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Go to Child’s level

In the initial days before diagnosis of Autism for my son, I was stumbling in dark about many things. My son’s speech therapist who made the first visit to our home for my son’s diagnosis gave the first advice of everlasting impact, “Go to the Child’s level”.

I understood the significance of this statement only after my son’s diagnosis. There was a workshop organized for training parents of kids with autism. The following points opened my eyes in that training:

1.       Go to child’s level

2.       Slow down your clock

Though the therapist said “Go to child’s level” physically, which means you literally kneel down and look at your kids face and talk.  But, it helped to understand my son in many different ways.

I always felt that my son lives in his own world, where he is very comfortable. But to survive in our world, he has to come out of his world and he has to learn the social norms of our world.

If he can come out of his world, understand and learn the social needs and other things, he doesn’t need therapies, doctors, special schools etc. So I decided to go to his level to understand his world so that I can help him to get to our world.

How I went to my child’s level
First I tried to physically go to his level to establish proper eye contact. If I worked with him on the desk top activities, I used to sit face to face. But in other times, I knelt down to manage his height and face him. When my son looks at my face every of my facial expression sinks in along with the words I say. So when I say, “I am Angry”, my son also knows how I look when I am angry and understands the meaning and context better.

Also our speech therapist educated us that little kids get intimidated with adults hovering tall over them. Hence if you need to understand and get into their world, you need to go to their level and interact with them.

Here is a nice video of Super Nanny, a UK based program, where a well trained professional helps parents better their lives together with children. In this program there is a concept of circles of comfort for a child, personal space and getting down to their level. You can watch the snippet between 25:10 Secs to 26:23 Secs specifically for the above points.

Observe and Structure the activities
In the next stage I started observing my son, so that I could understand his behavior, his motivations and find a way to play and structure my interactions with him.  I used to observe my son by leaving him to do whatever he wants to do (that is without any intervention). Whenever I observe, he used to repeat some actions/activities. The repetition could be because of obsession or sensory needs. Regardless of reason, I only interpreted it as my child does not know to expand its activities beyond a repetitive set of actions with some objects.  He needed my help to learn the possibilities/features in doing anything.

Some years back, he had a compulsive hobby of running back and forth in our house. He will start from the front door, run across the hall, kitchen, touch the back door and then run back to the front door.  This would go on non-stop for a long time. Whatever could be the reason for this, I thought this seemed a good way to enter to his world.

First, I started running along with him. First my son didn’t mind me. Soon he became curious and started enjoying me running with him.

The running became a joint play and my son immensely enjoyed it. Soon when we started running, I said 1-2-3 and then we started running. So the blind running stopped. My son started enjoying as a game. Then I put some pillows across the hall and made him hop across the pillows and made into a huddle race.

Similarly he used to get on the top of the dining table or window ledges and kept jumping continuously. So I introduced him trampoline and he started enjoying his jumping as a game and in a safe way. And he soon realized that when he held my hands and jumped, he could jump very high. So this too became a joint play and our bonding developed. Soon we developed this game by drawing shapes like square, rectangle, circle using chalk piece on the floor around the trampoline. After some jumping I used to ask him to step into a shape. This was lot of fun for him and he started learning shapes also.

Here is the link of how I converted my son’s sensory need into a simple game activity

Imitate the child
When we imitate the child, it is easy to get into their level. With my son, I ran, played, cried and laughed along with him. Initially in all these, I used to imitate exactly as he does. My son would get curious as to what I am doing, but still continue what he is doing. At some point of time, I will stop and then start doing things the way I would do. Then he used to look at me and sometimes spontaneously start imitating me. E.g. when my son used to run around the house, I will also run around with him. After sometime, when I stop, reflexively he will also look at me and stop. Patiently like this, from following his lead, soon, I used to make him follow my lead.
Here is a video I found in YouTube of a mother who is superbly imitating her child:

Play with the child
Playing is always fun. I have noticed the learning is always faster when it is via some fun games. I used to choose games with less rules like bubbles, balloons, spinning the top, cause and effect toys, winding toys, reciting rhymes with him etc. Now a days there are many rhymes CD in the market with lot of animation. My son used to watch these rhymes a lot. I used to recite the rhymes along with him, do the action in rhymes and invent some fun games with my son.

Understanding the child better
Few days back, my son kept putting in a film CD into the DVD player, saw the first slide put in which was announcement about avoiding piracy. He didn’t run the movie beyond this point, and stopped the movie and kept restarting. He always watched that first slide and restarted. On observing whatever he was doing, I realized he was watching the screen closely and realized he was watching a word “venue” that appeared among a jumble of words. It was then easy to understand what he was doing. He already knew the word “Avenue” and used to like that word. So when he was watching this slide, he assumed it was his favorite word and kept watching it. Once I asked him whether he was watching for “avenue”, he was very happy and then on stopped playing that CD. It was as if he wanted somebody to understand him and his feelings. When that was understood he was contented and stopped his repetitive actions. Going to my child’s level is immensely helping me and my son.

By going down to my son’s level, I am able to get joint attention in activities with him. This lead to the starting/development of his speech. Also the bonding/relationship with my son is getting stronger.  As his trust on me is improving, I am able to get him involved in many other activities by which I have overcome many of his sensory issues, communication issues like language limitations and many other things.
So simply put in a line, going down to the child’s level, bridges the gap between our world and their world.

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Please click the following link for a comprehensive documentation of my journey with Aakash: Click Here
Here is the link to the playlist of Activities done with Aakash, in YouTube: Click Here