Some of my friends diagnosed with autism seem to be engrossed in their own internal world and rather oblivious to people and events around them, only initiating contact when they want something. But occasionally even the most detached person looks up and reaches out for no apparent reason. A music therapy colleague, Roia Rafieyan, describes that unexpected personal connection as “a glorious moment when we see the shift from ‘Aaaugh! Who ARE you and why are you in my space?’ to ‘Hey, where have you been all my life?”
A pre-schooler – struggling with transition from home to school – spent most of the morning screaming, crying, throwing anything within reach, and running from anyone who approached him. Through the patient and consistent work of his teachers, family, and therapists, he gradually began calming down for a few minutes at a time when he played with no adults near. After 8 months, the youngster still spent most of the day in a very agitated state and particularly resisted structured activities and the presence of adults. One day recently I walked in the room for music therapy with three other students. Out of the blue, the 4-year-old stood and took my hand, “pulled” me over to the music therapy circle time area, sat in a chair, and reached out for the guitar. He looked up as if to say, “Come on! Start singing.” So, of course, I did, but in a rather shaky voice with tears in my eyes because I certainly was not expecting this youngster to reach out and make personal connection.
This is not a story of a miraculous cure or a complete transformation. The youngster still spends most of each day at home and school in an agitated state and resists contact with any adult. But his reaching out that day is one of many examples I see in my work of unexpected personal connections initiated by individuals who seem to be engrossed in their own worlds or resistant to interpersonal relationships.
The attempts to connect can be very subtle. Some of my friends with autism resistant to personal interaction may start occasionally glancing toward other people. Others may move a bit closer to a group gathering or allow someone to sit a bit closer to them. Still others become quieter or more calm for a few minutes when they notice another person close by. So, stay alert so you can take note of and respond to any unexpected personal connections.
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: 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. Feel free to send me a confidential email at talk@FAQautism.com with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com