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Autism………………Tantrums(part 1)

After I entered the world of Autism when my son was formally diagnosed, everywhere I turned, I kept hearing one word again and again - Tantrums. Kid’s Tantrums is the most discussed subject by parents of kids with Autism, books and websites dedicate quiet a lot on this subject. Of course, I have the same experience with my kid. During the initial days I was really clueless when he screamed or went berserk.

If I recollect following are some of the situations where my son could lose his control. For e.g., Haircut, nail cut, Brushing, Eating his unfavorable food, sound, smells, change in routine, visiting new places/person.

When my kid threw tantrum, the immediate situation was very difficult to manage. However I realized behind every scream/tantrum a hidden message or feeling is communicated there.  Let us recollect

our first day at a new school,

our first visit to a posh hotel,

our first interview,

our first day at work etc.

All our firsts would be accompanied with some tension and anxiety. So is for any kid and a kid with Autism. All our first experience is accompanied with tension and anxiety, even though we know to communicate, know how to behave, know how to make decisions. Our Kids have limited communication, limited socialization, and sometimes limited understanding about a situation and the anxiety is natural and inevitable.

My insight on this came when I was talking to my son’s speech therapist.  I was sharing with her that my son was screaming through the day and for everything. I was tensed and worried a lot. But she said softly, “I think he is on the verge of talking”.  That response made me think and then I started to interpret` his screams and tantrums as sensible communication. So whenever my son screamed, I learnt to hear it in my mind as

“Mamma, I am scared”,

“Mamma, I don’t like this”,

“Mamma, I don’t want this”.

“Mamma, I want this”

Here I want to mention an experience about another special child’s communication challenge. When we were in UK, my husband got speech therapy training. As a part of the training, the speech therapist visits home and takes a video shoot with our kids and how we parents train our kids. Then she used to display the videos in the training session, so that each parent had an opportunity to see other kids and how other parents work with their kids. In one such video session, my husband got an opportunity to see a mother who trained her little kid diagnosed with autism and with other difficulties too.

This kid always had to lie on his bed because of his other difficulties and he was non-verbal too. His mother flashed a visual card of the activity she was about to do before doing that activity with the kid and then did the activity. The mother could not detect any response from the kid and neither the other parents who were watching the video. The therapist rewinded the video to the place when mother flashed the card.  The kid’s eyes went wide as if in a grin as his mother’s activities were of liking to him. That was the interaction and communication that kid was doing.  The therapist reminded to be aware of all possible avenues that the child uses to communicate.

If “look expression” is a communication in the above example, what about the story of Helen Keller who could not hear, see and speak. And yet she learnt to understand and communicate her wonderful experiences to the world. This all prompted me to think, why I can’t teach my son to communicate. I thought if he communicates his basic needs or his positive/negative emotions it will reduce his frustration and hence tantrums.

When I started to manage his tantrums, my son’s only communication was to lift my hands to point something he wanted to eat. So I decided to give a word whenever he screamed, hoping he would use the word and reduce the screaming. Actually we adults could be saying things like, “I don’t want this” or “I want that” or more lengthier and complex sentences to express our wishes.  But my son had not begun to speak a single word and he had many suppressed emotions. So the first simple word that fitted most of the situations was a “No”.

Whenever he threw tantrums, I said “No”, sweetly to him as if prompting him to say that rather than shouting.  After a point of time he learnt to say “No”. Whenever he felt frustration, instead of screaming, he started using the word “No”. I respected his “No” and changed my actions that would suit immediate need. E.g. Like withdrawing the food that made him tense. This negative word “No” gave me a positive approach with my son for communication or speech.   After this training, he flooded me and my husband with enough No’s to sink the worldJ. The number of No’s he said in a year or two exceeded all the No’s I would have said in all my whole life. But that “No” was like a life raft to him in a sea of confusion and frustration.

So according to me the so called “Tantrum” is because of the inability to express the kid’s anxiety, feeling, dislikes and don’t wants. The magic word “No” helped channelize many of the situations positively. But was “No” adequate to help all the situations, defintitely it was not. I will share more of other approaches that I am doing to manage my son’s tantrums. 

