While glancing over the news from Autism World via Facebook I came across another one of these "Shock Horror - Autistic Person Demonstrates they can Think!" Youtube clips which I always have to say "Der!" to.
I mean, why is it only when the autistic person finds a way to reach the "normals" that those normals can accept that they are fully functional intelligent human beings?
And I couldn't help but wonder....
Why aren't these parents learning to understand their children before they exhibit these so-called savant characteristics?
Are they waiting for them to be fixed before they will truly connect?
This isn't a new thought for me. Since working on my Grace App and communicating with a large number of parents and teachers about the ways in which they can introduce virtual picture communication with their kids, I am realising that many of them seem to have no idea what their kids actually like. They know what they want their kids to like, and seem determined to impose this upon them.
This is not a problem unique to Autism or Special Needs. It is no different from the Dad who wants his son to play with cars and trucks, and cannot cope with him preferring The Pink Power Ranger.
Or a mum that wants to play Barbies - and keeps imposing that anatomically impossible doll in all her permutations on her daughter, but refuses to buy her the Lego Set that she really wants.
Well, one day that little boy is going to make a lot of women happy (by designing their shoes?!) and that little girl might just be the next I.M.Pei or Frank Gehry.
For the record, I absolutely lived for my Barbies! I could play for hours, designing cardboard dream homes and making hankie-chief bikinis that fell off when she went in the pool. But Gracie has never so much as looked at a doll. She likes Muppet toys with their easy to read faces.
Boo has owned a baby doll (that someone gave us for Grace) and started carrying her around when his tutor had a baby. He named her "Eric Bana" and we collected a car seat, buggy and various feeding spoons and bottles before he lost interest.
Like a lot of kids with autism, neither of my kids seemed to know how to "play" when they were small. Boo used to line up animal toys in formations, and chew the wheels off his cars and Thomas Trains; Grace was a "collector" walking around picking up tiny bits of litter like sweetie wrappers and drink straws and putting them all in one place.
My Dad followed her around the playground once watching and stopping her whenever she picked up a cigarette butt, but otherwise letting her do it as it seemed to make her happy.
You see, the key to reaching out to my kids wasn't the hundreds of euros worth of "Imitation" play toys that I bought at the toy shop for Santy to deliver. They had usually lost interest before we had got them out of the packaging.
It was following what they liked, and then using it to get them to include ME in THEIR play.
Boo's first love was animals - Even-Toed Ungulates to be exact as I learned when I watched him googling; or Antelopes, Impala, Ibex, Springbok, Bonteboks, Bongos, and Wildebeest to you and me.
So I learned to put on Attenborough documentaries and watch them WITH him, taking note of which bits seemed to interest him most. Then re-enacting the Nile Crocodiles Ambushing Wildebeest while crossing the Mara River scene - or a row of tinfoil spread across the living room floor with all his plastic animals arranged appropriately as it was in our case.
I also watched and learned which nursery rhymes and fairy tales he liked, learned to recite them WITH him on demand and slowly started to correct his grammer or make adjustments to the intonation he was using, in order to develop his speech.
To this day I can still manipulate Boo into coming for a walk around the Botanic Gardens in Ballarat, by telling him we'll see the Iron Giant (which is really a statue of William Wallace), because these days he likes films.
Grace has learned to role-play beautifully via her Muppet and other TV character toys. She has a huge collection of Teletubbies, Tweenies, Hoobs, Fimbles, and everything Jim Henson ever invented and they all live up in the Attic with Boo and his Wild Animal Toys.
One by one they get brought down for a sleep over, or to watch themselves on Video, or even at one crucial stage; to go to the toilet or brush their teeth. Grover, Cookie, Groove, Ivor, Elmo and Tula all have mouths encrusted with old toothpaste from this phase. Ojo the little girl bear was mercifully left on the floor during the toileting stage, but we knew when she was being carried to the bathroom that is was time for Gracie to do her "thing". And she did it happily thanks to Ojo and Potty Time with Bear.
She also learns to make her toast, dress herself and is able to identify her body parts via her interest in Elmo, Oswald and Cookie Monster et al.
This is the application of the analysis of her interests, or ABA.
You see ABA is a science that informs everything we do with our kids, and not a "thing" like a game of checkers that you can stop and start (or be told to stop and start.)
We are always looking for what matters the most to our kids, and using it to teach them all the other things they need, in order to be a part of our world. Because our world is a much better place with them in it.
So I guess the message here is that our kids learn best by doing what THEY like. So why not sit down and watch their shows with them, or have a go at playing on the websites and games prefer; so that YOU can make the connection with them, and create a means to communicate on their terms.
If you want to learn more about using your child's real interests to teach them everything - email me for a reinforcer inventory on firstname.lastname@example.org