When my son was little, it seemed like we had to teach him everything about life. Taking the time to break it all down into “teachable moments.” He wasn’t like a typical kid who imitates what others do or explores possibilities themselves to figure out how things work. His autism dictated how he interacted with the world, from pulling my hand to the fridge when he wanted a glass of milk to his inability to simply put on socks.
But once he got a diagnoses, I started learning techniques to help him. Early Childhood Special Education teachers, occupational and speech therapists, and other parents of children with autism became my teachers too. Both my son and I had to figure things out, and figure them out we did.
Different therapies were constantly brought up – mainly Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and Floortime. We couldn’t afford to hire a professional for either of these therapies, but my autism “teachers” started to show me the things they knew. And it all slowly started to help.
I have a very vivid memory of being taught about “backward chaining” – a term for an ABA technique where you teach the child how to do something from the last step to the first. After seeing a demonstration of putting a sock on my child’s foot, and pulling it all the way over the foot and then letting him pull it up the rest of the way up his leg, a lightbulb went off in my head. All we did with that action was break down the steps to make it easy for him. Once he got used to that step, we put the sock on halfway up his foot and let him pull it over his heel. When he mastered that step, we just put the sock on his toes, and he learned how to pull it over his whole foot. And so it continued until the day he put the sock on all by himself!
I never imagined that I would have a “sock celebration” in my life. But that day was a celebration. That simple act of putting on a sock gave me such pride in him. It meant a whole lot more than mastering a simple daily task. Somewhere inside I knew he would learn. It would be his own way, but he would do it.
From the other end of the therapy spectrum, I knew a few parents who were very excited about Floortime therapy. I didn’t really understand it. I thought “All they are doing is playing with them.” And what is play in the face of autism?
I have to admit, I’m not a natural “player” myself. My husband is, but I always chose a structured activity over spontaneous play with my son. It was through structure that I had learned how to enter his world.
Then a teacher loaned us a Floortime video so that we could see the ideas in action. And another light bulb flipped on. I realized that play is the vehicle for interaction and connection, that the simple act of riding a car on his arm engaged him in me and the world around him. I don’t think I became an expert player, but I found ways to extend our interactions and strengthen our relationship.
Using this technique changed things for my son. He started to become more interactive and even silly. I learned that silliness is progress too. My son had a Personal Care Assistant (PCA) who was an expert player. She used his new ability to be silly and had him running around in homemade teenage mutant ninja turtle masks. Adding some unexpected actions to his playtime led to that delight. Delight in him and delight in imaginative play.
I found that the more I learned about different therapies, the more I could put little touches into my son’s daily life. Each addition meant he had more opportunities to learn. “Doing” a therapy doesn’t always have to be a formal process; sometimes it literally is how we live our life, day to day, with our child.
Discover how you can infuse your daily life with Autism Therapies at Home on December 6!