4. Eye contact can be extremely difficult, even confronting. Often, a person with autism can focus much better on what you are saying if they don’t have to look at your eyes.
5. There is a difference between a tantrum and an autistic meltdown. A tantrum is deliberate, when a child does not get something they want. A meltdown comes from an instinctual place, due to being overwhelmed – there is nothing deliberate about a meltdown. Where you deal with a tantrum through discipline, when someone is having a meltdown, they need to be protected and supported.
Remember, a person with autism is first and foremost a person. They may have a different abilities and unique challenges, but they deserve to be accepted and loved as every person deserves to be accepted and loved.
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Guest post by Cathy Dodge-Smith Ed.D.
Licensed Davis Autism Facilitator/Coach
I had one little seven-year-old in my office who was not very interested in what I had in mind for our agenda. For over an hour, he wandered around, chatted incessantly, touched things, and was generally in his own world. Even though he did address me from time to time, or ask me questions occasionally, he was not interested in my responses, often not even waiting for my reply. Finally, he stopped in mid-stream, came to my little table where I was waiting for him, and looked me in the eye and said clearly, “OK. What are we meant to be doing?” I told him what I wanted him to do, and he sat right down and did it. He was totally with me for about five minutes, and then got up and was “gone” again.
As individuation becomes more stable, the fleeting moments of orientation gradually expand, and the amount of time spent “gone” gradually is reduced. This is not something I am doing; it simply happens as the client becomes more comfortable being in an oriented state, and knows how to get there voluntarily.
I was once working with a young woman (26 years old) on the concept of “time”. When I talked about the earth rotating and us being on it,, she looked up with a beautiful expression on her face, and said the she suddenly felt “OK” and more balanced and connected being on this earth. She then told me that she gets goose bumps when she gets oriented, that things look so much clearer, not all fuzzy and shimmery. Her mother told me that, a short time later, she had arranged to meet my client for dinner at a restaurant. “Usually she is at least ½ hour late and is often annoyed when I call her. This time she calls slightly before she’s due and tells me she’ll be there in 10 minutes. And she is!” This represented a huge change for this client, one that may enable her eventually to become employed. She has always lost any job she could find because she could never be on time.
Davis Autism Approach is a natural, drug-free, and respectful way to assist an autistic individual in developing the capacity to participate fully in life. I feel honored to have been able to participate in its development, and to experience the joys its implementation bring to autistic individuals and their families.
Guest post by Dr Angela Gonzales
Licensed Davis Autism Facilitator/Coach and Workshop Presenter
What is a Meltdown and what is a Tantrum?
To understand this, we need to understand a little (don’t worry, very little) about neurotypical childhood development.
In neurotypical childhood development, there are stages. The end of the first stage of development occurs in neurotypical children around the age of two. The end of this stage is ushered in by the onset of individuation (a fancy word meaning the realization that we are separate, individual units from all the things and people around us). With individuation, we realize that we have personal wants and don’t-wants, and we decide it’s time to let everyone around us know what those are. The behavior that arises from this realization has been termed the “Terrible Two’s.” This period is characterized by Tantrums. You know what those are – when a two-year-old wants candy at checkout and you say “No,” yelling, crying, dropping to the floor, turning red, holding their breath, etc. ensues. There is some level of conscious control that is occurring during a tantrum. If the behavior is reinforced, it will continue. If the behavior is disciplined, consistently (not just the one time, people!) it will cease.
A Meltdown is something totally different.
If I see a lizard in my office, I am going to scream (I know this to be true because it has happened more than once). If someone steps on your foot, you are going to pull it away. You will not think about it first, it is instinctual. I cannot tell you why I scream when I see a lizard in the office and not when I see them outside, but I do. The response is generated from somewhere other than my conscious self. It is again, instinctual. You cannot tell me enough times not to scream when I see it for me not to scream.
When someone is having a meltdown, we cannot talk them through it! You cannot rationalize someone out of a meltdown because it is generated from that visceral place of instinctual response. It also doesn’t matter whether you think whatever has ‘triggered’ the meltdown is a reasonable thing to have a meltdown about. You do not get to determine that unless you are the one having the meltdown. Meltdown triggers are specific to the individual. It could be the texture of the mac-and-cheese, the fact that someone is too close to them, the feeling of the tag from a shirt, the smell of the neighbor’s cat, the sound of the bubbling spaghetti sauce… the possibilities are endless. So, the question then is, “what do we do”?
What does that mean?
It means, that if your kiddo is having a meltdown, remove them from the stimulus, protect them from more triggers, make their surroundings physically and emotionally safe, and do what you know calms them. Most of all, regulate your own response. Stay cool and even-tempered in your actions and emotions. These individuals respond more to how you are ‘being’ than what you are saying or doing.
If your child or student is exhibiting behavior that you know precedes a meltdown, remove them from the stimulus, attempt to redirect their attention and give them whatever they use for self-soothing. Again, get yourself in order – stay cool and even-tempered.
