If you have any questions or comments to ask James Williams about his work on autism or anything else, and do not like or prefer not to use e-mail, you may ask them here. I will try to answer them whenever I can.
Even though my blog was attacked, I was still able to save the questions and answers that were published there. Here is the archived Q+A from the previous blog.
May 13th, 2007 at 2:48 am I have Asperger’s and have a question for you. It looks like you travel a lot. How do you deal with it. It is so tiring, there are more people so more of a chance of being touched, more noise, lights, and everything else. Not to mention that if you can’t eat airport food you have to drag along your own. I can’t drive because of epilepsy.
May 15th, 2007 at 3:50 am Yes, I do travel a lot.
How do I deal with it? Well, I prepare myself beforehand about the place I’m going to go. I study the streets of the area and the route I will take to get there. I do not drive due to narcolepsy (sleep problems), but I study the maps of the bus and train systems in the areas I travel to.
As for noise, if a certain area gets too loud, I wear earplugs. I carry a lot of stuff with me so I am not likely to be touched. I also keep a certain distance from people. However, I like to be social and often will meet people when I travel. I do this by locating people I feel are safe (by their appearance) so that if I am going to meet them, I will not get hurt.
As a person with food allergies, I know pretty much what I can and what I cannot eat. Thus, I do not bring food but know my limitations and stick to them. I travel because I must do that to spread my messages about autism awareness around this country.
At 4:34 PM, James Williams said…
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At 4:46 PM, Anonymous said…
I have your website on my favorites list. I have read and re-read every article. My son has not been “officially” diagnosed, but he has many symptoms that you describe. He is 11 years old. I have homeschooled him since the 3rd grade. You give me hope for my very special son. Thank you
At 5:33 PM, james williams said…
Thank you for your comment.
It’s true that many children who exhibit autistic symptoms are often not diagnosed. Many of these children are terribly misunderstood, and they grow up to be depressed adults.
It’s also true that many symptoms of autism also are symptoms of different, but related disorders. Mental retardation, Down’s syndrome, bipoldar disorder, ADD, PDD, and other disorders all share symptoms with autism. This is why it is sometimes difficult to diagnose autism.
Your son may not have autism, but he likely suffers from issues that many autistic people share.
You are wise to homeschool. Homeschooling is the best thing for a child with autism, in my opinion.
My advice to you is this–know when to quit. If something is not working with your child, don’t keep trying. Stop and try to understand why that thing did not work. Don’t think that somehow you have to force your child to do something unless it is absolutely necessary. Some things are–like eating and sleeping–but others–like joining the Boy Scouts–are not.
What worked for me might work for you, or it might not. But be creative, and remember that what helped me might not help you. My ultimate message is that while many things helped me, that it is up to you to be able to understand what is best for your child–and to show parents how to acquire that understanding.
At 10:58 AM, Anonymous said…
A young man I support with AS explains that he cannot get thoughts of remorse out of his eat but that they eat away at him.
After he’s done something ‘bad’ (and he truly has quite an array of these behaviors) he feels incredibly guilty and these thoughts pervade his consciousness indefinitely thereby paralyzing him from moving forward.
At 9:54 PM, james williams said…
I understand this quite well. I have dealt with and sometimes deal today with this very issue. I will do something bad and then feel horrible about it.
Autistic individuals are not evil. Many of them are not trying to do bad. Yet no matter how hard they try, they somehow seem to be doing many things wrong. Once they learn the error of their ways, they wonder why it is they were unable to stop themselves from doing wrong, and why they are such a bad person.
The issue I see here is that this is one where the people around him (like you) need to think about how they treat him when he does something bad. Are you severely hard on him? Do you expect him to passively accept your rage when you ask him why he was so stupid because he made a mistake? Is anyone else acting like this? When he does something bad, are people trying to help him solve the problem, or are they punishing him and telling how much a bad person he is?
The way he feels about himself is related to how people treat him. For this reason, he needs people to help him deal with these thoughts of remorse. They may not go away (I still have them as well), but at least you can try to help him get through the guilt that he has of not pleasing you or anyone else. Then you can try not to be too hard on him when he makes another mistake.
Let him get involved in what is necessary to fix whatever he is doing. One of the many ways autistic individuals try to redeem themselves is by trying to get themselves involved in what is necessary to solve the situation.
