The Faces of Autism: Meet Dacotah

Meet Dacotah, an intelligent 12 year old boy who has not been officially diagnosed with autism. I include him in this project, not just because he is my son, but because I know their are people out there in a similar situation and I feel it's worth sharing.

dear me photography mandan photographer boy standing outside in the snow hands in pockets

When Dacotah was younger, around 3 years old, he would have violent temper tantrums, often leaving me bruised. After some family members witnessed one of these outbursts, they encouraged me to find help for him. At that time we had taken him to a psychologist and they acknowledged he struggled in many areas, but didn't check enough boxes for autism. We were referred to Occupational Therapy as well as a Neurologist. After starting OT, Dacotah was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Dysfunction, now referred to as Sensory Processing Disorder. After a brief time with OT, Dacotah's meltdowns lessened. Throughout the years, he has had different issues pop up from time to time, but after getting the tools and resources to deal with them, he always seemed to improve.

Dacotah is incredibly smart and kind.  He loves sports, video games, and playing with friends. He plays great with his younger siblings, and they truly adore him.

dear me photography mandan photographer boy crouching in the outside in a backyard

Dacotah struggles socially, but doesn't always realize it. He often misinterprets people's words and actions, for example, if a child in his class is nice to him, he thinks that automatically means they are friends. Dacotah is a black and white thinker, he has a hard time grasping concepts that fall into grey areas.  Sarcasm and tone in others is hard for him to pick up on, although with the help of great speech therapists, this is improving. 

Dacotah started middle school this year and the transition has been a bit difficult for him. He has had a rough time adjusting to the new routines, going to multiple classes, the chaos in the hallways.  Because of these things, remembering everything he needs for the next class is a struggle, and he misses out on the "fun days" his teachers have because of late work.  Dacotah has issues with executive functioning.  He has a hard time asking for help or clarification, so he gets docked points, at school and home, for not getting things done completely or properly. Dacotah has few friends and gets teased and bullied at school and on the bus. We try our best to teach him different methods for dealing with the meanness of others and how stand up for himself, as we can't always be there to protect him, but it wears on him having to hear mean things from other kids.

dear me photography mandan photographer boy in backyard smiling at camera on a sunny snowy day

Dacotah wants people to just be nicer and more understanding. He knows that to other people he may seem weird, but he is still a person with feelings, even if he doesn't show them the same way as others may.  He wants people to know that just because he is different, it isn't bad.  He just wants to be accepted.

According to Center for Autism Research, Executive function can be considered  the “epi-center” of the brain; it controls the integration of cognitive processes such as planning and prioritizing, accessing working memory, directing attention, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibiting extraneous ideas, mental flexibility or shifting thoughts, multi-tasking, time management, and initiating and monitoring one’s actions (metacognition). Together, these skills allow all individuals to solve problems, organize a plan of action, and control emotions and behaviors throughout the day."   In addition to that, HERE is a great informative link about Executive Function, which is a very common issue for those with autism.