Definition of internalizing:
1. Make (attitudes or behavior) part of one's nature by learning or unconscious assimilation.
2. Actions that direct problematic energy toward the self.
My child, as many children on the autism spectrum are, is an expert at both definitions.
Internalizing can be the most difficult thing to explain to people about autism, especially if your child is high-functioning. When someone says to an autism parent "wow, he/she doesn't look autistic," (and be forewarned that is not a cool thing to say to the parent of an autistic child in the first place) the reality is that child likely has learned to hold any issues inside and give off the appearance of looking like everyone else. While society may see this effort as a great thing and the child acting "normal", parents fear and dread it. A child who internalizes loud noises, habits other people have that bother them, weird smells, change in routine, etc.for a long enough period of time, the more parents know they have a ticking time bomb on their hands, and that child is going to explode as soon as they get home.
One of the biggest reasons we pushed so hard to have Sophia go to school with Sean was because of internalizing. School starts at 9:15am and ends at 3:45pm. In that time Sean was subjected to the usual things; noises in the hallway, lunch rooms, and outside. He smelled things that weren't appealing to him at lunch (not dissing the school food, just saying Sean has a very exact palate). He endured hours of quietly sitting in a chair when he is by nature a hyperactive child. With those examples and other things that go on in a particular school day, a child like Sean doesn't want his friends to see those meltdowns and outbursts he does at home, so he held it in all day. And when he came off the bus at 4pm, it was like a field of lit M-80s were coming off the bus instead. From snack to homework to downtown to bedtime, it could be a battle. In the first three weeks of this school year, however, Sean now comes off the bus with an actual smile. Yay for Sophia! That's not to say he still doesn't get agitated, but I no longer feel like I have to stand by the door in the afternoon with a sword and a shield.
Parents also need to be made aware of that internalizing in school when heading into an IEP or other type of meeting. If I had a dollar for every time someone in our district's administration has said Sean was a perfect angel in school with no behavior problems at all, I'd be living in a much bigger house (likely next to Troy Polomalu, since he lives out our way).
This is an area where your child truly needs you as an advocate, to speak up in those meetings and say "YOU'RE WRONG!" Tell them the things you observe or, if you are lucky enough, what your child tells you. Let them know modifications still need to be made. It's such a slippery slope we walk. We want our kids to be as normal as possible, but at the same time we need those outbursts to show people hey, there are still some issues that need to be worked on.
It is truly an amazing gift when parents see legitimate strides and improvements in their autistic child. Just be aware that autistic children, like many of us, develop their own coping mechanisms, and a parent needs to be able to tell the difference.
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