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iPad and my Son

iPad is the most wonderful tool I have found for educating my son. In fact rather than me educating, he educated himself. The IOS(operating system on the iPad) controls are so intuitive that he learnt to use all the gestures like swipe, pinch, tap, escape on the screen in no time by himself. The apps on iPad are also very well designed.

These apps became important for my son for two reasons 1. For repetitive lessons 2. Pronunciation and 3. Self-engagement.

Repetitive lessons
My son needed to be run through with some concepts many times before he could make a connection and start grasping it. But it took infinite time, patience for both me and my son as we had to cross every tiny little lesson this way. iPad easily solved this problem, because that was a toy for him, it was not trying to coach him J, and he himself repeatedly played on it. For example there is a wonderful app called “First Words” which taught words like Cat, Mat, and Apple with spelling, pronunciation, left to right sequencing etc. He would run through these words hundreds of times in the course of his play which is very difficult to achieve in face to face coaching. And later on I bought a paid version of the apps which includes abstract words like, “If”, “Shall”, “It” etc. and he is getting that too.

My son had lot of difficulties in getting some sound like “ra”, “ka” and “fa” when he started verbalising and I was teaching him more sounds and words.  By many wonderful apps on iPad which repeat the words with clear pronunciation, he started getting these words. This was one of the biggest boost for his spoken communication.

I occasionally needed a break and iPad gave it J.Period.
Now I will get on to some of the apps. Most of these apps are free. And I did buy many apps which were interesting to my son as it enabled more features and choices.

Apps Listing

Wooden Jigsaw:
Puzzle games are wonderful for developing logic and here are some good ones for it. And the software design ensured that it corrected my son gently when he wrongly fitted a piece. I found my son doing a physical Jigsaw with much more interest after playing in this app. (alphabets)

For Spelling:
"First words" is one of the best and unmatched apps in iPad for any kid.

This is a wonderful app for teaching phonics

My Play Home:
This is very interactive and lots of fun and my son learnt a lot of things about a home here J

Build it up:
It bought out the little engineer in my son. Its self-correcting mechanism is so difficult to teach in real life.

All kinds of sorting that I didn’t imagine that was there for my kid to teach.

Matrix Game and Series:
Complex logic made simple and fun

This matching is a little advanced one and yet it was absorbing for my kid for some time.

To Learn Colors and Numbers:
My son’s favourite. It has a wonderful concept of teaching colours and numbers. Lovely.

I could have never believed that my son could play the little memory game that I used to play as a kid. Arranging Playing cards on the floor face down, opening them up as a pair at a time and trying to match them. But it happened. This is the app that pulled my son’s interest on iPad.

Clock Puzzle:
I introduced this to make my son understand about clocks and time. Though it has not happened yet, he has got his first understanding about the clocks in our house in some form.

This maze is amazing. It has lot of variety of mazes, all fun and educative.


1.      All the apps need not be educational. Your kid needs to relax himself too. Give them a good variety, so that they don’t reject this form of education.
       2.      If your kids get too obsessed with some apps and that if fun is lost and they do it because      of  some repetitive behavior, remove the apps before giving it to your kids the next time.
       3.      Give the iPad to play in a lighted room in good sitting posture so that they don’t spoil their eyes and back.
       4.      Give them at some planned, appropriate intervals so that they play with other things as well. 

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How I taught Colours to my son

Colours colour our life. For any kid, colours are the biggest source of inspiration- rainbows, painting, toys, dresses all contain exciting different colours. As my kid was growing up, I wanted to make him appreciate the same exciting world of colours around him.

My goal was to make my son understand that there are different colours, how they are present in real life objects around him, names for them, ability to identify them by picking it himself. When I progressed on teaching colours, I got unexpected rewards as well. My son used to be impatient and agitated when we used to go out for a drive and were stopped in a signal. After he got introduced to colours, I simply point out the traffic signal to him. And he calls out “Red” and then he himself calls out again (as we had taught him using that opportunity), “Red says Stop” and becomes patient/quiet.

