Monday, October 24, 2011

Autism Therapy - Making a Connection

A person with autism may among other things: avoid eye contact, prefer to be alone, may not speak at all or be severely language delayed and may be unable to initiate or engage in a conversation. Because of this many people mistakenly think these children/adults prefer to be alone and play by themselves.

There are many studies that show that this is NOT the case. They do want to relate to others, but simply cannot handle the anxiety of trying to build and maintain relationships that they do not have the skills to hang on to.

In order to teach them these skills we need to first make a connection with them. They need to be foremost, interested and a willing participant; anything less and a positive outcome could be negligible if at all. So how do we break this barrier?

A growing number of therapists' and organizations' have been breaking the barrier and making a connection using two methods. Animals and technology, although they are on opposite ends of a spectrum, both have proven to be highly effective in helping therapists make a connection and build a meaningful relationship with their client/child. In many instances allowing the client/child to flourish and meet or even surpass their goals.

Animals have been used in the therapy environment as motivators, ice breakers and over all to enhance therapeutic outcomes. Animals are non-judgmental, give affection unconditionally, and provide opportunities for physical and emotional therapy.

One organization in particular has had extraordinary success with a potbellied pig whose name is "Buttercup". When the therapist was asked, why a pig? She didn't hesitate in responding "Unlike a dog, there are no preconceived notions about a pig, no barking, no jumping and no licking. Oh yes, and his prickly hair makes petting him a pleasure, almost addicting. Not to mention his uniqueness factor which most of the time leaves such an impression; many clients ask for Buttercup whenever they get a chance. This wouldn't be such a big deal in a normal circumstance, but coming from a child who has never spoken a full sentence, it's a cause for excitement."

Technology is also growing in popularity. With the advent of devices such as the ipad and the itouch from Apple and software like Proloque2-Go teaching skills and communicating has taken a turn for the better. No longer are the lanky, heavy output devices traditionally used (many of which ended up being used for door stops) needed in order for a child with autism to communicate effectively. Whether you are using voice output, building vocabulary, correcting articulation or strengthening muscle coordination these devices make is easier, more fun and reinforcing. Students/clients will sit quietly and wait in line for a chance to use the magical device for just a few minutes.

I n both of these methods the child/client is interested in engagement, the therapists uses this opportunity develop a meaningful relationship with the student/child. Once the barrier has been eliminated and a solid relationship established, the ability to learn life skills has been maximized.

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