A Note on Gender,
Part One: A Creative Approach to Autism Spectrum Disorders
1. Unlocking Your Child’s Hidden World,
2. Finding the Keys to Autism Spectrum Disorders: Exploring Possible Causes and Treatments,
3. Autism--Putting the Pieces Together,
4. Attention Deficit Disorder--Recognizing a Gifted Child,
5. Asperger's Syndrome: The Middle of the Bar,
6. Nutrition--Eating With Consciousness,
7. The Spiritual Meaning of Art,
8. Taking the Mystery Out of Temperaments,
9. Fairy Tales--The Hidden Truths,
10. The Latent Power of Music,
11. The Inner Nature of Color,
12. Speech and Hearing,
13. The Power of Puppetry,
14. Supplemental Therapies,
Part Two: Activities to Enrich Body, Mind, and Spirit
Drawing Exercises (Chapter 7),
Exercises Following Fairy Tales (Chapter 9),
Exercises With Music (Chapter 10),
Exercises With Color (Chapter 11),
Verbalization Activity (Chapter 12),
Exercises In Puppetry (Chapter 13),
Activity Using Movement and Sound (Chapter 14),
Exercises Not Associated With Specific Chapters,
Do you sometimes have the feeling that your child is different from her siblings or other children her age? She may have odd mannerisms, like spinning a spoon on the floor for hours or having a tantrum if you decide to take a different route to the store. She might insist on having her crayons lined up in a row and won’t look you in the eye. In fact, she may have stopped talking and not want you to hug her anymore. If you can relate to any of these unusual behaviors, you are not alone.
We all want our children to be “perfect,” but sometimes they aren’t. It is second nature for friends to compare their children, hoping theirs is taller or smarter than the rest of the toddlers in child care or nursery school. When they aren’t, we are told that they will catch up and that some babies are slower than others. You cling to that, all the while knowing that something isn’t quite right with your child. You don’t want to believe that there could be anything wrong. Even when the pediatrician recommends testing, you resist; it might prove that your worst fears are realized.
Your daughter’s kindergarten teacher may call for yet another meeting about her annoying behavior. This time you are told that she has to be removed from the school for pinching, biting, kicking, and insolence. When the teacher says your daughter needs help, you are defensive, but after a great deal of thought and consideration, you finally agree that at times she is out of control. Your search begins for something quick and easy that will make her behave more like other girls her age.
Your doctor may recommend testing by a psychologist or a Developmental Pediatrician, and while you are apprehensive, you feel sure whatever it is can be easily fixed with a shot or a pill to make the symptoms disappear. You are still relatively calm about the outcome, but when the specialist tells you that your child has a neurological disorder, probably autism, you are suddenly thrust into a world you didn’t know existed. You will likely experience a range of emotions from disbelief to anger to overwhelming despair.
It is important to understand that you are not alone. Help is out there for you and your child, whether in a clinical setting or through support groups. You will find many parents who have been in your situation and who are eager to help you through this difficult time. Once you get past that initial shock, it is natural to want to learn everything about this disorder so you can help your child.
You will find that there are millions of boys and girls with autism and soon recognize the symptoms in your child and other children. You will also discover that in addition to autism, there are other related neurological disorders, known as Autism Spectrum Disorders, which are increasingly common and easily recognized, such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Asperger’s Syndrome. These two disorders share some of the characteristics of autism, but are clearly separate and distinct classifications.
THE AUTISM SPECTRUM
As you read the following chapters, you will learn about the Autism Spectrum, a medical term for several disorders that are similar but not identical. Think of the Spectrum as a straight line with a dot at each end and one in the middle. The one at the left end is ADD, the mildest form of neurological disorders in this category of “Spectrum.” At the far right is classic autism, the most involved or severe form of these disorders. In the middle of this hypothetical bar is a dot for Asperger’s Syndrome, which has some characteristics of ADD and some of autism.
