This simple two step exercise is designed to sensitively breakthrough the social barriers that can sometimes isolate a child who has autism, by building a way into their world that can allow them to take steps into ours.
The world can be a very overwhelming experience for a child on the autistic spectrum, causing them to retreat into their own imaginary world and avoid as many social interactions as is possible. This can be particularly difficult for a parent because it appears`as though their child chose to shut themselves off from the people who love them most, showing almost no emotion and no understanding as to why this would make a loved one feel sad.
When this happens it’s essential that we acknowledge the differences in which many people with autism sees the world. Once we understand this we can go on to discover new ways to communicate and interact that can open up a way for you to enter their world and lead them to find their way to yours. The desire to connect is there, it’s just that you are both yet to discover how to do it.
When someone with autism isolates themselves from everyone It’s as though they are shielded with this force-field and you are stuck on the outside looking in. Although you are together it can feel like you both living in different mental realities, sharing very little common ground. It’s important that you create a way into their world by finding a place where you can work together.
Their force field and the area inside is ‘The Perceptual World’ (Here they have the ability to interpret or become aware of something through their senses). And everything outside of the force field is ‘The Conceptual World’. (Here we have the ability to formulate an abstract philosophy or imagined ideas to explain the world which cannot be proven or seen). We must enter the perceptual world by using techniques and communication suited to a perceptual mindset and then guide them to the conceptual world by slowly introducing new techniques and new communication that we use with a more conceptual mindset.
Step 1 – Their Perceptual World
To start we enter their perceptual world with a collection of new perceptual experiences we can use to start building trust and eventually a friendship. These perceptual experiences can be anything that stimulates the senses, something they find to be cool or interesting. A collection of textured blocks, a light up spinning top or a sheet of colourful stickers
. It doesn’t really matter if you feel like they haven’t really noticed that you are there, by introducing and demonstrating each new sensory experiences and allowing them to watch, then try for themselves, you are both engaged in an exchange as co-participants. This is a breakthrough moment because you are now sharing an activity together in their perceptual world.
Step 2 – Our Shared Conceptual World
the next step involves introducing bite size parts from the conceptual world remembering that this is the world that appears most alien to a person with autism so It’s important that each step is really easy to take. You can begin by introducing some picture cards depicting items you have just exchanged in step 1. Picture cards which show an image of a light up spinning top, an image of a collection of texture blocks and an image of a child arranging different coloured stickers
. This is allowing them to step into the conceptual world by encouraging a curious interested in the pictures whereas the first was trying to encourage a behavior. Thinking about the objects shown on the picture cards is very different because they are thinking about something that’s not physically there or occurring in that moment. You can then go on to introducing new activities along with their picture cards to trigger a period of time where they can think about the activities conceptually. Introduce the card first with some discussion and then introduce the activity that is shown on the card. Working this exercise into a weekly routine can be the start of a rewarding new experience where you pave the way for someone with autism to access their ability to think conceptually for themselves when they want to.
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