As I observed a young boy with Autism in one of our groups, I kept trying to “figure him out”. Why does he flutter his hands? What makes him jumpy or make the sounds that he does? How can we get him to participate with the others in the art therapy process? As clinicians, we are always looking for the right approach or mix or perhaps the right “connection” to the child. But what I am discovering is that maybe those answers will not be avaialble any time soon- so in the meantime I think that focusing on the journey with the child and staying with the unanswered questions can be the enough for the moment. It may feel as if we are not connecting or making progress, but as with all therapeutic processes the subleties can pave the way.
Here are some points to keep in mind when working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders:
1) Remember that Autism is a challenging disorder and there will be a lot of tough days, so go easy on yourself.
2) Meet the child where they are at that moment in time. Sense the energy level and try to empathize with their potential discomforts. If the energy is high and overstimulating, offer calming activities with little pressure.
3) If the child’s voice or level of verbal sounds is loud….do not try to “speak over them” but rather lower your voice and calmly wait for them to see that you are trying to communicate with them, this takes patience. But, very often they will want to hear you and will become quieter in order to listen.
4) Sometimse offering a light touch or contact to their should or back may get their attention, calm them or regulate their energy. But be careful to ask the child if it is ok to touch them as it can be misread and there may be issues with touch.
5) Be aware of bright lights, loud outside noises or other stimulating sources in the environment. See if dimming lights helps, or adding soft music to the room helps. You can also teach the child to do deep breathing….this sometimes works wonders, espsecially if you make it into a game or use bubbles.
So, although we may not have all the answers to everything about how and why the child behaves a certain way or can’t seem to connect to his peers or to us, we can relax a bit and just try to be available for the child as best we can. As we travel the journey, an answer or two may just appear when its supposed to.