Many autistic individuals also have a need to “state their case,” or explain to you why they did what they did before they accept punishment. This is not a behavior of a brat. They are not trying to get out of a punishment either. They just want you to know why they did wrong before you punish them, and are not expecting you to change your punishment either. They want you to remember that they are not misbehaving on purpose. Listen to them, and let them talk. They’ll be more willing to accept your punishment if you do, and they are not acting spoiled.
But always remember that these issues are the result of his autism. They are not the result of just “being a child” or because he is a “rebellious teenager.” He has deficits and disabilities that are causing these issues.
My grandmother frequently told me that “making mistakes” is a part of childhood; thus, why are you feeling guilty for them? This is wrong because it ignores the other aspect of the issuse, which basically is that the mistakes made are different. Yes, making mistakes is a part of childhood, but slapping a teacher on the face because a bully tells you to is no “mistake of childhood.” Rather, it’s a response to the fact that the autistic child wants social interaction and the only people willing to socialize with him are bullies.
At 1:53 PM, Anonymous said…
My 7 year old son has spent most of his time off from school this summer screaming. He is not angry, hurt or in any danger. He seems quite happy while he is doing it, but this is beginning to drive us a little over the edge. I think he picked this up from watching the “Home Alone” movies and was wondering if you had any insight into how we may get him to stop doing this? I realize he may have a deeper sensory issue, but he cannot continue to do this. Thanks Candace
At 1:57 PM, james williams said…
Screaming in autistic children is a complex issue. Many autistic children have screaming fits but few do so for the same reason. There are many general possibilities, but go far enough and the reason you find is specific to each child.
Because there are numerous possibilities, I am going to give you suggestions as to why he might be screaming based on the information you give me. Then I am going to give you signs to look for which you can use to conclude possible reasons for why he is screaming. The signs are often there–we just need to know how to read them.
What is the probability that the child’s screaming is due to the “Home Alone” movies? Quite possibly. But there are also numerous other possible reasons as well, and they are just as plausible because we don’t know the actual cause. Here are a few:
Is the child verbal or able to communicate? This is a big factor, as issues of communication are often involved in screaming. If your child is nonverbal, then he might be trying to communicate something to you and can’t except by screaming, no matter where he is and what he is trying to communicate. This goes for happy times as well as when he is upset.
In this case, you need to analyze stimuli in his environment that he is responding to. This is sometimes easier than other times. If the smoke detector goes off and he starts screaming, then you have your answer–the smoke detector hurt his ears.
You might ask that if he is screaming, how could he have sensitive hearing but in fact, both are related. Sensitive hearing does not always equate to ABSOLUTE sensitive hearing, it means sensitive hearing to some things and not others. His screaming not only communicates pain but it also could be a way of blocking out sounds that bother him to a “safe” sound–his screaming. This could be another reason for his screaming–he’s trying to block out sounds that bothers him. (Is he holding his ears with his hands while he screams? That’s a sure sign on sound sensitivity.)
The same applies with other sensitivities. If he’s holding his nose, he can’t stand the smell of a specific area. If he’s closing his eyes, he can’t stand the sight of a specific area.
For this reason, when he does scream, analyze the surroundings. Is there some loud noise going on? What does the place smell like? What’s in the room where he screams?
If you can find a pattern, then you might find the answer. If there’s a dusty smell in the rooms where he screams, then you might consider cleaning the room or dusting it and getting him involved (even if he is watching) in the cleanup. If you or your husband smoke and he can’t stand the smell of cigarettes, you might want to consider smoking when you are away with the child, or taking turns smoking when you must smoke (you are with the child when your husband smokes and vice-versa). If all the rooms he screams in have windows in them, then perhaps he can hear sounds outside that bother him, and you might want to train him to wear earplugs. Wearing earplugs is an adaptation, not an act of being spoiled, and if it helps you function in our world, you should use them. The argument that earplugs worsen sound sensitivities may be true, but if a child CANNOT function, then your concern in getting your child to be able to function, because that is more important than his sensitive hearing.
There could be other possibilities. My point is: You have to see if there is a pattern to the screaming! If the screaming is random, however, then the cause is likely elsewhere.
What if your child is verbal and can communicate? Try to talk to him. Ask him if the “Home Alone” movies are the reason behind his screaming. I, too, was once obsessed with those movies, but never screamed because of them. But it could very well be the case with your child.
