In my first few years as a Developmental Psychologist I really grappled with understanding Autism, and what as therapists are we trying to achieve with our children. Have I understood Autism completely, NOT AT ALL! I don’t think anyone gets it completely. However, do I know what we are working towards, YES!
Whenever I have worked with young budding therapists, while training them, the biggest challenge has been on helping them figure out goals of therapy. There is no handbook on what to do, how to do it. It’s a journey for all of us, to make sense of it in our own way. But what I always hope that the message I am able to hit home on is our main primary goal, which should be the base of all goals. With out which all therapy is pointless.
So what is this goal – INTENT.
Why do infants start interacting, babbling, call out to us… because of the innate tendency in them to want to connect with us, and knowing we can comfort them. What starts as a need based communication develops into an intent to want to be part of a social group, whether it be family or friends. Why do we learn to talk, label, and form sentences, with the intent to communicate with others. Why do we learn different skills, try to increase our knowledge about certain fields, because of the intent to want to learn, to excel and at times to maybe share with others. Why do we learn to label our emotions, label other’s emotions, learn to regulate our emotions, because of the intent to be able to share our experiences and at times be emotional containers for others. Unknowingly all our actions our marked by an intent to achieve something. Yes, sometimes this intent can be blindsided by other overwhelming experiences, but then we return to be ourselves, because we want to be in control.
So then why is it that when we work with our children on the spectrum that we forget about intent. ASD is a human condition and so we need to take a humanistic approach to it. We spend hours teaching our children labels, academic frameworks, mastering their talents, socialistic norms…. But are we producing robots with scripted templates, or are we trying to create people with individual differences who through their own experiences can create appropriate responses.
I think any form of therapy should be driven by intent. Intent understood by the client and therapist. If we are teaching our child to look at us then he should know the power behind that functional eye contact, and hence be motivated to use it without constant reminders. If it is words we are trying to teach our child, she should know the context in which to use those words, so that when she masters that word, we know why she is saying it and that leads to her understanding the power of communication.
And how do we teach our children this intent – through the magic of Connect. If we learn to connect with our children, enter their world, be with them, decoding and showing them how their ‘meaningless’ ways make sense to us. And then, only then, try to substitute it with appropriate actions or words, instead of bombarding them with information that has no base for them and thus makes no sense to them.
For any of our children to learn, they need to know us, trust us and want to be with us, and then any goal can be attainable. So join them, play with them, sing to to them, dance with them, babble away and join them when they run around flapping their hands And then when they really see you, and want to be with you, then show them some of your ways. You will be amazed how they catch on, and at times we will also realise when they don’t need to catch on.