People are often curious what is the ‘secret to my success’ when working with children with autism and I reply by saying… “I always work with the strengths and motivations of the children I treat.”
Working in this way is a ‘no brainer’ to me and it puzzles me why more professionals do not work in this way.
It doesn’t matter what your child is motivated by, you can always use this to build other areas of development. Let me give you an example…
Yesterday I was treating a boy that really enjoyed carrying around his plastic cup and spoon. He tended to do this a lot, and his mum Mary was frustrated because she wanted him to put down the cup and spoon and play with her.
I said to Mary “Could you please bring me another cup and spoon?”. I then started to join Matthew banging the cup and spoon together because I knew that he really enjoyed interesting sounds. Instantly, I had a beautiful connection with Matthew and we were both enjoying the interaction.
After we did this for a little while I started to tap the metal spoon on my teeth (another interesting sound for Matthew), and sure enough he started to copy this with a big smile on his face. We spent the next 20 minutes playing together, finding all the other things that created special sounds.
So we were having a lovely time, but what was Matthew learning??… Good question… and the answer is, an enormous amount, and I’ll tell you why.
Matthew has language but he only uses it to request things that he wants. This is great, but the majority of the time we also use language to comment and share our thoughts, ideas and feelings with others. How unfortunate would it be for Matthew to only use his language to request for his needs and wants in life! Mary so desperately wants him to share so much more with his language, like what he did at preschool for the day. I couldn’t agree with her more!
‘Sharing’ thoughts and ‘sharing’ emotions are prerequisites for ‘sharing’ our language. If you think about it, a 12 month old child before they start using their language effectively will share their thoughts and emotions by pointing things out, smiling, eye gazing, bringing objects to you to showing you, etc which are all foundations of sharing thoughts and ideas. When that child is ready to really start using their language, they will already have developed the skills to be able to share things like what they did in their day or to show-off when learning to ride a bike etc.
This type of ‘sharing’ is one of the core deficits in children with autism, but it is certainly possible for them to develop these skills.
Getting back to my session with Matthew…
My goal was to demonstrate to him that I am a fun play partner who is really interested in ‘sharing’ in his world and also that it’s fun and safe for him to ‘share’ in my world. So by playing with the cup and spoon and remaining very goal focused, we were in fact ‘moving mountains’!
I recommended to Mary that she have a listen to my audio recording “7 Steps to Unlocking Your Child’s Social Skills” to learn more about effective ways that she could carry out this type of therapy with Matthew.
Discovering what really makes your child ‘tick’ and joining them in their world is such a powerful technique and relevant for children right across the autism spectrum.
Just remember that by staying focused on your goals it doesn’t matter whether you are playing chasings, bubbles or engaging in some imaginary play with cars, trains and animals. All that matters is that the play is motivating and energises your child!
P.S: Please leave any questions or comments below