Caregivers sometimes wonder if they are fighting a losing battle. One dad said, “Sometimes it seems that my son takes two steps backward for every one step he takes forward.” A teacher said, “Two of my students diagnosed with autism need help in so many different areas – social skills, communication, behavior, academics – it sometimes feels like we are just constantly putting out little fires.”
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SOME THOUGHTS. Because autism affects several areas of functioning that have a big impact on daily life, caregivers can feel swamped. Family members, teachers, therapists, and others interested in the well-being of an individual diagnosed with autism are often helping with communication skills, social skills, and adaptive skills while at the same time trying to help manage behavior. One principle that can help maintain focus while wandering through this complex maze is this: Consider “success” or “progress” on a spectrum rather than as a “pass-fail” or an “all-or-nothing” outcome.
For example, if a youngster screams and cries 50 minutes of every hour, most adults would want the noise to drop to nothing immediately. They would want peace and quiet 100% of the time. But, in reality, decreasing screaming to only 49 minutes is a step in the right direction. Granted, 49 minutes of screaming doesn’t feel successful, but every step forward needs to be recognized and acknowledged. Eventually that 49 minutes of screaming every hour drops to 48, then 47, and down, down, down until finally, it is just an occasional outburst once every few days.
If a youngster ALWAYS scoots his plate on the floor, ALWAYS hits anyone who comes near, ALWAYS throws any item you put in his hands, ALWAYS bites her arm when you close the story book, or ALWAYS runs out any open door, we need to be watching carefully for the ONE time their pattern changes. And we purposefully teach the skill and give lots of opportunities to practice so we can help get things set up for that ONE success. For example, when a child throws every music instrument he touches, I sit very close and hold out a bag of maracas. When he reaches down to take a maraca, I quickly put my hand over his, sing a quick song while we shake together, then help guide his hand to drop his maraca in the bag. We do this week after week in music therapy with my hand gradually moving away, and – VOILA! – one day he picks up a maraca, plays a quick song, and then puts the maraca back in the bag. Sometimes that process takes two weeks, and sometimes it takes two years. He may have moved very gradually along that spectrum of success, but he finally made it to the end of the journey.
NOTE TO LISTENERS AND READERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. You can click on a button to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solutions. Check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. www.FAQautism.com