Young Adult with Autism
A young adult male, struggles to participate with others, including his own family. He is pleasant, recognizes participation, and is eager to join, but he cannot quite figure out what to say, when to join in, or how to keep it going. His connections to others are fleeting and his recall of events or memories of time spent with others are scattered. When he is at home, he usually spends his time alone.
His parents are frustrated, having utilized many formats and programs in the past with limited success.
Traditional corrections or praises have not worked. Tracking participation through charts and rewards has had little or no effect. They find themselves repeating comments and commands, over and over with no change in response. They have no idea where to start.
Our first step was to interrupt his isolation.
Taking the effort to connect frequently during the day, with recognition or acknowledgment is a great place to start. Connections are fleeting with no response required can be as simple as Psst…”there you are” or “hmm…you look hungry…not sure if you want to eat?”
Connecting frequently during the day, with small moments rather than engaging in more lengthy conversations allow connections to accrue over time without overload. Since we don’t know where the overload point is, we keep our connections and comments simple, until that point can be identified.
Simple moments in real time are natural connections that register in the experience. The “ah, ha” moment stands out. Memory is built through connections that register an experience.
The challenge for the family, was to have patience.
The practice of simplicity appears easy but is difficult to master. Simplicity adds clarity in their communication. Simplify the message with a demonstration and don’t expect any particular response or participation. In your practice, think charades. A simple gesture to a chare implies sitting down. A big grin spotlights a connection. It is tempting to “fill in the blanks” or correct when we recognize a struggle. But, adding information just complicates the exchange.
Our traditional method for giving hints to someone who is struggling, is to correct them. Resist the urge! The “ah ha” moments do not belong to you; they are for the student. It is much more effective to use gestures and demonstrations. The silence of the demonstration adds clarity that can have a surprisingly positive effect. Eliminating competing elements allows the brain to process the important information. A symbol or gesture doesn’t disrupt connection; it adds clarity.
In the case of our young man, we started with activities of participation that had few rules and little or no measurement. Limited directions were ideal. Car washing was our first group activity. Not much accuracy, measuring o expectation of an outcome. If the car had water, soap, rinsing and some drying, it would be a good experiment. Accuracy was optional and the objective was that we were doing something together that required some coordination. If you got wet, soapy, or left spots, there was really no consequences or danger.
His parents orchestrated turns: rinsing, soaping, rinsing, soaping. It all went well. When it was their son’s turn for spraying or soaping, they moved in next to him and gestured what was next, indicating that it was his turn. If he didn’t understand, the parents made a more dramatic gesture to alert him. The parents orchestrated the concept of water, soap, water, soap. He was able to infer that when the tool was offered, it was his turn. It was fun and a shared experience.
The family was anxious for their son to have an activity outside of the home. After several months of practicing the Communication Diet, they felt that their son was ready to practice in public with a part-time job or volunteer position. He agreed. He was enthusiastic about joining others and proud to have the opportunity.
We did find an opportunity in small business. This was the perfect fit for a young man who desired more social exposure, but still struggled connecting to others. The changing population of customers allowed for the repetitiveness of his role to be individually experienced and appreciated. In addition, he was proud to have a job. It was an excellent fit.
As he practiced, he was able to gain insight as he observed customers. Recognizing those that needed help or had questions. Adapting his conversation to be of assistance. This was an unexpected benefit. He was very proud of his ability to assist customers and routinely asked if he could be of help.
The simplicity and clarity of his position allowed him to participate with ease. Developing the skills to be welcoming came naturally, and in time he was able to grow in his understanding and complexity of customer service. He continues to add additional assistance to customers and grow in his role as a valuable employee.