AUTISM – RAISING AARISH…

Autism

Raising Aarish…

Aarish had turned 2yrs, no “Mama” and no verbal or physical interaction. It was like he was there but not there…
I watched him everyday, and saw him grow. I followed his eyes, his feet and limited interests with full passion. I knew if I had to understand where he was lost, I would need to go there myself.

There are many dimensions we’re told, but for me there were only two, the one I was in, and the one Aarish was travelling back and forth from. He was silent, but I kept talking! I knew my voice was the only access that was reminding him, that I was there… My interactions, even when gone unnoticed ‘it seemed’ was keeping him synced to me. We were on a journey, he was leading, I was learning. Going with the flow; like a river that eventually ends up in the ocean. I knew, we would also get there.

We don’t teach them, that’s the misconception, we’re made to think that we need to teach them everything! What we need is to understand them better, learn how to bring them back. It’s so easy for them to stay there, but so worth it when they come back to you! We just have to connect.

So, I watched, kept no expectations, made no targets! I just waited with him patiently, enjoying the different view of life he gave me. I kept talking, and loving him. I would get annoyed, and even sad sometimes, I would say, “why me?” It was very hard for me, being a lone-parent with no family or friends nearby to support, having a partner to share the load, or get a break, it can drive one into depression so easily, but I persevered. There were guilty times where I cried in front of him, ignored him, threw a tantrum like a child and pushed him away for those brief moments of restoring sanity, reminding myself that I exist too… Those times, when I was extremely tired! Most times, I just hugged him, and said “mama loves you”. It was a mixed bag.

Aarish at 3yrs,

Babbling…

Aarish was at nursery, before this he had not attended any play groups on a regular basis, in total maybe a handful of once a week ‘stay and play’ group sessions the summer before he had started, which had made him familiar with the garden area of the nursery. It was his favourite place, grounding in nature is a requirement for every soul on earth, but more so, an Autistic child; the shade of the trees, satin smooth texture of the leaves, the fresh, brisk air touching your face, and the moisture filled earth, massaging grass, or even the cold concrete meeting the soles of the feet all help drain away excess energies absorbed. Where sensory overload is met with a calmness, that one can only understand who has had the feeling of standing in the middle of a busy crossroad, with cars horning, traffic lights flashing from every side sending mixed signals to stop and move simultaneously, and amidst all this stimuli, you’re lost and blanked out! Nature is the blessed dimension between peace and chaos.

So, whilst at nursery he showed no interest in playing with his peers, or colouring and learning due to his lack of limited attention. He played with his chosen car, and typically found anything he could spin for long enough. One would think he was not listening to anything or anyone, that he was in his own world. But as soon as he got home he started babbling, it sounded like a bad radio signal, where you could tell that Aarish was repeating dialogues over and over, but the words were scrambled! But nonetheless, progress in all it’s respects.

Soon I began to hear the odd clear word coming through, high and low pitch sounds, and eventually, I realised he was struggling with pronouncing the vowels in words, hence, sounding scrambled. His motor skills in his mouth were not cooperating; the tongue and mouth cage were receiving signals to move and form the vowels, but it was like there was a loose connection between the brain and nerve receptors. I knew he was trying hard, it wasn’t his fault. He was doing his best! It was like the repetition in his babbling was his way of forcing the brain to fix the connection. I knew one day soon he would do it.

Aarish at 4yrs,

Initiating Verbal Communication and Independent Learning…

It started with his basic needs, like regular favourite biscuits and pizza… He came up to me suddenly one day and said, “Bisss’its” and then it was “Pibba”. Being bilingual I spoke simultaneously in our native mother tongue as well as English, so naturally, he spoke some words in the other language too as he went along; this showed, like he understood all incoming instructions in both languages equally, he also could equally output in both languages – with preferred choice of language in certain words, according to what he had heard me choose.

Then a breakthrough, where before I had failed getting his attention on flashcards, I saw one night Aarish was saying words in succession via YouTube… “Car”, “Ship”, “Aeroplane”. I was shocked to see he was following flashcards with voiceover on a video he had found himself! The other thing was that he was saying the words more clearly due to the tone being used, a musical high pitched tone. I had noticed Aarish use to sing along to the repetitive musical adverts on TV, and also religious prayers or movie songs that were soulful in nature, and emotional sounding. He was also attracted to ridiculously funny scenes in adverts, dramas and movies, that were either repetitive, or the scenes could be rewound back again and again. It’s like what I had heard about Autistic kids learning through music, due to the creative side of the brain being used. I had experienced that not only was the creative side when triggered through music was useful in teaching any words to Aarish, but also the emotional response side likewise, was as good in triggering him to do the same. For example, when he was frustrated and angry I noticed the words coming out clearer during his tantrums! Maybe like the ‘fight or flight’ response people on the spectrum are known for, his emotional side of brain is also triggered during tantrums, producing clearer words to fight off the pressure or challenges being placed on him – A switch in the brain that goes on for survival mode maybe, and so, the brain uses all it’s best to execute efficient communication; Like the way most new-borns when submerged into water can reflexively hold their breath for a short period of time to protect their airways, as survival mode. My theory and mother instincts were telling me there was more to come and very soon…

