The president of our children's organization at church (the Primary), asked me if I would come and learn how to help an autistic child in our Ward. They are in the process of getting a new teacher for him, but she wanted to find someone who could help out if needed, or substitute if needed. Today was my first day to be introduced to how to work with him. I feel like I've already learned a lot!
I have read a few books about autistic children, including one called, "There's a boy in here", that was co-written by an autistic man and his mother. He has become quite functional as an adult, and was able to describe in his book what it is like to grow up autistic. I am currently reading "Animals in Translation" by Temple Grandin, who has a Doctoral degree in animal science, but who is also autistic. She also explains in great detail what it is like to be autistic. I don't claim to be an expert in any sense of the word, but I do think those books have given me a little insight. There is still so much to learn though.
Today's lesson for me included learning what to do if he throws a tantrum. Sometimes autistic children get sensory overload, and that sets off a tantrum. What they have been doing with him is taking him in to an empty classroom and just holding him until he can calm down. The routine is that when he feels he is ready to go back in, he says, "Open the door." But he knows that he is expected to walk quietly back to class, and to be quiet. Autistics usually have high intelligence in some areas, so although they may not always be able to express themselves, their brains are working well, and they are listening. And of course, there are varying degrees of autism.
This little boy is allowed to hold some toys as long as he is quiet. He is OBSESSED with Thomas the Tank engine, and owns MANY of them. :) Today I also learned that there is a sack in the Primary closet that has other toys. He is allowed to trade for other toys when he wants. But the quiet rule still applies.
Another technique they have been using is "motion cards". He is only about 7 years old, but is a very good reader. Each card has written a motion that we want him to use. For example, one says, "Sit quietly in chair". Another says, "Play quietly with trains". It might sound odd, but just having him read the card helps him to do the action.
I have read a little about autism, and had read that sometimes they get easily over stimulated. Today this little boy was starting to get upset. I took a gamble, and sort of tickled his back. I wasn't sure if that would be too much stimulus, but it actually worked! Whenever he would start to cry or get upset, I would run my fingers across his shoulders. He would calm down immediately. After Primary was over, his old teacher, who is now the president, came up to me and said, "What did you do to get him to be so calm today?!" I told her what I did. I don't know if it will work next time, but it sure worked today!
Another thing I did is something that I have learned with dog training. Cesar Milan (the dog whisperer) always talks about how your dogs feed off your energy. My dog gets overly excited when she knows it's time to go for a walk. At first I would just struggle with her to put on her haltie and get ready to go. But then I remembered what Cesar teaches, and I began sitting calmly, and moving slowly to pattern for my dog the energy that I wanted her to have. It might sound weird, but it works. She reacts to my energy level. If I wanted to rile her up, it wouldn't take much. So in effect, I'm riling her down. :) I decided to do the same with this little boy today. I just focused on have a calm energy for him to feed off of. I do think it has an effect.
I'm actually really looking forward to working with him in the future. It's not my calling, I'm just sort of a sub if needed, but I enjoy helping him to integrate in to the normal classroom. He's already improved so much over the past year, and I look forward to see him grow even more.