Braden is autistic. Not only is he autistic, but on the spectrum, he would be considered as “severe” or “low-functioning”. What does this mean for him? It means that he is almost always locked inside his own world. He can communicate with us to tell us what he wants or needs. If he doesn’t know the word for it, he says “Yeah” to signify he wants something. Mike and I guess until we get it right.
He can rollerskate, snow ski, climb on jungle gyms.
He cannot read, write or draw a picture.
He can follow one step directions.
He cannot follow multi-step directions.
He can work the ipad to bring up youtube videos.
He has very poor fine motor skills, so holding a pencil or a paintbrush is very difficult.
He is not a piano prodigy. He cannot tell us the number of toothpicks that have fallen on the ground without counting them. He is not able to tell you the day of the week that a certain date falls on. In other words, he is not a savant.
Many people believe that children with autism, especially non-verbal children with autism, have a special skill. I’ve had so many people innocently ask me what Braden’s special skill is. I always feel like I’m letting them down when I say he doesn’t have one.
“He has phenomenal balance, though!” I always say. And it’s true. He does have great balance. One day I looked out the window of our Colorado home. He had climbed up our neighbors jungle gym and was walking on top of the monkey bars…and he was wearing roller skates! It’s unfortunate that this one skill also got him in trouble quite a bit. We were told by more than one school playground official that Braden could not be at the top of the play equipment as although it wasn’t hurting him, it gave all the other kids the idea they could do it too. Sigh…try dragging your child with autism down from a jungle gym only to try to explain that he can’t do his favorite thing. Yeah, that was fun.
Is a great sense of balance savant-like? No, but it’s all I have to give. And since I’m proud of that in him, I share it willingly with people who ask me this question.
But no, not all kids with autism have a special skill like we’ve seen in movies such as Rainman. Have you seen Iris Grace’s masterpieces? Just Google autistic savant and you will get zillions of videos of individuals with autism doing incredible things.
Every time I read or see a story like this, I smile. I celebrate for the families. I also cry inside a little and think, “What could I have done differently? How could I have helped develop this special talent for Braden?” But this is the reality of the situation. If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met ONE person with autism. Each brain is different and each of these kids with these amazing skills has something lighting up in their brains that Braden hasn’t developed.
So for now, I just treasure those times I see Braden climbing and using those fantastic balancing skills of his. Who knows. Maybe one day I’ll knock a box of toothpicks onto the floor and Braden will say, “324 toothpicks.” Actually, I doubt that will ever happen considering we’ve never actually bought toothpicks.