Auchenflower to Moorooka (a trip that took about 40 minutes). You have to think carefully about how you do things with ASD children because once you do it one way, you usually have to keep doing it that way. For Michael this applied to the route taken to and from the AEIOU. It was very important to Michael that I drive the same way every day. Any deviations would result in a tantrum or meltdown; a situation that can be very dangerous in a moving vehicle.

A couple of weeks after he started at the AEIOU I was driving Michael home from Moorooka. My daughter Tessa was two and she was also in the car. I wasn’t concentrating, it was raining heavily and my head was in the clouds, and I missed the usual turn-off on the freeway. What followed could be described as the beginning of World War 3 – Michael went ballistic. He screamed and carried on for the whole trip home. In the car he took his seatbelt off and was attacking me while I was driving. Being a responsible and thoughtful psychologist I immediately lost the plot and was screaming at him to stop. Poor Tessa didn’t know what the hell was happening and was crying. I kept driving as it was too dangerous to stop in the rain and on a freeway.

We finally got home safely, I don’t know how we did it, and Michael was still tantruming. God knows what the neighbours thought was happening. I got Tessa into the house and had to drag Michael screaming and kicking out of the car. Once inside I locked the doors because Michael was trying to get outside. He was punching and kicking the doors. I took Tessa upstairs – we often had to escape from Michael in those days – and left Michael to calm down by himself. This was a strategy that worked most of the time but not this time. He kept screaming so I carried him upstairs, put him on the sofa and wrapped him up in a doona and squeezed him hard. Like many children with ASD he likes the feeling of deep pressure on his body and it has a calming affect on him. Eventually he calmed down and stopped crying. The tantrum had lasted for about 3 hours. All because I drove the wrong way home!

PS.     Michael turns nine at the end of this month and is doing extremely well. He certainly doesn’t tantrum like that anymore. This is partly because of the wonderful work done by the AEIOU. Thank you to all the dedicated staff of the AEIOU and founder Dr James Morton. The photo is of a sunflower that Michael grew from seeds provided by his learning support teacher Kerri at Holy Family school  in Indooroopilly.

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Note: This is a repost (Michael is now 11 and in grade 6 and doing even better) 🙂

20 thoughts on “Invisible Straitjacket: The Autism Files

  1. My youngest has a step-son who is autistic and he is also doing well now that he has had time with his (new) family. The rouitine thing is very important as you say, but now he feels secure he is able to have adventures and loves them, even loves being on Heavhy Metal where he is called Captain Jack.
    You are a great mother GB.

    1. Thanks Stafford – that means a lot to me 🙂 Michael likes adventures now as well – he particularly likes travelling and eating at restaurants – which I am still surprised by – though he tends to eat the same thing at those restaurants – haha. I bet Captain Jack just loves Heavy Metal (who wouldn’t)!

  2. My professional career was spent training professionals to work with children with autism and other communication needs…I have always admired those parents who meet the needs of their children on a daily basis.

    1. I bet you were terrific at your job slpmartin 🙂 I have it pretty easy compared to a lot of the Mum’s with ASD kids. It was much harder when he was young (and rarely slept through the night without crying) but gets easier each year. Not looking forward to the teenage years, but that goes for any child I suppose – haha.

  3. thats so good gabrielle, keep the faith – he will most certainly turn out to be a fine intelligent cut above the rest,i told you about my friends son with aspergers and related complexities
    who got a doctorate degree and now teaches at a university, was voted the students favorite professor this past semester and has a great life, and also happens to be named michael.

  4. I so appreciate and respect you for being the mom you are for your son. Often times parents cannot cope and no one comes out ahead. I have worked..years ago now…with adults having Autism but, unlike Michael, they also had forms of mental retardation and one young woman was even blind. They were put in adult homes as families were unable to know what to do and how to handle these members of their own family. I am so glad you found early intervention for your son and that he is one of those that it has helped immensely and hopefully, he will be an adult with a full and wonderful life. I already believe he is heading in that direction with your love and guidance along with the center he attends. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks Renee, I appreciate your words. It wasn’t that long ago that many autistic people were institutionalised – we’ve come a long way since then but I can understand many parents not being able to cope – we still have a long way to go as well. Michael only attended the centre when he was 3 and 4. Now he goes to a mainstream school (a very small rural school of about 65 kids).

      1. I am happy that Michael is now attending a school with children that may or may not share his path. I think from what you’ve posted that he is very intelligent and very gifted. I love his photos.

  5. I am sure Michael has a bright future which will be due in a large part to having you as his Mum. You are a very inspiring person. I am so glad Michael is doing well now. His sunflower is beautiful!

    1. The sunflowers were huge! He got his photo in the Gardening Australia magazine – standing next to his flowers – won a prize of a hose and other stuff for the photo – haha – he planted the seeds in the vege patch so it was very fertile – that is why they grew so big (way over 6 foot tall). I don’t feel very inspiring most of the time Selma – just hanging on for the roller coaster ride of a life 😉 and my blog friends make it a whole lot easier.

  6. Your autism files are always so enlightening. And I’m glad that you found ways to help your son achieve the things he does now. And you write about your journey in such a vivid and inspiring way.

  7. Sunflowers are my very favourite flowers and that one is just awesome – well done, Michael (and mum for the great photo :)) It is reallly wonderful to hear of the real progress that Michael has made, Gabe, and in no small measure to the efforts of you and your family – your insights, experiences and advice surely bring hope to many others dealing with autism.

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