Using his strengths to teaching
I searched for his interest/strengths to teach him colours. When doing activity he used to like matching pictures. This was one input I used to design the activities for my kid and another was his love for alphabetic characters and his growing ability to read.

How it started\
Below shown picture was the file folder material I prepared for my son to teach colours. On the left hand side of the page, I had taken a print out of big squares of colours. And on the right hand side the same colour squares are there, but cut out and kept as single pieces ready for matching. I always use Velcro where possible and make file folders self-contained as my son would not like cluttered desk. Also when matching, sticking on the Velcro is convenient.
Figure 1
Let me explain how I prepared the above material
1.      I prepared a word document for some basic colours. I took the above colours
2.      I added words under the colours. You would find I have withdrawn these words in the later figures
3.      Took two print outs of the document
4.      Laminated both the copies
5.      Cut one of the laminated print-out into separate colours
6.      Put velcro
In the beginning, when I started to use the above material, I asked my son to match the colours. Once finished the matching, I just pointed out the colours and read out the colour name. For ex. Green,Red and so on....
Once he was comfortable with matching the colours with the above material(figure 1), I introduced some more materials as a first step to Generalization.(The below one is only one of the many materials. Some more materials are in the section “Other varieties so that child will not get bored”)
Figure 2
In the above figure I have used geometrical shapes, which I had taught him in a different context(circles, triangles) etc.  Now I used them for matching colours.
Now I pressed towards more generalization of colours as the real life that we see around is colourful.

Figure 3
The above Figure 3 material is also similar in concept to the Figure 2 material but I have used some known objects and abstract images.

While doing the above materials, once he finished matching, I pointed out the colours and read the colour names. After sometimes he started to say the name of the colours along with me.
Now I introduce the flash cards as shown in the figure 4.  I had by this time reduced the proportion of matching activity and have also withdrawn the written text under the colours.
Figure 4
Pictures in the figure 4 are the individual flash cards of different colours. As my son had some knowledge about colour from the previous matching activities, I moved to simply asking him questions about colours and expecting the response.  
Steps involved
I flashed one colour card and asked, “What colour is this?”  I initially prompted him to say the colour name as the answer, .e.g. “Green”.   Over a period of time, I faded out the prompt. If he was not able to say it at any time, I used to prompt him.   I repeated the progress till he was able to the name of the colours comfortably.

Other varieties so that child will not get bored
I had mixed, matched materials at different stages and I did not always follow a sequence. It was all dictated by my son’s interests and his ability to progress with one material. If he was getting bored/agitated with one material, I used to keep that short and move to the next material.

Figure 5

Figure 6
Note: One interesting thing about the above Figure 6 and Figure 11(down) is that hear I have used the fonts in the respective colour(The word “Blue” in blue colour font) to create strong association of colours and words in my son’s mind.

Figure 7

Figure 8

Figure 9

Figure 10

Figure 11

But as I started moving towards generalisation, I have removed the coloured fonts in the above (Figure 11).

Figure 12

Figure 12 consists of individual flash cards to generalise the colours to real life even more. To avoid the confusion between the name of the object and colour, first ask the object name and then go for colour name. For E.g. If I flash the Shoe card I will ask “What is this?” Get or teach the response as “Shoe” and then move to the colour related question i.e. “What is the colour of the shoe?” and get the answer as “Brown”. Eventually now he has moved to a stage where he calls out, "Brown Shoes", "Yellow Capsicum"....

  1. Lots of Colour related books are available in markets. Use them.
  2. Colours are everywhere. Do not restrain educating or interacting with your child about colours only in an activity session. Do it everywhere:
At home you can say
  • Brinjal is Violet in colour
  • Sofa is Red in colour
  • Soap is Pink in colour
Outside you can say
  • Car is White in colour
  • That bird is Black in colour etc etc…
That is, there is no rule or sequence to teach colours. Use all the opportunities.

  3. The materials I had shown above are designed to my son’s strength of matching and reading. You can design activities suiting your kid’s strength and interest.

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