Wednesday, 16 June 2010

J through the looking glass

From a very young age J was fascinated by his reflection in a mirror – nothing very significant in that as most children are keen to look in a mirror at themselves. However, from about the age of 3 J’s mirror gazing became slightly different and very entertaining to watch. J would stand in front of the mirror and pull a variety of facial expressions – he would even practice crying sounds while watching himself. Naturally I put all this down to his tendency to show off and perform to an audience. I even looked fondly and thought “Bless – just like his Dad” at some of the more comedic expressions and confidently predicted a love of drama.

At the age of 7 J still does this “mirror” stuff and practices a big beaming smile among other expressions. When J feels he has done something wrong or if he feels I am stressed he will gain my attention and say “look Mum” and produce the biggest most beaming-est smile possible – it lights up his whole face and includes his eyes. It is identical to the one he produces when he looks in a mirror.

Today I attended an autism workshop looking at sleep problems in school-age children on the spectrum. As part of the workshop we watched a series of short films about autistic children and the sleep issues which affect them and their families. One showed a little boy of about 9 being asked to go to bed.

“Time to go to bed Zac”

“Nooo” was the response shouted loudly by Zac all the while he walked up and down in front of a mirror pulling a variety of expressions.

“Yes – you need to put your PJ’s on”

“No – don’t want to go to bed” again said loudly but more calmly as Zac became absorbed in this mirror gazing. He pulled several expressions and watched himself closely, sometimes practicing a grimace or smile again.

For me it was a bit of a light-bulb moment and H (the speech and language specialist) said that children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder find facial expressions and the world in general very confusing. It is not unheard of for them to “practice” the expressions they see around them in front of a mirror to try and make sense of them. In this way Zac could see the facial expressions which went along with his upset feelings around going to bed.

So J has been doing this mirror practicing to some extent too and I’d had no idea that it was significant as behaviour. To be perfectly honest I just thought J was a bit of an actor – practicing his performances prior to testing them out to their fullest extent on me. I was wrong but still feel his ability to “perform” and practice these things won’t do any harm in his drama group which starts tonight.