By Wendy Harron - December 6, 2011
Fireworks! Autism Spectrum, Social Interaction and IM!
Children who are on the Autism Spectrum generally have great difficulty with their social skills. They don’t know when or how to interact with others. Following conversations is very difficult for them as is giving eye contact. It seems that they are sometimes “Out of Sync” with their environment and the people who are in it.
I worked with a 7-year-old boy this summer who had a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. He was on the high end of the spectrum, attending a typical 1st grade class with no therapeutic or educational support. His mom reported that he had “come a long way”. But she had concerns about his core strength, fatigue level and social skills.
After several weeks of traditional OT with a sensory integration approach, we decided that IM might be helpful for him as well. When watching him perform activities, although he was now stronger, he continued to have difficulty with his rhythm and timing – making him appear to be clumsy and uncoordinated. Although he talked a lot, his conversations were very one sided, he didn’t really ever ask questions about others, and never seemed to interact with other children. When in social situations, he gravitated towards adults who though he was just so cute that they would stop and just listen to him use his big words and complicated explanations of things.
When we were half way through our IM sessions (4th week of 2x/week) it happened to be the 4th of July. Mom had told me that they were going to try fireworks again this year and that they were bringing two cars so when her son became upset, she could take him home, and his father would stay with the other siblings. The fireworks were being held in a huge garden and were being coordinated with live orchestra music. She was thinking that they were facing a disaster, but she wanted him to participate in a family event.
The following Tuesday, they came back in and his mom was all smiles. She told me that they had a wonderful time at the fireworks event! She was honestly thrilled, and still a bit tearful when she told me about the fun time they had. They were sitting on their blanket next to another family with a little girl who was about the same age as her son. During the music, the little girl stood up and started dancing. Her son watched for a bit, and then stood up and started dancing beside her – and then they joined hands and started dancing together! Through the concert and then fireworks he was very interactive with not only this one other little girl, but with other children that started gathering around them. Mom said she heard him asking and answering questions, he was looking at them in the eye and playing simple games such as tag with them. He had never acted like this before.
When I asked her what she thought had changed, she said she though a switch was flipped in his brain. She thought he seemed to be able to know when to interact, and how to pay attention to other people’s conversations. She thought that his improved focus allowed him to actually look at people’s faces, and start to read their body language better. He was more aware of other people and what they were doing. After this wonderful event had happened, mom started to notice that he interacted more with his siblings. He started playing cooperative video games with his brother and some pretend play started to emerge with his sister.
Over the summer, they had opportunities to try things that he hadn’t done before. They spent a day at an amusement park with only minor meltdowns, he was able to stand in line and verbally give feedback as to how his day was going. He attended Vacation Bible School at their church, and began to attend Sunday school classes with his other siblings. Things weren’t perfect, but they were much better than they had been before!
At the end of the summer, mom was very excited for her son to start 2nd grade. She felt that he had gained new confidence and ability to interact with his peers and even his teacher in the classroom. She was also going to sign him up for a social skills class to help him continue to develop his skills. She was hoping that IM gave him a foundation that he had been missing for so long.