It was the Xmas holidays and Aarish was regularly repeating everything we were saying to him, maybe his Nan staying over this period and us talking a lot had motivated him, considering it was a normally a quite home with me having a one way conversation with Aarish. But the icing on the cake was on the night of New Years eve, I heard Aarish counting 1 to 10. I was overjoyed and looked to see he was on YouTube again learning from a video he had found himself called ‘Colour Ball Counting’. He was not only saying the numbers, but pronouncing clearer than ever before… After that he was repeating the numbers daily, and I was quick to jump in showing my fingers and random things 1 to 10 as supporting visuals, in order for him to understand the concept of numbers in verbal and visual communication. Like, when giving him biscuits, I would tell and show him one biscuit, and then two biscuits for comparison. Then I got an idea one night to show him his 10 colouring pencils, I counted to 10 giving him one pencil at a time. Then suddenly, I tried something, I said the colours of each pencil to him, which he responded by repeating and saying each colour back to me whilst taking the pencils from me. I said the colours in random orders to hear which colours he could pronounce best, and out of 10 he said 6 clear, the exception being “pink” “blue” and “black” to which he struggled pronouncing the first two letters together, so skipped, and said, “ink” “bue” and “back”. In comparison, he said “purple”, “brown” and “yellow” very clearly. He also said clear the colours “green, orange, and red”. And lastly, him totally trying to disregard “navy”, as he has initially always struggled with the letter “n” and also the letter “m” in the start of some words, and the middle of all words… This is why most likely, I’d not heard yet from him the words “mama” or “Nani”, despite it being a regular reference, in comparison to “Bha” which he used for calling his brother on rare occasions (Full term “Bhai” in native mother tongue). Aarish generally disregarded any gestures or greetings like “hi” and “bye” or titles like “mama” – typical trait of Autism – making me wonder was it a logical decision, on it not being needed to survive, and so, only being a social concept. As aware, Autistic people have issues in understanding or implementing social behaviours; or maybe not even agree with what is considered a social norm. Or was it ‘Association’, was he relating to people like objects rather than persons, interacting, but not seeing the difference! But then how would one explain the smiles, hugs and kisses he gave me? Maybe the latter not so likely, and the logical decision for certain social norms not being needed to survive, hence disregarded, was the best bet. I was just happy he was repeating every colour I was saying to him clearly back to me, and to my surprise the next morning he was saying the colours accurately for each pencil all on his own initiative. I sat him down and coloured each colour, saying and writing down the colours on a piece of plain paper to help him associate, he was happily repeating, whilst too, for the first time paying prolonged attention! I knew then he had chosen me as his teacher, and that I needed to give him more time to progress in order to catch up to his peers at mainstream school. This was the moment I decided not to send him special-needs school; to avoid the risk of him regressing, seeing others there who were below his level doing things that I’d rather him not learn or repeat, for example, taking his clothes off during a tantrum, or seeing disruptive and aggressive behaviour during meltdowns in comparison to his passive ones. The way he had been motivated so far by peers at mainstream school without the pressure to sit inside the reception class, and rather play in the toddlers room with just a few 2/3yr olds, whom were at same or higher level as him. I wanted him to continue progressing in that way, without the pressure of being shifted into reception class once he turned 5yrs old in the coming Easter. And so, I chose to home-school Aarish.

Here we started a journey of him choosing his resources online, and me guiding him through his discoveries, teaching him ‘association’ and ‘concepts’ that could help him integrate into mainstream school later on, at the required level for learning with his peer groups. And if not, at least I could teach him at his own progressive pace, using a tailor-made curriculum that involves ‘out of the box’ methods like, travelling for expanded social interaction, and routine adjustment experience. And excursions, like museums, zoos, and play sensory areas, to stimulate his brain through visual learning, and emotional experience; this kind of learning is stored as long-term memory, accessed through memories, which uses emotions and all 5 senses to recall it. This compared to short-term memory is more reliable, as Autistic people struggle recalling what they’ve learned, unless repeated many times over, exceptions being, in a singled-out area of interest, where they’re gifted for example, like music, maths, physics, the arts, and words etc…

Aarish was almost 5yrs now, and I was ready to show him the world! …

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