Along the bar are other, less common disorders, but this book will focus only on autism, ADD, and Asperger’s, all of which are being increasingly recognized on a daily basis. As you read this book, you will become familiar with the characteristics of each and see where they may overlap. Most kids with ADD or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) have allergies--as do kids with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.
The brains of all of these children are different from “typical” children. They think differently, and when this uniqueness is understood, we can see that they may well be gifted and misunderstood. One specific gift that these three groups of children have in common is a sensitive, creative, artistic inner life that blooms when they are given the opportunity to see, feel, sense, and participate in various forms of art.
ADD children are often accused of daydreaming and are restless in school because they are bored. If they are overly active, running around the classroom, or in general disrupting the teacher, they are known as “hyperactive” and labeled as having ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. (Throughout this book, the closely related conditions of ADD and ADHD are frequently lumped together as “ADD” to avoid long and awkward phrasing of sentences. References to ADD are not meant to exclude ADHD unless specifically noted.)
The usual recommendation of a teacher is to medicate them with Ritalin or other drugs to make them conform to the behavior of the other students. This may offer short-term solutions but we don’t know the long-term effects of these psychotropic drugs. There are many natural or homeopathic remedies that have proven helpful, along with artistic, creative, and remedial therapies that do not minimize the child’s individuality. In Chapter 4 you will learn about ADD and ADHD and the signs you’ve noticed, but may have tended to overlook. “Boys will be boys” explains their constant activity and chatter up to a certain point--at which time it is impossible to ignore inappropriate behavior.
Right in the middle of our invisible bar is Asperger’s Syndrome, which has been increasing dramatically in prevalence as it is becoming more widely recognized. The immediately noticeable signs of an “Aspie,” as kids with Asperger’s like to call themselves, are obsessions with things like timetables and train and plane schedules, a fiery temper, and poor social skills. They are very creative but usually have a short attention span like kids with ADD. This can be irritating to parents, who think they’re just being stubborn or rebellious. The great thing about kids with Asperger's is that once they have your respect, they are eager to establish a relationship with you that is based on mutual trust and understanding. From then on the majority of their learning is gleaned from conversation and dialogue. You, the parent, will be the educator, therapist, and confidant.
Until a decade or so ago, kids with Asperger's Syndrome were thought to be unruly trouble makers who simply needed discipline. Parents were gossiped about and filled with guilt, thinking they were terrible mothers and fathers. They were regularly called in for conferences at school and told that their child—usually a boy—was a disruptive influence in the class because he yells out answers to questions instead of raising his hand to be recognized. On the more serious side, Aspies often threaten to harm themselves or others. Because they will listen and communicate with someone who is trusted--whether a parent or therapist--it is relatively easy to talk with them about their feelings and help them work through the stress with puppets, art, writing, and a lot of compassionate dialogue.
At the far right of the bar is classic autism, the most severely affected of all children on the Spectrum. There are different degrees of autism. The most common form of autism is slightly to the left on the bar. These children are very intelligent, observant, and sensitive to their surroundings, and are not given enough credit for their intelligence. They hear and understand everything that is taking place around them, even though they may give no outward sign of hearing, seeing, or understanding anything. They may have elective mutism, where they literally shut off their hearing because the noise in their environment is unbearably loud and painful.
If you have been told your child has autism, it is most definitely not the end of the world. On the contrary, it is the beginning of a new world for the entire family. Yes, it will be difficult, and you will often wonder if your child will ever hug you or look directly at you, instead of at the middle of your forehead. You will ask if your child is always going to be hyperactive or lethargic, talkative or non-verbal.
With all of your concerns and doubts, you will still have times when you know beyond all doubt that your child hears and understands what you are saying. You will see flashes of awareness that are usually hidden and feel encouraged that there is someone “in there” that can be reached. You will find that your child can be reached with the creative, remedial therapies in this book.
