I just finished reading a remarkable post by the author John Elder Robison, Early Intervention or Not. How Do We Decide? . I had an opportunity to perform at The International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR), the same conference Mr. Robison attended, and converse with a few professionals during the opening banquet.
His insightful post brought me back to an idea I had talked about on Facebook on March 28th when arguing why I do not call my services “therapy.” I mentioned the concept of the three R’s of special needs – Repair, Realign, Restructure.
Most parents want for their children to grow up to be healthy, educated, and independent members of society. When a parent is faced with a diagnosis such as autism, no matter what age, the news brings about fear and trepidation. This fear occurs mostly because the trajectory the parent had imagined for their child’s life is now viewed as uncertain. It is natural to fear the unknown.
Naturally, the parents look for resources on what to think, how to cope, and what do do next. As society focuses on the headlines generated from the autism industry, we begin to develop literature that presents success as only being possible after a host of interventions, and therapies – and the earlier the better. But as Mr. Robison pointed out, this barrage of constant services on autistic children may be masking talents. (Mr. Robison makes an exception for children with self-injurious behavior, which I think is important. I am not at all suggesting that children who injury themselves should be left to continue the behavior.)
Therapy, save private one-to-one therapy provided by a Psychologist or other qualified professional, is focused on what I call the three R’s of special education – Repair, Realign, Restructure. This is because therapy addresses autism, or other diagnosed disorder, as a whole as if the therapy were some kind of antibiotic. Rather, therapy should focus on specific complications that hinder that individuals ability to lead the life he or she so chooses to have.
In my own life, I have found my heightened sense of hearing an asset in my quest as a musician. This quality comes to me as part of the autism package, along with less desirable problems like sensitive vision and overstimulation problems. However, to pursue therapy for my entire sensory system would remove the hearing I rely on as a musician. Instead, I have focused on learning how to build an internal gate for my sensory system when I need to shut it down. How? By tapping into the other side of my sensory system oddities that come with the autism package – numbness.
Many autistics talk about going from overstimulation to numbness with their sensory system. Parents may recognize this when they observe their autistic child covering their ears at one moment, and then observe them “acting deaf” as they stare at a blaring loud television. I saw this problem as an internal resource. It occurred to me that if I have the ability to go numb, then there might be a way for me to decide when I will go numb. Using breathing techniques, sitting with my hands on my thighs, and then focusing my mind on the feeling of numbness, I am able to avoid a meltdown in a loud, crowded room. This may not work for every person with autism, as we are all individuals, but it worked for me.
The buffet of therapies available to the autism world are not useless, but perhaps they are misapplied. If the therapy is for autism as a whole, and focuses on repairing, realigning, and/or restructuring the person, then we are building a population of socially engineered people. If we use therapies available today to focus on issues of autism that hinder the individual from growing, then maybe we build a therapeutic atmosphere that allows the growth of a population of unique individuals who just happen to have autism.