Convert the bane of a typical autistic behavior into therapy:
Every child’s autism is different and unique, however, there are also many common traits. One of the most frustrating and dangerous is what I call the deaf run. This is where the child will bolt from a parent’s hand for some desired object. Normal children do this as well, however, many autistic children are particularly talented at ignoring their parents. They also may be quite fixated on a particular item or object which acts as a terrible distraction when attempting a therapy session. For instance I remember seeing a four year old bolt from his chair to go push a spring loaded door open so he could watch it automatically shut. The therapist repeatedly chased him down, took him by the arm and brought him back to the desk in an attempt to get the child reengaged at the task at hand. Of course the child resisted, flopped and whined making the time spent on therapy little more than a complete waste of time. I saw this as a terribly missed opportunity.
Personally I remember my son, Emerson, bolting from my hands to run for a small creek behind our house. He loved it down there and I provided every opportunity to go. Problem was he got so excited he would simply run and leave me in the dust. I had to perpetually chase him down and try to reign him in, but nothing seemed to work. I wanted so desperately to connect, but I had no idea how to go about it.
Most any parent of an autistic child can tell a similar heartbreaking story of how their child runs off, ignores their attempts of eye contact or any acknowledgement of their voice. So why not use this object of desire to connect, incite eye contact, develop speech and get a little joy all at once? Here’s how.
Let’s take the incident of the little boy running for the spring loaded door. Imagine the therapist engaging with the boy’s desire instead of repeatedly trying to redirect him. By turning him toward the door, bending down and getting her face up into his, she asks if he wants to “go?” Depending on the child’s verbal ability this can be expanded on. If you are just inciting speech, this is a great opportunity to have their undivided attention to learn how to request for something. Teaching a child a word like “go” involves action on their part and attempting to incite speech on something that is so desired and relevant to them will typically be much easier. The child will most likely be looking right through you towards the desired object, but guess what, now you’re becoming naturally integrated into their world. If they can’t talk, perhaps you may get them to point or even partially speak. One other thing I did with Emerson was to verbally count down with my fingers in front of his face, “one, two three!” before bolting towards the creek. It took some time, but after repeated exercises, his little fingers began to move as he was attempting to count. Here’s a trick, once you say “go!” run backwards and watch the joy on their face as they bolt free towards the desired object. At three years old it was perhaps the first time I saw a wide smile and lucid glimpse from my son’s beautiful blue eyes.
For the therapist, this exercise can be repeatedly done as a game of sorts, each time bending down, counting down, getting the child to communicate in some way their desire to go toward the object. And each bolt for the door will be met with giggles and laughs instead of a firm grips and words to redirect them back.
Sometimes the best therapy involves the use of things you never imagined like the spring loaded door. But at the end of the day, developing that happy connection can be arguably the most important therapy of all. Developing that connection cracks open those ever so small windows for communication and makes way for other more formal therapies.
Contributed by Emerson B. Donnell III, Author of Dads And Autism, How To Stay In The Game. For more tips and more in-depth discussions on how to connect with your autistic child, the book is available on Amazon and www.dadsandautism.com.
Thanks for posting this Emerson97. Very good advice. I know my husband had no idea as what to do with our son when he was regressing into autism. I connected much better, as floor time came naturally to me, as I was, at the time, undiagnosed with Aspergers. I played with my son, his way. Not forcing him to play some other way. Some of our play was quite annoying to my husband as it was quite noisy with rattles.