Tamya and I were walking this morning in a garden of forking paths in the rainforest. A beautiful day, sunny but not hot, autumnal just enough to wear a sweater without sweating. The dead conifer leaves piling on the ground warmed up to the sun which in return to its warmth had to give away a distinctively sweet chypre aroma. As we approached the forest, and Tamya decided to go in instead of observing the ducks and Canadian geese in the Lost Lagoon. From than on she was the navigator: in each intersection I asked her to make a choice, by either pointing to where she wanted to go or leading us there. This reminded me of how far we have gone since she was little about communicating to me what she wants, and also made me contemplate once more the challenge of making choices, of screening out information, and of structure and discipline versus choice and leisure.
Our hardest days and most difficult times are not during the week, when the routine is rather structured, but rather – in the weekends, when the boundaries are loose, you can choose whatever you want, and there are so many confusing things to choose from. Quite overwhelming, actually, when you think about it.
Imagine this metaphor: Tamya is in a maze. She is not sure what she is doing there. She only knows that she feels terribly uncomfortable. What she sees as options to choose from is not just the next cross of paths but also the possibilities of climbing over the hedges, digging underneath them, trying to go through them, and perhaps even consuming them until an escape hole is formed. Of course these are all excellent possibilities in theory, but these are probably just 4 ideas out of perhaps a hundred that goes through Tamya’s mind in a few seconds, in a state of panic and extreme discomfort. This is no picnic.
Yet, we expect people like Tamya to make choices every day. And we do so because we care. Making choices, also known as decision making, is one of the most important life skills, and as a parent I want my child to learn that skill and be able to survive and live a happy and healthy life. We need to make choices all the time. Helping a young child with autism or a similar challenge (i.e.: anxiety around changes and transitions) to learn that skill is perhaps more important than any other life skill. Choice is what separates us from other forms of existence, and without making choices, the life of my child will be lead by others!
This can be done everyday, simply by helping the child narrow down the options. Do you want to turn left or right? What is your choice – salad or apple? (This is also a known trick to get your child to acquire healthy nutritional habits). Hopefully, the child will gradually develop the tools to recognize a few options out of myriads of possibilities that exist at any given time, and be able to make a choice within a reasonable time frame.
P.s. Comment on this post or on any of the next few Blogala posts over the weekend and I will make a $1 donation per each reader who commented to the Autism Communication Training of BC