In Raising a Child With Autism, I wrote,
Joey is not what we made or failed to make him. He’s always carried strengths of his own that we can admire as precious gifts from God.
More people with autism are expressing their own points of view. For caregivers, these can be challenging but are precious to our efforts to provide care that is loving as well as “effective.”
Dan Jones is an adult with autism who shares his experience and insight via books and articles. In a blog piece on Applied Behaviour Analysis, he praises ABA for providing tools that give people with autism behavior choices in school, the workplace, and other social settings. At the same time, he raises a caution,
Another issue with ABA is that it is just ‘identify the behaviours that we don’t want the child to do and change them, identify the behaviours we want the child to do and get them doing those behaviours’. As mentioned, it misses the ‘love’ element, the respect for the child and what they are communicating by their behaviour and their inner world and emotions.
Care giving needs that love element. There are all kinds of efforts we apply to teach skills and eliminate unpleasant and even dangerous behaviors, but we should not overlook the day to day relationship exchanges that can help those in our care express and embrace things that enrich their lives. In another bit of Raising a Child With Autism, I recall how
Several doctors praised us for our son’s emotional connection, affection and happiness. Those who live with autism, whatever they might feel within, are challenged in their ability to express it and seem aloof if not completely detached from the feelings of those around them. We didn’t have special knowledge or strategy to cultivate Joey’s warmth toward us. We just stayed close to him early on.
Melissa sang to him on days when he didn’t seem to hear a note; as a young adult he can enjoy an entire musical at the local playhouse. We talked to him as though part of our conversations even when he didn’t make eye contact or walked away; now he can attend social events even if he just stands smiling on the edge of the party. We made his place at the dinner table even when he had the habit of taking a bite and then running a repetitive pattern around the house (we would shrug and say, “Hate to eat and run…”); now he eats in restaurants.
There’s a nugget of spiritual insight in play here. In the New Testament, the Letter of James encourages those who would be loving people to
…be quick to hear, slow to speak… (1:19)
Those in our care might not be able to express their hopes and disappointments, joys and hurts, dreams and fears with words. But their’s is a language of the heart that can be shared over time if we slow our anxious antics enough to hear it.