APPROACHING THE PROBLEM
The purpose of this book is to show you how to help your child reach her fullest potential through mutual respect, verbal and non-verbal communication, and an understanding of the power of the creative arts. The first step is to believe that there’s a purpose to her life with autism, just as there’s a purpose to all life. When we believe that, accepting the diagnosis is less difficult. The second step is to realize that since your child is untraditional (compared to whatever the norm is), traditional therapies aren’t as effective as they could be. She needs something that will speak to her spiritual nature.
The third step is knowledge of the three-fold nature of a human being: body, mind, and soul. There are many books about working with our body, with our mind, or with our soul, but finding one that speaks to all three of these elements as a cohesive whole is difficult. And trying to find this information for a child with autism, ADD, ADHD, or Asperger's can be even more daunting. This book stresses the spiritual nature of a child for one reason: Without it the child can never be complete. It is the sensitive, feeling, spiritual nature that propels the other two elements of body and mind to function to the best of their ability.
If one of those three aspects is missing, we’re unbalanced and out of alignment. Think of such imbalance in your family as having a car with a wobbly left wheel. It works and gets you where you’re going if you stay under 40 mph, but all of the passengers are jostled and shaken if you want to speed up a little. You finally accept that you need professional help and so you search for a good mechanic who can fix the wheel. This may take time but when you find one you trust, she tells you there’s a broken axel that has to be replaced first. This is a setback mentally, emotionally, and to the budget, because the entire procedure may be expensive. But the end result will be a smooth ride with the kids sleeping peacefully in the back instead of punching and yelling at each other.
Your child’s spiritual nature is the “wobbly wheel” that is put back into alignment. Conventional therapies, as we know them, treat only the body or only the mind. Some treat both, but it’s rare to find an effective therapy that treats all three: body, mind, and soul. It’s your child’s spiritual nature that flashes through in times of joy or interest. It’s this aspect that is moved by classical music or beautiful colors and encourages her to paint wonderful pictures. In this book, you will learn to look beyond the obvious, to know that there’s a spiritual part of your child that is responding to everything you say, do, and yes--think.
As a child, music, singing, dance, and puppetry fascinated me. In addition to being a hospital administrator, my father was a puppeteer and amateur magician. His “tricks” intrigued me, and at the tender age of ten, I became his assistant. The rabbit my father pulled from the hat during an evening performance was my pet during the day. His sleights of hand and materializations were illusions, and I knew there was something else that the audience wasn’t seeing that was actually influencing the outcome of my father’s “amazing” tricks. The fact that they were tricks and he was a master illusionist prompted me from that time to look beyond the obvious. We’ve all heard the sayings, “You can’t tell a book from its cover” and “Things aren’t always what they seem.” These phrases apply to just about everything, but they have great significance when we consider children on the Autism Spectrum because we have a sense that these boys and girls are much more aware than they may seem.
As a parent, you’ve probably seen moments of awareness, understanding, and humor in your child that surprised and delighted you. We have to look beyond the obvious, and in autism, the obvious is the body and mind, with one’s spiritual nature being hidden and unobtrusive. When all three are synchronized, we have an integrated human being, which is the goal of each of us. This holistic approach is key to understanding autism, Asperger’s, and ADD since the most common therapies only address a child through the physical or mental states.
Parental involvement is paramount to the success of remedial and creative therapies because parents can facilitate changes in their child by using many of the same techniques a therapist does. As a parent, you can help your child by being actively involved in programs designed by therapists, and on a daily basis, you can continue the momentum gained in the weekly sessions.
When parents accept responsibility for their child and want to work with her at home, both mothers and fathers have the opportunity to take part in the process. This is especially important for those who may have limited contact with their child due to work demands or other reasons.
Another advantage of working with the child at home is involvement of the extended family of relatives. Most want to help but do not know how, or think that only a therapist can work with a child on the Spectrum. Anyone can do the basic exercises provided in Part Two of this book and utilize techniques of therapists if they understand the reasoning behind using music, art, drawing, massage, speech, music, toning, and sensory integration. Siblings can have a part in their brother’s or sister’s therapy through play, which helps create a stronger bond between them.
