Leandro Teaches a Lesson
Leandro was diagnosed with Autism. To his mom, dad and even me, his therapist, a better description would be Difficult. Very Difficult. Leandro had opinions and mostly they were “No”. He would only eat certain things He wouldn’t do this and he didn’t like that. Mostly his folks dealt with him by letting him do what he wants. He was intelligent and obstinate.
When I first came to his house for a home visit, he refused to do any of the activities I had brought in my bag. Finally I brought out the sure-to-engage-children–on–the spectrum toy—a toy with lights and sounds and movement —He grabbed that and played with it exclusively, not even letting his sister have a look. When it was time for me to go, he had a royal meltdown.
On succeeding visits, he became more interested in my other activities. He used the word “share” which meant that you share with him, not that he would share with you. He approached his life with a rigid attitude that things had to go his way, or else.
His parents were understandably relieved when it was time for him to go to preschool at the local Head Start program. His teachers became less enthusiastic. Leandro would not follow the rules. He wouldn’t eat at mealtime, he wouldn’t sit in circle, and he wouldn’t play with others and he didn’t like to be touched.
The only thing he would respond to was a firm voice. He was learning the rule: First you do this, then you can do that
My work, at that point, was to bring in a group movement activity so he would learn how to play with others. The first time, I brought in a simple “London bridge” game where kids went under a bridge made of foam noodles and, at a certain moment in the songs, the kids under the bridge would get caught between the noodles. The kids laughed and couldn’t wait to get “caught”. Uncharacteristically, Leandro, stayed near the action instead of the other side of the room. His whole body was moving and excited in his space but he refused to join in.
The next time I brought in hula-hoops and laid them on the floor and the game was to jump from hoop to hoop. I knew that Leandro loved to jump and sure enough, with just some encouragement, he was jumping from hoop to hoop. Each time I rewarded him with a big smile and a high five.
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