I work with Autism and it is heart-wrenching to see how much children with autism are having to go through with in India today. As adults leading children our first responsibility must be to prepare the child to live a fruitful and meaningful life. Instead it seems like in India all that adults are doing is probably some over-protecting, some under-protecting, some over-analyzing, some undermining them and some simply being lost because they are too trapped within themselves to be able to lead. Also, please can we all jump off the “why did this happen to me?” bandwagon already, coz that never helps anyone. And yes, this is the fun-fact of all time!
Coz, I will tell you what, - the kid loves himself/herself and he/she sees no problems with having autism, it is you who has a problem with it! Again, all those activists who think that I am being insensitive to the really hard hit kids on the spectrum, please take it easy as I am honestly not meaning that. I have a husband with an auto-immune condition due to which I had to make a 360 degree turn in our lifestyle, a serious change in diet, social and financial management - yes it did hit me psychologically for a few months, I think I still go through the ups and downs considering me too is a fairly basic human, but I think on most days I am pretty sane and raring to go find solutions. I am no Wonder Woman but I most definitely love life and have learnt to read labels as labels and not as people’s limitations or life sentences.
So then, here I am, after having worked with high functioning autism in Scotland, stuck wondering why so many 20 year olds are functioning like 6 or 7 year old children gone out of control and some others giving in to either seizures, aggression, depression or some other kind of mental illness. Life in the best sense can be perceived by children and I strongly believe that children and adults with autism have extensive inner abilities to sense more than most can. This is the reason why I find it simply unbelievable that such a brilliant mind has been ruined in so many different and exquisite ways. Me and my boys/girls clearly were dealt the most terrible deal considering I landed up working with quiet a few of them with no clue of what had hit them and they landed me who in her wildest imagination did not think that something like this could hit autism. Well, it was an enlightening experience to say the least but now these kids have became my knights in shining armors. I am proud proud teacher today!
I being here had to find a way to be and my idea of being is to be a healer, a person who can provide solutions that can create impact. And if I cannot do that in any space then I simply leave that space as I then have no role to play there. In the hope that during these corona times, when we all have more time to look inwards which if you ask me was long due; I am releasing a series of videos which hopefully may help all those parents see what may or may not work, what are the possibilities and what can be done differently. Well of course, there is the possibility that parents could also learn nothing but hey, that’s ok too. ;-) Yes, I am that hippie, free spirited random girl from next door who is very happy inside her own head and, in fact I hate to be anywhere else.
Here, is the video of what I call the “INNOVATIVE SOCIAL STORY SESSION”. I am known to use a lot of media to help my teens focus on issues and brainstorm around ideas that they may be battling for many years with. In this video, I am on an online class with my teens and just like at school, we always started with a 30 to 60 minute session of social stories. Our social story sessions ranged from the traditional techniques of drawing the social stories, to using media, to having a peer-driven session where the peers help one student understand his errors and then they all come together to find a viable solution for his problem, or even simply a memory driven session where all of us speak about one memory from our past which is dissected for us to know what learning we had missed there; since it is never too late to learn so, why not dive back into it!
A few points that may need clarification in this video which can help parents and teachers are:
1. Reading a simple book like NO DAVID can create an easy setting that will help a teenager feel safe to discuss his bad behaviors thus, opening up the space wherein everyone involved can share their past errors without feeling ashamed. To ensure that happened, I also state in the video that I was like David and that it was my fav book.
2. It is mandatory to create a 60 minute open session were you allow or provoke the teens to speak about their feelings and help them navigate through their emotions. It is more important to help them feel safe to discuss their deepest darkest secrets without feeling ashamed and reprimanded or judged. This is a critical piece of the puzzle to keep mental health positive and thriving, of course I would like to reinstate that this is just one piece and not the whole puzzle.
3. I use simple books like NO DAVID mainly for kids like Pranav who struggle with spontaneous communication and process stuff slowly. These simple books give kids like him a chance to answer quickly as they are immediately put in a safe zone, so no anxiety to speak. In my experience, it always works and also helps Pranav build confidence to speak and express himself in a consistent flow.
4. Using stories like NO DAVID where there is a super naughty child also helps kids feel lighter about their errors and more motivated to talk about dark and deep mistakes. It is one of the reasons self-talk is so high with young adults in India because we as a culture we practice so many rigid and scary forms of yes and nos that we simply have forgotten how to use play and sarcasm as tools to enable correction and modification of behaviors.
5. Doing social stories like these triggers memories and that is very crucial for behavior modification because only once we have those memories on the table can we start to figure how to replace them and reassemble them in a way that would be comfortable for the young adult. Teaching autism is not straight forward or formula oriented. It needs to be a sensorial experience which is human centric which provokes memories to create true learning within a safe and playful environment.
6. You will see me talk and allow the young adults to speak about their past errors and we also discuss many concepts where we are forced to talk about certain kinds of realities of life. While many adults refuse to tackle these realities, I do not have the luxury of doing that. I have made a promise to my young adults that I will always be an honest and trusted ally through their brightest or darkest times and I intend to keep that promise.
7. You would have also noticed a lot of questioning, explanation being done by the kids, consistent noting of the rules we need to abide by and most importantly the ending note where it was stressed why the story was necessary and how it benefits them? Each human being wants to know how something will benefit them and so do my kids with autism, so make yourself worthy of them. Make each moment matter and then there is no way you will not see an impact.
8. Finally, all my students cant wait for me to record sessions and post it on you tube, again they love themselves and do not judge themselves on how the world views them. They are happy to know that their work is given that importance and they ensure that work harder so I can approve the videos to go up since I do tell them that if videos have content that make people feel sad or upset then it is not going up. I am so proud of these munchkins!
Signing out until next time.