When guiding children with autism, caregivers often face the daunting task of figuring out the most effective techniques to use. In this article, Mr Raj, whose son Kirisnah attends our Sheltered Workshop programme, shares his reflection on how the effective use of techniques helped him to guide Kirisnah in achieving the desired learning outcomes.
When Kirisnah was young, I was both amazed and perplexed by the vast number of techniques that were available to help our children learn. Whether it’s for improving social communication, managing personal emotions or developing life skills, there is no lack of techniques out there.
To identify and use the appropriate techniques, it is important to acknowledge the different teaching pedagogies behind each technique. Acquiring knowledge and appreciating the learning outcomes are also critical in helping caregivers to select the right technique(s) to achieve the desired goal.
In my previous article, I opined that just like how no two biryanis will taste the same, children with autism all have different personalities and preferences. The sheer number of techniques merely reflects the neurodiversity within the autism community. Every technique serves to tackle the child’s specific need at a point in time.
The First Haircut
Let me share with you an incident that involved my son’s first haircut.
Initially, I thought that the process of preparing my child for his first haircut seemed manageable. So, I brought him to the barber to familiarise him with the process. My son sat and watched me get a haircut. He was smiling and did a pretend play of cutting his own hair with his fingers. I presumed he knew the process and would be comfortable when it was his turn.
I was so wrong.
When it was his turn, he started screaming each time the electronic shaver came close to his head. My wife and I, along with two barbers attempted to calm him down. But our efforts were futile. The haircut did not take place. We apologised to the owner and left the place feeling dejected.
I wondered what was it that went wrong. We have prepared our son as best as we can. Yet, we failed. It only crossed my mind after a while that he did not have a hands-on experience. From his viewpoint, I was the one undergoing the haircut.
My wife and I decided to create an enactment. Through pretend play, we familiarised him with the haircut process, feeling confident that this would alleviate his anxieties.
What can I say… it was a failed mission again.
We felt as if we were back to the starting point. I kept asking myself where did those attempts fail? Have we not tried hard enough? Or did we fail to see certain blind spots with our approach?
Over the next few days, I did some serious reflection over what has transcended. Finally, it dawned upon me that I had overlooked my son’s sensory issues. That the sound produced by the electronic shaver was repulsive to him. His sensitivity towards “high pitched sounds” was the tumbling block.
Before our trip, I prepared ear plugs for my son as I ran through the haircut process systematically with him. I told him that the ear plugs will help to muffle the sound of the electronic shaver.
On the actual day, my son’s haircut went smoothly. Unlike the previous trips, he enjoyed his haircut and hair wash this time round. There was no resistance from him. Finally, I thought to myself, “Phew… good ending.”
This was just one of the many challenges I have faced with my son’s autism. Over the years, I had my fair share of winning and losing. It has been humbling. It also broadened my experiences and changed my perspective towards applying techniques.
Understanding the Child’s Needs and Preferences
My personal take is that we can have many techniques in our toolkit, but our intervention is likely to fail if we disregard or fail to realise our children’s needs and preferences. By insisting on implementing our original intervention without reflection, we will be forcing our own views without addressing our children’s struggle with autism.
At times, the challenges that we face may take on a different form (for instance, our children’s own resistance to change may pose a challenge), or that the presenting issue may be completely different from past incidents. This will require us to innovate and integrate the techniques we know to create an effective intervention.
Assess Readiness Level for the Activity
In short, it is essential to assess our children’s preferences and readiness level for an activity before implementing any intervention. If not, we are likely to encounter resistance from our children. We must accept that our children need time to adjust and learn. Therefore, we need to strike a balance between applying a chosen technique and incorporating other techniques to complement our children’s needs, learning ability and readiness. Doing so helps us to obtain the desired outcomes.
To conclude, parenting is a lifelong journey. We must constantly strive to understand and explore our children’s changing needs. With this knowledge, it helps us to customise our intervention techniques to suit our children. In fact, every day is a revelation for us to see our children in a new light. It also presents opportunities to review our intervention techniques, learn new techniques, trial the same technique in a new situation or simply wait for our children to give us a cue.
Like yours, my journey continues. Let us maintain our faith and go with the flow.