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.