My oldest (who is autistic) just returned from a weeklong trip going to theme parks on the East Coast with the goal to ride as many roller coasters as possible! Not my idea of a great time but something they’ve been looking forward to for a long time.
The trip made me a little sentimental. First off, my baby was covering over 1000 miles of driving on their own and second managing all the things that go along with that, like making sure there’s gas in the car and having food to eat and checking into hotels.
I have to be honest, if you would’ve asked me 15 years ago if such a thing would be possible, I would’ve said absolutely not.
I reflect on that child who had such difficulty communicating with us and became easily frustrated when we didn’t know what they needed. And I remember thinking that I would do whatever it took to make sure they would be able to find joy in their life.
The Beginning Steps for Communication
One of the very first things we had to do to begin to develop that communication was the simple concept of eyes. Yes, like your eyeballs. When in-home therapy first started, we started with the most basic goals. In this case, that meant getting them to look at you when you said their name. And quite frankly, that tactic didn’t always work because I believe they knew we didn’t always have anything that interesting to say.
But as time went on, we learned that we should not reply to their requests until we were able to get them to make eye contact with us. Kids are motivated by different things, but in our case, our oldest was motivated by food. We realized that our child often avoided making eye contact with us. This could be because they were happy with what they were doing or were so intently focused on. So to address this, we decided to start using food to help them understand that eye contact was the behavior we were looking for. M&M’s did the trick. Every time our child looked at us when we said their name, they got an M&M. Guess what? They learned that when someone said their name, the behavior we were looking for was to make eye contact.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying before if I had a nickel for every time something happened. Well, if I had a nickel for every time I had to say the word eyes, let’s just say Orange Effect would be self funded, lol. The moral of the story though is that it worked! It was the first of many steps that were necessary to get to the end goal: having a person who could become more comfortable in social situations. And as a result, who eventually could go on a roller coaster trip on their own!