Today I’d like to tell you about how we were dealing with different issues, which our son suffered while deep in his autism and outside our home.
During the recovery we were practising the Son-Rise Program at home so our son spent lots of hours in his Son-Rise playroom, which he loved. And out of the room we were always applying the Son-Rise lifestyle. So at home we made sure that our son felt safe and loved. Of course it was always more difficult to secure friendly child centred conditions for our son when not at home.
When he was deep in his autism we would minimise his exposure to places and situations which were clearly stressful for him. These involved supermarket shopping, going out for coffee or dinners, the beach, department stores, birthday parties, and playgrounds, etc. All of those places/activities would be hard for our son to handle and they would only cause meltdowns and a very unhappy child. We didn’t want to pretend we had a healthy child and force him to go to birthday parties just because everyone else went, because ee knew he wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.
When he started to recover we would slowly start different activities with him and we’d see how far we could go.
For example; I started to take him to the playground early in the morning when I knew we would be there alone. Slowly he’d get used to the place and would start to feel more comfortable. The next step would be going when maybe one or two children would already be playing in there. Every time we could see that he’d had enough and he needed to go home, we would leave immediately. I would never force him to stay if he wouldn’t want to. Knowing that he has totally in control about leaving or staying helped him to build his self-confidence.
Similarly, we would approach other occasions such as going to the supermarket. We would start slowly when it was early and the supermarket wasn’t too busy, and we would only buy a couple of things, like bananas, to show Tommy that it’s important to do the shopping so he can have bananas (which he loves) at home.
Getting him to enjoy birthday parties took us a long time. At first he would go for a very short time, but that time would gradually stretch out. Now we are often the last to leave. He also enjoys buying presents along with making and writing birthday cards for his friends having birthdays. And finally he’s able to enjoy his own birthday parties now too. But there was a time when none of that was possible.
Until now, I’ve been writing about situations which were outside of our home but always my husband or I present.
It was a different story at school though. Even when deep in his autism, Tommy was attending school (nursery/foundation 1 and 2). In the first two years he was attending school only for three hours in the mornings and slowly we increased his time spent at school.
Fortunately, all of Tommy’s teachers were open minded and understood our Son-Rise, child friendly approach, and they did their best to apply the principles when possible.
In nursery for example his teacher would ask some of his classmates, who were old enough to try and join in with Tommy when he was doing his repetitive behaviours. Usually it was when he started to spin, then one or two boys would join him. Seeing even his peers joining in and spinning with him helped Tommy to build relationship with them. As most of us know it’s very challenging for autistic children to be able to socialise with their peers, who seem so unpredictable most of the time.
The other example was during play-time when Tommy would often be just running from one side of the playground to the other. That was easy for the teacher to find children to join in with Tommy. And soon most of the class would be running back and forth. Soon, Tommy started to look back to see if someone else was running with him. The teachers’ attitudes towards Tommy was always wonderful in many ways. They understood his challenges and they understood that he was trying his best.
For example, teachers kept saying good morning every day when seeing Tommy but didn’t insist that Tommy replied. At first of course, Tommy was non-verbal for a long time, and the teachers understood that saying good morning back to them had no real meaning to him. So, they didn’t force him to say it. But yes, they were celebrating with him when one day he started to reply back to them.
During his recovery he also went through the stage of echolia, which is quite common for autistic children, and is when they repeat noises and phrases that they hear. So Tommy would just repeat everything people would tell him. If his teacher asked ‘how are you Tommy?’ – Tommy would reply, ‘how are you Tommy’. I remember like yesterday he was in Foundation 1 and one morning he replied in that way to his teacher, and she smiled at me saying, ‘he’ll get there’.
And you know what? – she was right – He did get there!
We had to privately find one-to-one support for Tommy school. We were very lucky that among over 10 people who applied for the role that we advertised, there was a very special person who become Tommy’s assistant for 3 years in school. Before she started to help him in school she spent one summer month coming almost every day to learn about the Son-Rise principles and to build a relationship with Tommy.
In the beginning Tommy wasn’t able to spend all three hours in the class, as it was too much for him to handle. So, his assistant would take him out of the class and they would be quietly walking through the school and going back to the class when he was ready. Other times she would find an empty class or some other quiet area where she would be able to apply the Son-Rise principles and that would help to calm Tommy down.
I remember one time when Tommy started to lick the palms of his hands, and his assistant would just sit down next to him and do the same. Tommy noticed what she is doing, looked surprised and stopped licking his hands almost immediately.
So with any kind of behaviour like this, which could be destructive for other children in the class, she was able to deal with it during their one-to-one time.
The last example that I’ll describe in this post, about how the Son-Rise principles could be applied in school, is when Tommy was so sound-sensitive that any singing would be really hard for him to handle. So, every time the teacher was about to start singing with the children in the class, she would signal to Tommy’s assistant. The assistant would tell Tommy what was going to happen and ask if he wanted to stay in the class or leave. For at least a year Tommy would always choose to leave the class and return after the singing finished.
One day he decided to stay. He sat with other children, but didn’t sing. He was very upset and cried through the entire singing, but ‘he’ choose not to leave the class. This little boy was pushing himself at his own accord. For a month or so, he would be doing that. His assistant could see how he was trying so hard to deal with the sound. Then one day he stopped crying, and the next day he started to sing with the other children in the class.
The open minded non-judgmental attitude of both his assistant and teachers helped our son tremendously. They applied the Son-Rise principles whenever was possible during school hours. That consistency applying the Son-Rise principles helped our son to build healthy self-confidence, and he will benefit from that for the rest of his life.
If you’ve read this far and found my article helpful in any way, sign up for our Parent-to-Parent newsletters here in which I share more of the experiences we had during our journey out of autism.