Programing for severely autistic children needs to look beyond ABA-Applied Behavioral Analysis. Most of these highly disorganized out of sync kids would if they could but they can’t so they won’t. Pain overrides compliance. (I.e. If a train is running over your foot, nothing else matters.) These kids need to feel balanced, safe, and comfortable in their bodies for effective skill development to occur. They need more than educational programming. Most require a therapeutic environment. Staffers need to have the knowledge and the resources not just to teach skills but to relieve discomfort and improve neurological function. Movement, rhythm disturbances and complex sensory issues affect the ability to attend and learn. Most teachers are not adequately trained to deal with these complex neurological and central nervous system differences. Staffers who lacked appropriate training often confused these difficulties with behavior or cognitive ability. Creation of therapeutic and effective environments, demands staff education, collaboration between disciplines, and change of criteria and delivery models. Experts in the fields of speech, occupational, physical, and vision therapy must work with teachers and parents to create a program specific for severe autism. The parents and staffers must be privy to strategies so they may provide them throughout the day, not just during short therapy sessions that might occur a few times a week.
Selected personnel, appropriately licensed and motivated, could be sent to alterantive training sessions. They could then share practical supports to be implemented by staffers and parents. Therapeutic listening, auditory integration training, biofeedback, interactive metronomes, binaural beats or other rhythmic entrainment programs, facilitated communication, sacral cranial, massage, reiki, aromatherapy, yoga, meditation, movement therapies, acupressure, reflexology and hypnotherapy might be considered. Many parents have limited resources to address the complex issues related to the disability of their child. Many children are on medicaid or similar government programs, which many therapists do not accept. Other parents are under-insured, lack financial resources, or are in survival mode.
School Districts could enlist someone from the ASA-Autism Society of America, to serve as an information source for parents concerning diet, enzymes, supplements, gentle chelation procedures, and other options out there for the savvy and informed parent.
Development of supportive environments would help to ensure maximum use of resources for school districts struggling with budget issues. Programs should be placed at sites that can best meet the sensory and motor needs of the children. Schools ideally should have: ” Quiet classrooms with natural light and adequate space for sensory equipment.” Pools and playground equipment that help modulate proprioceptive and vestibular difficulties. ” Proximity to a variety of parks and nature walks ” Close access to community facilities allowing for cost-effective and flexible community based programs.
Administrators need to arrange time for teachers, assistants, and parents to consult with the team and implement and refine strategies for continued optimum growth of each student. As teams develop, roles would overlap; sensory problems, movement difficulties, communication, behavioral concerns, and rhythm issues would be addressed in all areas of the curriculum throughout the day.
Teachers, assistants and parents would be more confident in their ability to deal with ongoing complex neurological, sensory and movement difficulties as they continued to consult and collaborate with experts in specific disciplines. Turbulence and stress in students would decrease as they took refuge in the support of a highly trained and confident staff.
A paradigm shift of this magnitude demands that little shifts continue to occur. As information about current practices is disseminated, collaboration increases and team building occurs, current programs would be modified by innovations that improve overall function. What works for one child may have disastrous effects on another, or it may work now and cease to be effective later. If staffers refuse to be complacent, have options, remain flexible, are open to new ideas, take risks, and provide mutual support, procedures will continue to create a flow of progress.
I have served as a teacher of individuals with autism for many years. What they have taught me was to be sure of nothing, and open myself to the extraordinary. It has been and continues to be a remarkable ride.