“STORIES CAN CONQUER FEAR. THEY CAN MAKE THE HEART BIGGER!!.” But this is not just why we need STORY
Autism finds stories very challenging. Understanding words, putting them together to make sense of sentences and addressing contexts, along with following the plots and maintaining intent focus – to make possible the knowing of a story – are all VERY, VERY DIFFICULT for the Autistic Mind.
However, it does not mean that we give up or do not try the alternative methods to help Autism understand stories. After all, as quoted by Yann Martel – “The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?” Now if this is the essence of stories, then how can we poosibly keep children away from their own lives?
We spent a lot of time telling stories to the children, listening to stories from the children, they may not be the stories that crowd the mind-space of the general neuro-typical but still I think they are stories that matter. My children tell me stories of what happen, things he experienced like a doctor’s visit – the first time he realized how an injection felt, or the time when he was strung up in wires for an ECG reading, or the time another needle was inserted for a blood sample. Another spoke of the one time he banged the door on his mother’s finger when he was very young and threw a tantrum to express that he was very hurt for doing that, hence making matters worse, also of how he wants to one day got to a regular school and earn friends. become a pilot, live a long and fulfilled life with a fairy tale ending of the happily ever after love stories too. Another boy told me the story of him wanting to so desperately be with a girl that his heart could almost burst if it did not happen, the story of the time when he almost ran out on the streets and yelled at the top of his voice because he felt so misunderstood and completely lost.
See… we have extremely short stories to share but nonetheless, they for me are critical and extremely significant stories. These are experiences, which make my boys connect with the realities around them and thus bring them closer to us.
They are the ‘my bubble burst when this happen’ stories. These stories help them expand on their comprehension, their emotional palette and also curiosities about this strange world that they are expected to fit into.
I use these as precious little stones which are often brought in our daily interactions to help with building social skills – like giving a hug and saying sorry if you have hurt someone, and into the comprehension class wherein we do a story of a doctor who had to give an injection else the child would get worse and sicker and not to mention here comes the entry of another life concept – death.
To add more dimensions to these sort of life stories, we then bring in discussions to help the kids understand how many other ways there could have been to cope – wherein we share our own life stories filled with despair, hurt and frustration to help them understand that many around them feel the same but use varied coping strategies to survive.
Whilst we were doing all this, we were approached last year by a vibrant young man called Vikram Sridhar who offered to come and introduce story-telling to the children. I grabbed the opportunity.
Once Vikram and I resolved to work through the difficulties of introducing such a task to Autism, we jumped right in to it. Vikram did one on one sessions, sometimes we had children staring blankly at him while he made the most obnoxious sounds and laughed terribly loudly and obviously, other times we had kids throw a tantrum in his sessions because they were not sure what was happening or just did not want to be forced into another new activity of comprehension in school, some kids looked the other way while he told stories and that is how it all began.
But as time passed and Vikram continued working and insisting on telling stories to the boys then we saw a glimmer of hope, we saw the kids laughing at the right points, we saw them collaborate with him the stories, we noticed them suddenly, stopping him to share their own life stories while using the same characters that he was talking about. S,o we heard a little one say during the session – “Yes and one day bubbles had to got to the doctor’s where he got an injection” butting right in the middle of Vikram’s take on Bubbles who was being confronted by a tiger. We also saw some boys follow his body movements and work in sync with him to be a part of story telling. It was indeed a magical experience.
Just so that you get a chance to peek into this magical and mesmerizing experience, here is attached a small video of Vikram in action with my boys.
I had not had a chance to write about this earlier, but we are greatly indebted to you Vikram Sridhar. We all from SK want to thank you so much for bringing laughter, light and fluffiness into our little world.
Lastly, we are in need of more story-tellers who can come and volunteer for our boys and help the kids not just get in touch with the stories told but actually get a chance to expand on their own stories and thus make the step of stories more closer to Autism than it would have been without such experiences.