Ask him if the cause is due to a sensory issue. You might also try to ask him if it is due to an inability to communicate something else. Perhaps he fears he will yell at you if he tells you “x” but still wants to tell you “x” so he screams instead.
Also remember: there are two meanings to the words “danger, hurt, and angry.” One is the factual meaning–danger implies risk of being hurt, hurt means you are in physical distress, and anger is a recognizable feeling. But they are also subjective. Being in danger does not equate feeling danger–just ask a daredevil. Being hurt does not equate feeling hurt–just ask a masochist. But there’s another lesson here–caution and fear do not emerge in the face of danger, but when danger is felt. You can be in danger but you will not react unless you feel or percieve that danger, as has happened with an autistic adult whose daughter drowned and died because she did not feel there was any danger. And he might be very angry but is afraid to express it, and hides it. Thus, because we do not see pain, anger, or danger does not mean that he feels it or perceives it, the same way a neurotypical child fears the dark because of perceived danger even when they are not. He might be screaming because he feels danger, or is angry, and is hurt, but knows no other way to communicate. This is where you can take precautionary action–keep telling him to tell you if he is angry, or hurt, or in danger, or if he cannot tell you his anger (as sometimes happens to autistic people when they become teenagers) to teach him how to keep it to himself. Or if he is verbal, you can ask him if he is angry or in pain to see if he can tell you the answer.
Have I answered your question? If not, you may always write back to me with more specific details on your case, and I will reply again.
At 7:43 AM, Meg Heaton said…
Dear James: My daugher and I were in the audience at Willow River Elementary in Hudson last week. It was one of the most insightful presentations I have ever heard on any subject. I am a newspaper reporter and I have a column which I dedicated to your appearance. I would like to send it to you.
@h:There are things you can learn from an 18-year-old
@t:When I attended a presentation last week entitled “In Search of the Proper Autistic Friend,” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But then, that is usually the case when it comes to my experience with autism and with the children and families who live with it.
James Williams was no exception. He has written several books and speaks across the country about living with autism, and he is just 18 years old.
Tara Tuchel, a Willow River teacher who works with autistic children, met Williams when both presented at a national conference in Rhode Island earlier this year. Tuchel has gained national recognition for her work with play groups, and Williams’ message was something she wanted to share with others in Hudson.
Williams spoke for more than an hour about his experience playing with children in a fitness center daycare. By volunteering at the facility, he had the opportunity to observe up close how “normal” children play with one another and how some of this normal play behavior can pose a problem for the child with autism.
His presentation captivated his audience, which included a lot of adults who nodded their heads as he spoke — indicating to me that they probably had firsthand experience with what Williams was saying, either as parents or teachers of autistic kids.
Williams had the straightforward, no frills, often humorous approach to speaking that drew his audience in and gave everything he said a special authenticity. I’ve had this experience before with several of the younger autistic children I’ve met over the years doing stories about them. The thing is, they always tell the truth or, at the very least, the truth as they see it — whether it’s coming from this 18-year-old author and public speaker or from the 10-year-old who, after we were introduced, questioned whether I was really a “girl.”
“If you’re a girl, how come you have hair on your chin?” It was the truth, and I could see how that might throw her. It still throws me.
Williams not only spoke about what he experienced and observed while at play with the children, he demonstrated it. He got down on his stomach to do the crocodile game. He treated us to his dinosaur impression and a musical selection from “High School Musical” on his recorder. And he re-enacted the secret greeting between a group of young girls which started with everyone saying “I hate you” and ended in a group hug.
“Now you can imagine how confusing something like that would be to a kid with autism. These are your friends, but you say you hate them and then hug?” It was just one of many observations he guided his audience through to help us experience what kids with autism do every day.
He also spoke directly about how his own behavior at the daycare made some adults suspicious enough to have him removed from his job. Why was an 18-year-old man volunteering to play with young children? Why would he actually play and not just supervise and why did he ask so many questions? He was ultimately reinstated when the majority of parents whose children he played with rose to his defense, but he relayed the whole experience with an understanding of both sides of the issue.
But if Williams’ formal presentation was good, the question-and-answer period that followed was even better. The majority of questions came from parents asking very specific questions about the behaviors and feelings of their autistic kids. One mother said her son had no friends, but it was difficult for other kids since he was obsessed with only one thing — electronics. How could she get him off his obsession? Williams’ response was quick and simple. You don’t.
