This post was originally published on the SAIconnections blog page. You can read the original here .
His mother approached me for admission 11 years ago. I was apprehensive about his behavior and lack of speech. She picked up my reluctance.
“He’s not as difficult as he appears to be,” she commented.
That did it for me. Being a mother, I understood her heart and wanted to support her. I admitted her 12 year old son at SAI.
We saw some rough days. He manifested behavior issues. He was hyperactive and unwilling to join activities.
We struggled to teach him sign language to communicate his needs. He picked up a few signs slowly and used them sparingly.
Then I changed my approach. I closed down my ABA center. I gave families the option to continue at SAI Connections using RDI or to find other option. Priya and Shashank stayed on. They joined the RDI program at SAI Connections.
The initial couple of years were tough.
I needed to break through to Shashank and Priya. I had to make both of them feel competent. After all, that was my role as their Guide. Slowly and surely, Priya made headway and started interacting with Shashank. He began to trust her and let her in. And he became regulated. We saw some rough patches, which smoothed over a period of time.
Once he was regulated and aware of his surroundings, his resilience increased.
It was time to work on his communication to enable him to express his emotions and feelings.
How would we go about it? Sign language wasn’t a right fit. He wasn’t excited by PECS. I noticed how good he was with puzzles. Shashank could effortlessly do 200 piece puzzles. Then I noticed something else. He could make the minutest of lego block designs. He was able to put together tiny models of aeroplanes and helicopters. I realised how good he was with visual perceptual skills. Once he felt competent and motivated, he was able to overcome his shortcomings with fine motor skills. Shashank had a unique way of looking at things. He had an uncanny ability to put things together.
What would be his reaction to sentences his mother wrote out?
What about typing?
With his advanced visual perceptual ability, would he be able to construct and deconstruct sentences?
He showed intense interest when Priya wrote sentences. Typing was difficult for him, but he lapped up playing around with sentences. His affable smile and the glee on his face, said it all. “You believe in me. Thank you,” was writ large over his face. As we supported him, he continued to support us.
Watch him and Priya in this video.
Related: Communicative Gestures Emerge
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I watched the video. His knowing smiles, his comfortable stance, his willingness to learn. And above all, Priya’s gentle guiding. My doubting, scientific mind threw a spew of questions. But do you think he understands? He cannot speak. This is not the conventional way to teach. What about his fine motor issues? How far can he go? I welcomed the questions but didn’t entertain them for too long.
My strong conviction reared its head. He’s autistic. He has a differently wired brain. He’s brilliant. My job is to understand his learning style and teach from an area of his strength. His brilliant mind will put it together in a way only he knows. We’ve jump started something that’s right up his alley. These are early days.
I have confidence in him. As we guide him, step by step, the way that’s best suited for him will emerge. No, I’m not alone. I have my conviction. And I have Mohit and all my students. They shed a protective light around me with their brilliance. How can I ever be alone?
“For autistic individuals to succeed in this world, they need to find their strengths and the people that will help them get to their hopes and dreams. In order to do so, ability to make and keep friends is a must. Amongst those friends, there must be mentors to show them the way. A supportive environment where they can learn from their mistakes is what we as a society need to create for them” – Bill Wong, Autistic Occupational Therapist
Kamini Lakhani is a, RDI® program consultant and the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI Center). She has over 19 years of experience working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and currently serves as the director of our RDI Professional Training Center in Mumbai. She is the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI Center).