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Friday, February 11, 2011

Getting Perspective

When you live or work with a person on the autism spectrum, you need to develop good problem-solving skills. Upsets happen on a regular basis, and they can often be "show stoppers". Many times, we are asking the ASD individual to understand the perspective of the "rest of the world" and giving them the message (intended or not) that they have to "get used to it" and "that's just the way things are". But why should the social majority get to define the solution and say what's right?

Perspective is an important part of problem-solving - if we're going to find a workable solution, I want you to see my point of view and you need me to understand where you're coming from. It has been my experience that if you really want an effective and lasting solution to a challenging behaviour or upset, the place to start is to see the situation through the eyes of the person with autism. This can be a difficult proposition, especially if the person with ASD has weak (or non-existent) expressive communication skills. Keep in mind that even an individual who can usually express themselves verbally can find that their language skills desert them when emotions run high.

To get around the expressive language weakness, drawing is an excellent tool.  Following is an example from Adam's life where expressive drawing was useful in solving a real-life problem:

When Adam was in junior school, a program was put in place to teach greetings – he panicked in the hallways and was very distressed when other students greeted him. We wanted to find out why he was upset, so I drew the first picture (setting up the situation) and he drew the next 3 unprompted.

The girl says “Hi” – the locker door slams. The third picture is, I think, the most interesting – it took us a little bit to figure out the perspective – that’s Adam hiding inside the locker looking out at the scary “greeting girl” through the locker vents – note the clearly expressed emotion. At last, the girl gives up, and Adam is relieved and free to leave. We didn’t know why the greeting interaction was so scary for him, but we respected the fact that it was, and dropped the program. Interesting that several years later, in high school, he spontaneously started to greet people. He was ready, the situation made sense to him, and most importantly, his perception had developed to the point where he could reliably tell one person from another.

Real solutions happen when all of the individuals involved in a challenging situation feel that they have been heard and understood, and where the resolution shows respect for each person's point of view. People with autism have their own way of looking at the world, their own slant on events, their own ideas about what would make things better. Our job as parents, teachers and therapists is not to make ASD individuals do things just like everybody else, it's to help them find a way to be comfortable and cope with a world where the social rules were not made by them or for them - when both sides give a little, it tends to work out better in the end.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you.

    Greetings can be scary.

    I can see how Adam was feeling.

    (slide 3 shows how the person was broken up).