In the future, avoid those things that trigger meltdowns. You know what they are – because all parents are the world’s greatest project managers.
If, on the other hand, your child is having a tantrum – this is the time to remain calm and firm. If you told them they can’t have the candy at the cash register, then please do not give in. Remain consistent and let them know that if they continue the negative behavior (say this in ‘little kid’ terms) then (fill in the blank) is going to happen. Then if they continue, the (fill in the blank) has got to happen.
The more steadfast you are in your consistent response to tantrums, the shorter the terrible two’s (or terrible fourteens) will be.
Hope this helps. Love you all.
Remember, keep it simple.
To find out more about Dr Angie and what she offers, you can go to her website: Dr Angie's Place
My mother told me that, as an infant, in 1942, I was called a Kanner’s baby. Doctor Leo Kanner coined the term autism in 1943. I think this is why I was never actually labeled autistic; I’m older than the use of the word, but not older than the research done by Dr. Kanner.
My mother told me that as an infant, any physical touch from her would set me off. Even when she was trying to nurse me I would try to scream and suckle at the same time. She was so afraid that I would choke that she had to find a way of feeding me without touching me. Being my mother must have made her life a hundred times more difficult than that of other women. But in spite of everything, she loved me.
My father on the other hand was just the opposite. When he came home from WWII, he was surprised and ashamed to find that he was the father of a mentally deficient child. He never found a way to effectively deal with his own feelings, let alone how to deal with me. There is evidence of 27 broken bones in my body from the beatings he gave me out of his ignorance, frustration, shame, and hatred. I don’t have actual memory of most of the beatings, or of being an autistic child; but I do have a sense of it.
Way before I started working with autism or had any understanding of it, I referred to myself as having come from a void. My sense of the void was not as existing as an individual, but as existing as both nothing and everything at the same time. There was no sense of being an individual, so there was no “me”. There was no sense of identity. Without a “me”, there was no basis for memory or knowledge.
Somehow—by pure luck or by the grace of God—around the age of nine I began to individuate and develop out of the state of oblivion—out of the void. In hindsight, I can see there was about an eleven-year delay in my early development. Also, in hindsight, I can see there were three phases that I had to go through to become a human being.
First, I had to individuate, I had to stop being everything and nothing and become just one thing, my body. Second, I had to develop an identity for the thing I had become. And third, I had to adapt to the world of being human and become socially integrated.
So there are three phases our “seed” must go through in the process of becoming human— individuation—identity development—and social integration.
I think all “normal” humans, in the first few years of life, go through this same sequence naturally. Although identity development and social integration are never totally completed, there has to be enough to allow the individual to exist as a human being. I also think that some individuals either fail to start or sufficiently complete one or more of these three phases, and therein we can find autism.
If you are “normal”, you’ve already done it—you did it naturally, and you did it totally by chance. If you happen to be autistic, you haven’t completed it yet. The Davis Autism Approach is a guide for making it happen. It will provide you with a different understanding of autism and it will provide you with a strategy for helping your loved ones participate more fully in life and find their place in human society.
I would like to say that my experience of being a “Kanner’s baby” provided insights into finding a “solution” to autism, but I can’t. It did provide a different foundation for looking at the condition. My history provided some understanding of what must be done, but nothing about how to do it. However, it did provide me with something that may have been even more important. It provided me with an undeniable purpose for being alive.
Once my identity began to develop and my memory began, my primary desire in life was to become a real human being. I could see that others were something that I wasn’t. My primary task, from the beginning, was to find a way that would allow me to be “normal,” or at least appear to be. If I could find my own way through this chaos and if I could provide a “map” for others of my kind to follow, then there would be value in my existence. The Davis Autism Approach is my best effort at providing that map.
Individuation is what takes place during early childhood development when a child becomes aware that he is a separate individual, with opinions and feelings that are different from those held by others. We usually see this taking place by the time a child is two, and has developed a sense of himself as an individual, has a mind of his own, and thus, rejects suggestions or requests made by others. We refer to this as the “terrible twos”, even though we know it is a healthy and desired developmental step!
Children with autism either fail to complete this step in development, or regress after beginning down the path. This can be seen in many ways – including lack of verbal ability; the inability to use pronouns correctly; sensory sensitivities; and a lack of a sense of self, to name a few.
Ron Davis developed a simple, effective method to enable individuation to be completed for autistic individuals. In the Davis Autism Approach, we assist the individuals to become oriented to the world. They need to have brought all of their senses into alignment so they are aware of their environment, their perceptions of the world are accurate and they begin to experience themselves as separate from others. We use a variety of orientation methods, auditory, visual or kinesthetic, depending upon the individual's strengths.
Then we assist the individual to create a clay model, which can represent them self, right throughout the program so that the individual can begin to integrate the fundamental life concepts into their identity, as the concepts relate to themselves in the world.