When Ben was younger and before the many interventions and therapies we embarked on in a bid to reach him, it was very obvious that he had difficulties in social situations.. .he just didn't interact at all. In his own world he laughed and flapped and flicked and lined things up and people were merely objects to be used to gain access to his needs or wants. Now autism is much harder to spot in Ben - in fact I am sure there are those who would dispute the diagnosis (or maybe I am fooling myself). Ben wants desperately to interact with people. He chats to everyone he meets, follows strangers around asking them the familiar questions (what is their name and what is their website called?) but yet his interaction is certainly not like other children. Lorna Wing (Wing and Gould 1979) noted that autistic children fell into certain categories: 'aloof', 'passive' or 'active but odd'. Ben is most definitely the 'active but odd' autistic child. Ben now wants to interact with people but to do so he climbs up onto their lap without any regard for the fact that he is walking all over someone, then physically uses both hands to turn their faces in the direction he wants them to look. If Ben wants something doing, any one of us, stranger or family member, will suddenly be grabbed by the wrist, pulled off our chairs without a backward glance and dragged off to perform whatever task he wants us to undertake.
Some children will interact but only on their own terms, taking little notice of the other person; some children want to communicate but are not sure how to do so; some children do not interact well with other children but do so with adults; some children do not want to interact at all and get angry or upset when forced to do so. Just as every child is different, so too the triad ofimpairments manifests in them all differently. Of course with so many people experiencing difficulties in social interaction in so many ways, it begs the question as to who decides what constitutes an impairment and how it is defined. Social interaction is a two-way process so surely there must be difficulties on both sides?
As parents, this is one area that we are desperate to work on -probably for selfish reasons to begin with as much as for our child's sake. Mimicking a child's behaviour and sounds or singing songs about what they are doing can often engage a child's attention but children vary, needing different approaches to encourage them to interact.
When Ben was far away I tried everything possible to get him to take notice of me. I wanted to share his world, to look at books with him, to play with him and for us to enjoy each other. As with many autistic children, Ben was unable to share joint attention and look where I was pointing. Just occasionally he looked at my finger. For me this was important, others may not consider it so. I worked with Ben daily for over a year, by colouring the end of my finger in red and trailing a long length of red ribbon towards a red smiley face on the window. As I traced my finger along the coloured ribbon I walked with Ben who, liking straight lines, was fascinated. Over time (it seemed a long time) I was able to reduce the length of the ribbon and point my coloured finger over to it before following it up to the window. After months of work and changing the colours, Ben learned to look at where my finger was pointing and it is now something I take for granted.
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