Susan's Blog

Friday, October 14, 2005

Weather — Or Not

A Commentary on Autism and the Weather

New Englanders like to complain about the weather. This fall is no different, and with nearly two weeks of stormy, leaden skies, who can blame us. I think my son Nat feels worse about the weather than most of us, although he has never told me so. He can’t tell me, because he has severe autism. But I can tell how he feels, because I have learned to read his mood and his body language as expertly as I have learned to judge cloud patterns, breeze changes, and the look of impending snow.

I believe that the weather is behind Nat’s new nadir in behavior. After months, maybe years, of being able to take him places with me without fear, all has changed, in a heartbeat, a shift in the wind. Suddenly the family is under siege, unable to move forward, or do much, until it passes. All of my familiar interactions with him have become suffocated in anxiety, weakening my ability to connect with him. If I am afraid of being hit at any minute, I can hardly relax and smile lovingly at him.

Parenting Nat these sixteen years has never been easy. I have experienced his growing up as a series of wrenching shocks and breathtaking discoveries, and not as the familiar process I had been prepared for by Brazelton or Spock. From Nat I learned that playing with toys, or telling someone you’re sick is not something that all children do naturally. With autism, the so-called instinctual has to be taught. And he can only learn if he feels a strong connection with the teacher.

So what happens when the weather turns foul for days? When summer turns to slushy winter? Nat’s ability to learn diminishes, because he becomes more difficult, more scary, and people pull back from him. “Buy him an ultraviolet lamp,” my mother suggests. “Try more lights in the house.” “Change his diet: eliminate wheat and dairy,” urge friends whose children this has helped. Not mine. “Increase his medication,” says our doctor. I get a lot of advice, most of which I cannot use because it does not get at the heart of the problem which is that the vicissitudes of autism wear me down, plain and simple, just like a bad week in November.


Okay, so I know you wrote this many years ago. But I stumbled upon your blog due to a list on blogs related to Autism & had to take a look b/c your son is named Nat. My son is Nathaniel – or Nat as we all call him when we write or type his name (started back when he was a colicky baby & I was stuck inside rocking him constantly w/ one hand to type messages to my husband & friends on the outside).
My son has shown me more about what weather does to mood than anything ever could. Since his very arrival 2.5 years ago, we’ve had blizzards, bad heat waves, too windy days & anything else that could keep us stuck indoors, going crazy. I don’t know if it’s cabin fever or gloom, but things are definitely worse when we can’t go out in sunlight & fresh air.
I’m wondering how much has changed for you with this, in the many years that have passed.

— added by Jenny on Friday, August 3, 2012 at 9:55 pm

A lot has changed. Read this year, for instance.

— added by Susan Senator on Friday, August 3, 2012 at 10:05 pm