Grandparents often feel “out of the loop” because Autism Spectrum Disorders are relatively new and unfamiliar to them. They have little or no frame of reference and when they see abnormal behavior in their grandchildren, they tend to be puzzled, irritated, and impatient. By being actively involved, they are educating themselves in what may have been perceived as mere lack of discipline or perhaps mental retardation. They begin to enjoy the hands-on participation and feel a sense of accomplishment and empowerment.
When the family all works together in an integrative process that includes teachers, therapists, and medical professionals, the child improves because her three-fold nature of body, mind, and soul is brought into balance to create a healthy, whole child.
WHAT’S IN THIS BOOK
The untraditional approach described in this book has been successfully used with my clients for over twenty-five years. In Part One you will learn about the characteristics of children on the Autism Spectrum, and the theories, research, and treatments of these neurological disorders.
Chapter 1 will provide you with a better understanding of the three-fold nature of a whole person--body, mind, and soul.
Possible causes for the prevalence of autism, as well as potential remedies, will be presented in Chapter 2.
Chapters 3, 4, and 5 explain the criteria for diagnoses, and typical characteristics, of children with various Spectrum Disorders.
Chapter 6 will discuss the importance of good nutrition for Spectrum kids.
Chapter 7 explores the importance of art in our lives, the innate spirituality of artistic creation, and benefits of Art Therapy.
You’ll learn about the four temperaments in Chapter 8. Of particular interest will be how to identify which of the four temperaments is most apparent in your child, and the most effective ways of reaching and teaching each one.
Chapter 9 explores the tremendously positive impact of fairy tales on young minds.
The spiritual connection with music cannot be ignored. Chapter 10 explains the benefits of Music Therapy, and how rhythm is everywhere.
Color is something that is largely taken for granted. However, as Chapter 11 will explain, it has a hidden impact on our lives, and color can be used therapeutically to help children in varied ways.
Children on the Spectrum often have trouble with speech and hearing. Chapter 12 shows how children with such impairments can be helped, and the need to choose our words carefully.
The magic of puppetry is explored in Chapter 13. You’ll learn how to create your own puppets, and how the most basic of puppets can help even a non-verbal child communicate and express her feelings.
Chapter 14 introduces you to additional therapies that are also fun and effective, but used only occasionally, as compared to the methods explored in previous chapters, which can and should be used extensively.
Part Two contains a variety of specific exercises that implement the ideas of the creative therapies you’ll read about in Part One. These are activities that you, the parent, can easily do at home with your child. If you’re a teacher or therapist, you may want to use them in your classroom or sessions. These are fun exercises that will appeal to a child’s body, mind, and spiritual nature.
Each may be considered “just” a game, yet there is a method and an objective for each activity. Kids will only know that they’re having fun. Your child will enjoy these activities, while at the same time, attain specific goals, some of which will include learning to express and communicate feelings and emotions in various creative ways; and improving fine and gross motor skills, observation skills, memory, and attention span.
These activities are perfect for all of your children because siblings are affected more than we know by an autistic brother or sister. They often resent the attention that parents give to a child with special needs, and these feelings of anger are usually suppressed. The same therapeutic methods and activities described in this book for children on the Autism Spectrum are appropriate for their brothers and sisters, since they offer a multitude of ways to express feelings in a non-judgmental way.
In chapters to follow, you will read about methods and reasoning that may be unfamiliar to you. They are different from traditional therapies because they are designed for your non-traditional child. They are given to you as keys that will unlock your child’s hidden potential.
By the time you are finished reading this book, you will have an opportunity to discover your child’s untapped abilities. By applying the suggested methods, you will have the power to create real magic, not sleight of hand, to take your child far beyond what she already knows. Your child will recognize her progress and have the motivation to take the next step towards the integration of her inner world and the world in which we live.