Resiliency & Similarities between Autism & Dementia


by Linda Burns~The holidays have a way of conjuring up all kinds of special thoughts and feelings and this year, in particular, I found myself experiencing every emotion imaginable.

I was coming off of an extremely hectic, stressful, demanding three weeks of depositions which required travel…which in and of itself can be exhausting…and it was at a time when I really needed to be in my own surroundings where…I don’t know – call me crazy!…maybe I could have gotten some Christmas shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating and a little bit of holiday cheer accomplished!!!

These three weeks also demanded, at times, unrealistic deadlines that just seemed to be crashing all around me as each day (and night) passed on by. That being said, the time that I did have to myself allowed me to reflect and ponder and wonder and marvel at how resilient people with unique needs…whether it be my son who has autism or my mother who has dementia…must be during the holiday season.

For one thing, just the over stimulation of it all. I felt it more so this year due to my work demands, but for a child or adult with autism and a nervous system unlike ours, it has to be brutal.

I remember at a very young age, my son would hold his nose the entire morning while I was preparing for Christmas Eve dinner at our home. And then, of course, he never was able to tolerate the snazzy sweaters that I would choose, or the button-up shirt, or the lace-up dress shoes.

Then there was the over stimulation at Mass: the choir, the incense, the bells, the twinkling lights, the organ, the people…all of this would just send him over the edge.

Remarkably, through years and years of sensory therapy and desensitization and, to be honest, making better choices when it came to holiday gatherings and commitments, the holidays eventually became much more enjoyable for our family.

I then turned my thoughts to my mother, who is three years into her diagnosis of dementia at the age of 81. I’ve watched her go from a very reserved, soft-spoken woman to a reclusive, wondering woman and now I see her reluctantly being amongst us and it makes me sad to think how painful it must be for her.

When I say reluctant, of course, I do not mean to infer that she does not love her family…it’s just that I…having raised my son…know that it is “work” for her. And do not let me forget to mention the “work” it is for my father…who never, ever complains. He has found the patience that – trust me – he never had with his four children!

I often share with him that I can truly relate, as there are many similarities between autism and dementia. I share how, when my son’s tutors or therapists would come for a two-hour session, I could not decide what I wanted to do first.

Sometimes it would be to just take my daughter to another room and play, or read, or just lay down on her bed and tell stories and giggle together. Sometimes it was to go into my room and read a book or a magazine or write in my journal. And then again, sometimes it was to just sit and not have to think, watch, direct, correct, guide, help…you get the picture.

Of course, I was much younger when I was going through these challenging times with my son; therefore, I have all the more admiration for my father’s commitment at the age of 81.

So, tis the season…a season of faith and hope and admiration for the special folks in our lives and those very special people who care for them.

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About Linda Burns

As a working court reporter and also owner of Infinity Court Reporting, LLC, I have become the chief, cook and bottle washer, which definitely has its ups and downs.  If I had to choose my favorite aspect, it would definitely be reporting at the depositions.  I love watching a case develop, producing a quality transcript and, at times, getting to see the case through to trial with my clients.  My most favorite aspect of my personal life is being the mother of two great kids!  I share our story in “Beating the Odds at Autism; One Family’s Winning Hand,” and I look forward to creating many more of life’s chapters with them!

3 thoughts on “Resiliency & Similarities between Autism & Dementia

  1. Christy Carlson

    Linda–I have noticed this connection as well. In my BK (before kids) life I worked in Geriatrics as a meals on wheel coordinator and the director of recreation in two Nursing Homes. Personally, my grandmother also lived with Alzheimer’s for over 10 years. It was these professional and personal experiences that shaped me and prepared me to be able to better understand my son with autism. The perceptions of daily life for those with dementia and those with autism may not match our own, but our love and patients creates a the unifying bond. Great article!

    • Linda Burns

      Thank you, Christy. So…you have a real appreciation for the similarities. Well, I know that your paths – both professional and personal – have allowed you to touch your son and extended family in beautiful, loving ways, just as you do with everyone you come in contact with. And welcome! I look forward to reading of your experiences in the coming months. Stay well!


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