Friday, June 10, 2011

Distingushing Autistic Behavior from Personality

Any parent wants to understand their children. For the parents of autistic children, the desire is perhaps greater because they have been told that their child is different and they should not have the same expectations for that autistic child than they would for another child without autism.  That is not easy for any parent to hear.

A question that arises, most especially among highly functioning autistic children (such as those with my condition, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified), is whether the tantrum this child is having is caused by autism or is it caused by another aspect of their personality (normal behavior)?  In other words, the parent might be asking themselves: should I be more lenient because the child does not mean to do this, or should I be firm and rate this behavior as unacceptable, no matter whether this is the child's fault or not?

This question depends entirely on the child.  I can offer what my parents did for me.  I was not diagnosed with autism until I was twelve, which is older than some children who have been diagnosed with the condition.

Before that time, I was being treated for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), so my parents were aware that there was something going on with me.  After I was diagnosed with autism, my parents continued to treat me like any other child, while making exceptions according to circumstance.  They made it clear to me that some types of behavior, whatever the cause, was unacceptable, no matter what my intentions were or whether the behavior was my fault.  The latter case was not really an issue because my medication was changed after I was diagnosed with autism, so my compulsive behavior was greatly reduced.

I cannot speak for every child in every situation but what my parents did for me worked.  They treated me for the most part like I was not autistic, so I acted like I wasn't autistic and I still do to an extent.  My autistic behaviors sometimes surface, but I have control over them.  I cannot guarantee that this approach will work for every child, but it is worth considering.


  1. Thank you for that perspective. I do chose to raise my 8 yr old with that same attitude. Did you struggle to have your PDD accepted in the school system and be offered any special accommodations. Any ideas to offer for what accommodations were most helpful? My son appears extremely intelligent, but he cant seem to keep it together or get it from his brain to his mouth or pencil.

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  3. My problem was less with receiving accommodations than recognizing exactly what problem I had. I kept on getting misdiagnosed before I was identified as PDD-NOS. I never had any problem receiving accommodations even at the community college and university level. If you haven't already, it might be a good idea to get your son a reader who could read test questions and help him to organize his thoughts without giving him the answers. That would provide him with framework to begin to develop verbal and written reasoning skills. I was dealing with ADHD as well as PDD-NOS. I was given silly putty to carry and release some tension by manipulating it. I would recommend that but I was older than your son when I received that accommodation and at his age, that might turn into a distraction.

    (The previous post was more or less the same thing, I just needed to change something)