My strategy was simple: repetition. I had tried this before but not knowing the ins and outs of autism, I did it wrong. You see, I had tried many different strategies and if they didn't work, I would try something else. Because that makes sense, doesn't it? If something doesn't work, you move on. Thing is, that doesn't work for people with autism.
I decided to tackle one thing at a time and simply repeat as many times as necessary. I also buttoned down the hatches at home. I started restricting his diet but only in small amounts because he was averse to so many things. I simply eliminated small things (like sugar) to see if that made any difference. It did. I also arranged things better for him. We labeled things with pictures and created a structured routine at home. We were more aware of sensory stimulation and decided to simply keep him away from things that would set him off. He didn't like the sun, so we got him sunglasses. He didn't like scratchy clothes so we bought him only consignment stuff that had been worn to softness. He didn't like certain sounds, so we got him a set of ear muffs that would muffle things for him if we went to loud places. This totally worked and calmed him down significantly. We also continued to work on words, except we only picked a handful instead of going through many at a time. We just tried to find what worked and rolled with it. I know it all seems like common sense but it wasn't until we had a full understanding of autism that we could even remotely come up with any sort of strategy. We continued to reinforce the basics: making him give eye contact, encouraging correct speech and eliminating triggers. We also had to sacrifice a great deal of us being able to go out. We didn't go on vacation, go out to eat, go to the movies, basically do anything because it was too difficult for him. It was a small sacrifice for his peace of mind. I also began to give him vitamin supplements and took him to a chiropractor for weekly visits. Who knows if this worked but I had read a study where they found many children to gain many functions with the help of chiropractic. I wasn't above it so I decided to give it a shot. I can't say definitively whether the chiropractic alone did anything but over that coming summer with the combined efforts of diet changes, constant work at home, behavior modifications, chiropractic and special education, he made HUGE improvements.
The first thing we decided to focus on was riding his bike. He had desperately wanted to learn to do it but had such struggles. He couldn't coordinate his hands and feet and the bike would tumble underneath him. When that happened he would throw it to the ground, kick it and then start screaming at the top of his lungs and run off, sometimes falling down on the ground and hitting himself. This had to stop. As soon as summer came along, I started taking the kids outside for two to three hours a day and during that time I would work with him. Every time things wouldn't work, I would make him look at me and I would tell him to say, "I need help." I'm not exaggerating when I say we had to do this thousands of times. It was not uncommon to say it up to two hundred times a day. But do you know what happened? After about six weeks of doing this every single day, repeating the same thing over and over until I thought my brain would go numb, he got it. Not only did the practice teach him to handle the bike, when he did fall, he would simply look over and shout, "I NEED HELP!" instead of screaming and crying. This meant no fits, no frustration or exasperation for either of us and it was incredible. We had given him the words, a means to communicate and he finally learned it. He made the connection that he could alleviate his frustration by saying those three little words. In the end I would only have to raise my eyebrows and he would immediately stop crying and say "I need help." What a difference!
Next, I decided to tackle potty training. Because I'm crazy. And masochistic. He wouldn't go anywhere near the bathroom. It's understandable because it's kind of a sensory nightmare. It's typically colder in there. It echoes so the sound is off. It's wet and stinky and bright. I removed on of the lights from overhead which made it dimmer and made it warmer in there. I also tried to warm the toilet seat, never flush while he was in there and never ran the faucet. This seemed to calm him a bit but he would still scream bloody murder every time I put him on the potty. I put him on every 15 minutes, for five minutes and he would scream for the entire time. Eventually I lost my hearing.
After about a week, he stopped screaming but would squirm and scratch. It was at this time that I had to break down and take him somewhere because we couldn't stay home forever! I took him to get the oil changed in our car and to the supermarket and to the post office. And no matter where we went, I took our little potty and made him sit on it every 15 minutes. He sat on there in parking lots, on the side of the road and in many businesses where we would come out and people would stare at me in disgust because he had just been screaming for five minutes. I did this for eight weeks and nearly lost my mind. It was incredibly difficult. I can't tell you how many days, Howie came home and found me in tears.
Bubba has been holding his pee and poop for nearly two months. Every once in a while, he would slip and pee in the potty. It was just enough reinforcement to get me through another week. But the poop? He refused, choosing to go in his night time diapers instead. Eventually, I found that he would poop if I bribed him with dinosaur fruit snacks and slowly but surely, he started going on the potty. Over two and half months had passed of me putting him on that damn potty every 15-20 minutes. I was exhausted but triumphant!
We backed up all that we were doing with outside help as well. One of Howie's co-workers was dating a girl who was a special educator and since she was looking for experience and we were looking for help, things worked out. She came every week and helped him with his fine motor skills, language and comprehension. He LOVED her. In fact, he completely fell in love with her and would get giddy every time he saw her car roll up our driveway. For whatever reason, he just clicked with her and learned a great deal from her as well!
Somewhere during the course of the summer, he had taken a liking to sidewalk chalk. I would draw giant dinosaurs for him and he loved it. Eventually, he started drawing as well and became better and better at it. He also began copying letters, including spelling out his name and when he got good at it, I began showing him how to do it on giant dry eraser boards and finally on paper. By the end of the summer I was weary but Bubba had learned a couple of handfuls of words and phrases, had begun writing the beginning of his name, was drawing and manipulating pictures, could ride a bike and was completely potty trained. It was a very productive few months in this house!
I look back on things and realize this was the turning point for him. He still had a long way to go but that summer, as difficult as it was, had been the foundation of his success. There was still so much he couldn't do; but it was the beginning of great things to come.
Read Part One
Read Part Two