“Let him go with it until it burns out or find a kid who is obsessed as he is. They’re out there. Or you could do what my mother did — paid kids $5 an hour to play with me. It worked.”
To another concerned parent, Williams recommended a book that spoke directly to teens with autism about how to handle their feelings about the opposite sex and about appropriate behavior. He went onto cite specific studies on autism and the work of several researchers as resources for the audience.
Another parent wanted to know how he got along with his two younger sisters. Again his response was candid. His relationship with his elementary-age sister was good, and they understood one another. But his older sister is a different story, one he explained with some painful truth.
“She hates me but I know why. When we were younger, she was teased a lot because of the way I am and I embarrassed her by things I did. I understand why she feels the way she does. We kind of have an agreement. I live my life and she lives hers.”
He was asked how to deal with the question of Santa Claus with an older child, and he politely declined to answer, citing the need to be discreet around the younger children in the audience who may still believe. Smart and sensitive.
My daughter and I left Lee auditorium that night feeling like we had just experienced something very special and unique. Eighteen herself, she said she didn’t know anyone her age who had his insight. Even with 36 years more under my belt, I knew exactly what she meant.
It was a lucky thing to have James Williams here, to have him anywhere. God does work in mysterious ways.
For more information about James Williams, go to his Web site at http://www.jamesmw.com
Sincerely Meg Heaton
Hudson Star Observer
At 5:44 PM, james williams said…
Meg, thank you for your column!
At 6:03 PM, james williams said…
However, there are two inaccurate comments you made on your column:
1. I was not “reinstated” at the YMCA. While I did receive a lot of support from the parents at the YMCA, I was not allowed to return back. This summer I was accepted as a stagehand in a summer broadway camp for kids with and without autism. Then I was accepted at an internship program at the local high school this fall where I work as a student intern in a kindergarten classroom, and I furthered my work by enrolling as a preschool teacher’s assistant at the lab preschool offered by the high school. Many of the students at the preschool and kindergarten room know me from the YMCA, and the parents are happy to see me further my child care work.
2. Even though Tara presented, I did not present in Rhode Island. I attended the conference there and learned a lot about autism. While I did see Tara in Rhode Island, we actually first met at the 2006 Autism Society of Wisconsin conference in Milwaukee.
At 9:17 PM, Tracy Phillips said…
I just stumbled over your website, and I’m so thankful I found it – it will be saved under my favorites!!! My 3 year old son was just diagnosed with Autism. He is so border line that all the professionals are just guessing right now. I have 2 older sons that I’ve homeschooled since birth, and this is what I wanted for my youngest son also. However, all the professionals are insisting that he start the local public school preschool for children with disabilities. I want to do what is the very, very best thing for my son. I’m very confused right now about what to do. I think reading some of your writings will be a great source of help for my family. Thank you for all of your work!!!
At 3:26 PM, james williams said…
Don’t take what the professionals say too seriously–they work in the educational system and are, in many ways, required to support it. They all have jobs that they want to maintain, and can only go so far in arguing against a system they work for. (They might get in trouble if they advocate for homeschooling.)
I’m curious, what state do you live in? Legislation on homeschooling differs per state. In some states, professionals do have power over the schooling of children. In other states, like my home state of Illinois, they do not have as much power, and are required to allow you to homeschool if you wish. A great resource for researching legislation is http://www.hslda.org/laws/.
If you want to know what is best for your son, then the best thing to do is listen to your son. By this, I mean that if your son is having trouble in school, try to homeschool him. But it also means that if he has trouble while homeschooled, you might consider sending him back to school. My own sister, who is not autistic, was homeschooled for 3 years, and is planning to return to school because while it worked out a lot for me, it did not work out that well for her.
The old blog, www.jameswilliamsautism.wordpress.com, was attacked by spam, similar to my older blog, www.jameswilliamsautism.blogspot.com. While I could erase the spam in the blogs, I have lost and forgotten the password and username information for these blogs, thus making them inaccessible.
I am thus relocating a second time to this blog, www.jamesmwilliamsautism.wordpress.com. The questions from the two prior blogs will be moved here, onto the post “Archived Questions from Past Blogs.” This blog is designed to look the same as the past blog.