What We Are Really Missing on Autism Awareness Day
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. My friend and I stopped by a fruit seller’s stall. The pineapple was tempting! The fruit seller painstakingly peeled and sliced the pineapple and charged us Rs. 100. Ready to go!
This happens only in India! Where else in the world will you get a freshly sliced, ready to eat pineapple for $1.50!
“India is beautiful! Despite the roads being terrible!” my friend said. We laughed. It was a jibe at me. I often complain about the roads and infrastructure in our country.
As I ate the delicious pineapple at home, I pondered about the good things. Helpful neighbors, house help, home delivery of anything you can think about!
It’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it? If I shift my perspective to look for good things, I find plenty!
My mind drifted to my students and the families I work with.
We were facing some challenges with Nafi’s fine motor skills. Though we saw changes in eye gaze and interaction, we did not see the desired changes in fine motor skills. Zohra was worried about his limited fine motor skills, which led to him responding in limited frameworks.
Yes, she had a point. There had to be another way.
Finally, during one of our sessions I asked if she could shift her focus from skills to problem solving and thinking.
She tried it. She used declarative language and asked Nafi what he wanted to do with the boiled, peeled potato that lay in front of him. They were making bhel.
Nafi didn’t do anything for about 30 seconds. Zohra stayed calm. Suddenly he reached out and retrieved the knife.
He smiled with the look of competence. Zohra cut large pieces and he halved them! This was the first time that Nafi cut boiled potatoes independently.
We witnessed a ripple effect. Teachers working with Nafi also commented on how his fine motor skills had improved.
How did this work? The feeling of competence led to motivation – an intrinsic drive.
Nafi WANTED to cut the potato. And it started with Zohra’s changed focus.
She did not show a sense of ownership. Under her mother’s guidance, she would create beautiful artifacts or cook something fancy. But the sense of achievement or pride was missing.
On watching some videos together, we realized that Shraddha tried her best to do things exactly the way her mom wanted her to. She was afraid of making errors. She was constantly over referencing.
We delved deeper into the issue. I asked Uma what would happen if Shraddha made a ‘mistake.’ Uma decided to back off and let Shraddha do things her way.
The results were spectacular!
Shraddha started to experiment doing things her way. She developed a sense of ownership and confidence. And surely enough, the emotional sharing between the two soared!
Again, it started with Uma. She changed something within herself first. I’m sure you have seen this video. If not, look at how wonderfully regulated and self confident this beautiful young woman is.
In both cases, the children changed. But they changed because the mothers changed something in themselves first.
Today, the mothers are calm. The children are happy. It’s a win-win situation all around!
The focus in autism has always been the child. Change the child. Make him better. Fit him into this frame that we have in our minds. I believe we have got it wrong.
It is not about changing the child. It is about changing ourselves first.
It’s been 9 years since I changed my teaching style with Mohit.
Prior to this, life was about language drills, imitation, task completion. My son, a teenager then, was overwhelmed. He literally imitated everything – without discrimination.
I remember a video where I casually rubbed my cheek. He looked at me and did the same!
It hurt that he did not ‘understand’ what to imitate and what not to imitate.
Then, Joyce Albu, my consultant, asked me to set up a framework where he could not imitate me. I painstakingly set up this painting framework. I put something between us, so that he could not see what I was painting. I got engrossed in my painting and ‘forgot’ about Mohit. Suddenly I looked over to see a beautiful abstract painting.