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"Listen to me"- I can't speak but you can hear-Autism
Yes!It was only when I started listening to them,I started hearing them.These are my Children with Autism who are non verbal or limited speech. It was 1995, when I first met a child with Autism as part my Occupational Therapy clinical placement in Chennai.He was introduced to me as 'Mentally Retarted' child. Ashwin was his name and he was adorable.I remember him very well, a 4 years old boy playing with dry leaves all the time,no interest in playing with other children or adults,no interest in people,not speaking to anyone.He was on his own World and he just loved being left alone.
It was a large Occupational Therapy room where we spent every morning with children with special needs.I never stopped trying to get Ashwin into Therapy but I was failing on my every attempts as a student Occupational Therapist.But my quest of learning about Ashwin lead me as a Good Listener.Until I started working in the year 1999,I believed Ashwin was a child with Intellectual Disability. It was very late when I realised he was a child with Autism,I felt handicapped of not understanding a child with difficulty. First time I realised that lack of awareness can affect a persons life. Yes,If Ashwin was listened properly,he could have been heard!
Autism is a term describing a child with communication disorder,Repeated motor movements,not socialising with others. According to me no children with Autism wanting to remain non verbal.I am sure that if any child with Autism who cannot speak has given a chance to ask what they want,Many would like to say they wanted to be listened properly before we judge them.The big challenge as an OT I feel is they are not listened to be heard.
I have worked with 100s of Children with Autism since 1999.Now,I learned to listen to them and I sometimes able to hear deeply what they feel.Once,a child with Autism expressed his view through a communication app.He said "I am in pain"-after typing this and he looked into my eyes for a long time,my eyes were in tears.When I and his mother were working on to build his communication (he is a non verbal kid),I asked him what is stopping him not to speak?He typed "How to speak?"Honesty,it was hard to explain or teach him How to speak.Though as a Therapist,I was undergoing each development stages of speech and communication to him,it was not that easy for him to achieve all those.At one stage,we gave up working on his communication where we noticed,he was more relaxed and very cooperative,used non verbal communication and yes he had few words as well.He called me "Aunty" for the first time and we kept thinking he is just making noice but not the word.No,we were wrong and he consistently called me "Aunty" anytime he wanted to express something important.Yes,it happened because I started listening to him and respected his pain.
Beautiful Sarika a 5years old girl had been attending intensive Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy since her 2 1/2 years.She had only few words for communication and her mother was like a warrior fighting for her child progression.It was one day I casually asked her mother why not we try Sarika to use writing as a mode of communication and let her develop the speech when she is ready,Her mother started teaching Sarika writing on a slate.After few months,Sarika used the slate for majority of her communication and in fact she developed speaking few words as well. Later,she moved to the USA with her parents and mother kept calling me providing Sarika's progression.She said"I don't know how to thank you Shobana,it was amazing how you see children differently that helps them and us the parents to understand to listen to them rather demanding actions from them without a clue"
I said, they taught me how to listen,that is how I learnt.
Observing the children with Autism teach us a lot.For e.g a child who avoids eye contact and a touch of a stranger doesn't mean they are rude to you,they may find hard to process Visual sense or Touch sense to be painful but they may like you.Whenever I talk to any children with Sensory difficulty,I talk to them before I do anything for them.For e.g.,I would say"I am going to touch your arms to give a massage,you may not like at the first but trust me this will help you to tolerate touch sensation"Yes!most kids allow me to touch.Now,I tell the parents to do the same by preparing their brain so it is easier and they will be cooperative.
I come across many kids afraid of movement i.e.swing or see saw.I let the kids observing other kids playing on those play equipment where I go describing the movement to this child and amazingly this child would willing to try those equipment on their own when no one around and once they are successful,have a smile in their faces.If I didn't listen to them and forced them to try those equipment,sure they would have done with a pain or wouldn't have trusted me forever. Let us observe the children's behaviour and see what you learn from them.Listening a non verbal kid is more important than a verbal kid.It is an amazing feel when you actually hear them speaking (kind of a mind voice)and you will end up speaking them very casually not focused on their Disability!
Children are born to be children and let them enjoy each and every second of their lives. Let us start listening to them and I promise you can hear them and make them smile.