When we started, I asked everyone to show Nathan your love and acceptance through JOINING.
After a few sessions, everyone mastered the art of joining. Understanding when Nathan withdraws into his world of autism and simply being with him, joining, and waiting for him to give you his “green lights” and approval for interaction.
The next son-rise concept I asked you to perform was CELEBRATION of Nathan’s achievements.
Some pointers on CELEBRATIONS:
1. Celebrate achievements big or small, right or wrong (a.k.a his best attempt to do it right). For now, don’t focus too much on correcting his mistakes, especially if he resists.
2. Big celebrations with 3 Es (Energy, Excitement and Enthusiasm) helps Nathan highlight his achievements in his memory. It will help him recall this memory faster and built upon it for future progress. And it will inspire him to keep trying.
3. While 3 Es help Nathan’s memory and learning, it would be difficult for the facilitator to sustain 3Es for the whole session and be authentic about it. Authenticity is important. Autistic kids, precisely because they are non-verbal or in Nathan’s case not-so-verbal, have stronger emotional radars (from listening to the tone of your voice and/or body language) and know when you are faking it. They will withdraw if they feel you are not sincere. Some suggestions: Pace yourself. Bring out your 3Es when you create exciting moments, then allow quieter moments for your rest. Or allow Nathan to pace you. After Nathan gives his interaction, he withdraws into his world and isms as a break. For a child with autism, coming out is difficult so they give themselves breaks by isming. Use that ism break (by joining) as a break for yourself to recharge your 3 Es and bring out your 3Es again when Nathan makes a connection with you again.
4. Nathan has some sound sensitivity issues. You might notice when you give him a big loud cheer, he will withdraw instead of appreciate your applaud. Try different types if cheering that Nathan might respond better to like big body expressions with softer voice vs. big loud cheers.
5. A lot of new volunteers had fantastic first sessions with Nathan. Some sessions were followed by not-so-fantastic, very “ismy”, full of joining sessions. For me even those sessions were very useful. Unless Nathan shows you how autistic he is and how much more convenient it is for him to lock you out of his world and remain in his autistic world, you may never appreciate the gigantic effort Nathan makes to simply look into your eyes and ask you for the pink spiky ball, for example. Knowing that that is a big effort for Nathan, may allow to give him bigger and more authentic celebrations for a job well done.