Anyone who has read about autism or has interacted with individuals with autism, would know their inclination towards rigid, strong patterns as a way of interacting with the environment and people around them. Change in such patterns is particularly challenging to accept and adapt to. Why, change is challenging for all of us!
This story is about a 3-year-old and his journey from being anxious, rigid and reluctant to break certain patterns to becoming curious, exploring and open to new experiences as a 4-year-old today.
When R first joined Sambhavam, he was extremely anxious to be apart from his mother and would cry for entire sessions. This was extremely challenging, more mentally than physically for us and especially so for his mother. The challenge was to convey to the child that he could trust the people around him and thereby be able to learn and gain new experiences from other people as well. He would also not like to break away from doing his favourite activities like building trucks from blocks or playing in the ball pool. Impulsive running away and throwing toys were some of the behaviour patterns that he fell into.
Providing structure and routine in all his activities was the solution. Structure, schedule and rules provided predictability and security to R as they do to all children. To give an example, R’s play time would be structured as five minutes in swing, five minutes in ball pool, five minutes with his favourite toy and so on. Work time would also have a set pattern with opportunity to come in contact with all his favourite things – his mother, truck toys, blocks, alphabet puzzles, number puzzles and so on. This kind of structure, communicated to him both visually and verbally, made things predictable for him and gradually reduced his anxiety about his favourite things and increased his willingness to transition from one activity to the other.
While inappropriate behaviour was ignored, we provided more opportunities for appropriate behaviour to occur, and reinforced it. R’s greatest strength lay in his ability to read and his interest to write. So, we used writing and reading comprehension activities, and with lots of repetition, these activities helped him pick up the language and increase his speech to a great extent. This gave him the ability to communicate his needs more appropriately and get more control over his life. Within two months, R settled down wonderfully.
Today, R loves to try new activities, initiates interaction with all his therapists as well as the occasional stranger. He uses language not only to communicate his needs but also to start meaningful conversations. All this was possible only because of structuring and sticking to rules. Ignoring inappropriate behavior, constantly redirecting him towards appropriate behaviour, coupled with building a trusting bond through play and interaction was the key. An unwavering faith in the learning process and persistence in pursuing the goal, played a greater role than anything.
No, that’s not all of it. The most important part of this success is the consistency that was maintained throughout his different environments. The same sort of structure, rules and activities provided at home by his mother made the difference we see today. No matter how hard it was to sit through his intense crying sessions, her determination to face the challenges to give him the best, trumped everything else. The mother had enrolled for the parent training program and has now started working at the center too! While he loves all his therapists, his mother remains his most favourite (After all, who can compete with mother’s love!).
We are all proud of this bubbly, naughty, happy, smart boy and his open-minded, determined, loving mother.
(Written by Ranjani Seetharaman)