Dear Parent of Autistic Kindergartener,

I applaud you. I have advocated for shadows since I started this kind of work,
three years ago. This is the first time I have read concrete evidence as to why
this makes extraordinarily good sense.

In your recent posting you mentioned,
..."I am not sure what the NY system is like, but in Pennsylvania the kindergartens
are very academic and unless your child is able to understand 5 step instructions at
one time, the idea of an aide may be necessary."....

I'm not sure who specifically you were writing ..
to, but you might as well have been
writing to all parents of HFA (high functioning autistic) or AS (Asperger's) parents.
I might as well add, any parents of children who have any other diagnoses that does
not prevent their child from leaving Kindergarten with the basic attending skills
needed to be promoted to first grade.

A child does not need speech, does not need bathroom skills, does not need mobility
to be able to advance to a fully inclusive first grade classroom. He/she needs to be
able to sit still for brief periods of time, five to ten minutes, and needs to be able
to focus age appropriate  rec...eptive skills on the teacher ( I'm guessing at a rule of
thumb here of fifty months plus). I don't think the child has to be able to focus on
other children initially but hopefully, since social skills will be a goal, the child
will (by school year end) be able to play with another child who is directing a play
based activity.

I can only imagine one thing that would prohibit a HFA or AS child from being included
in the regular open first grade classroom. This is behavior. If the child is not able
to listen, he will not be able to focus, if he is not able to focus then the other
students will not benefit from having him in the classroom. This child, any child,
will know instinctively whether or not they are a part of the whole. To include a
child, any child, but especially an autistic child, in a place, any place, where
they are not understood, not wanted, not heard is hurtful.

I read recently about a mother who's child is terrified of a physician's scrub
brush because someone tortured the child with some sort of sensory integration
therapy. I could call this "medieval integration torture/therapy", but only if
it doesn't work. On some children it makes a huge, beneficial, difference.

I hope "IF" the mother who I am referring to, is reading this that she will find
that I am on her side. No one who loves a child, is going to let any beneficial
treatment go untried. Many of us want change to occur so much that we don't know
when enough is enough. What does work for an autistic child?

Things that might work: Low extraneous noise levels (fluorescent lights, traffic,
lunch rooms, teacher talking while kids are talking), sensory integration therapy...P,
diet therapy, vitamin therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and
language therapy,  audiological counseling, psychiatry, social work, {if money is
a problem, or getting service is a problem.}, pharmaceutical trials, picture exchange
systems, LOVAAS, TEACCH, parental education, Lots of love and understanding.
(this list is not exhaustive or in any particular order).

What does not work? Possibly the same things listed above that did work with one
child but won't work with another, depending on the child's emotional development
or his/her personality. The only way you will know if something will work with your
child is to try it.  Included in what does not work has to be the behaviors that
the Autistic person exhibits when he/she is having coping or sensory integration
problems. These self stimulating behaviors are som...e of the things that tipped
us off originally that this person  might be Autistic. They include: aloofness,
spinning things, finger flapping, arm flapping, poor eye contact, tantrums, head
banging, rocking, screaming, demanding that they be able to carry a toy or totem
where ever they go, focus on one thing or topic to an extreme, excessive fascination
with one's  own fingers. I use these examples only in regard to when an Autistic
person uses one or more of these behaviors in response to external stimuli
(reacting to  another person).  When a person does one or more of these behaviors
from internal stimuli (they initiate the behavior for no apparent reason) then
this is not a learned behavior. An example would be when a person speaks using
echolalia and has poor eye con...Htact. This is not learned behavior, this is behavior
that they were born with. (ie. Autism). Autistic people may come to depend on their
tantrumming to get what they want or to get out of what they don't want to do, but
they might also finger flap, head rock, SIB, or zone out of the present time.
These avoidance behaviors are just as effective for the child as more socially
appropriate behaviors, but since the child is mainly interested in coping with
life's adversities he/she has to learn over time to choose more appropriate behaviors.

How do we know in a two year old if they are high functioning at all? Especially
when autistic behaviors have stood in the way of developing the ability to understand
or to speak. Every parent wants their child to be high functioning and every therapist,
teacher and physician wants to be sure th...Bat all high functioning children are
identified and are placed in a regular classroom. So, how do we get from the point
where all we see is autistic behaviors to a point where we see an intelligent,
learning child? We try meds, vitamins, diet changes, sensory integration, and
whatever fixes we can dream up. So long as an Autistic child's behaviors are so
blatant and so untreatable that we can't penetrate the child's defenses long
enough for learning to take place then we are better off not trying to teach
to him. Instead, give this child your attention, gain his trust. Let him be
the center of attention with no demands placed upon him/her. Entertain this
child, read to this child, walk with this child, follow this child, talk to
this child and above all listen to this child. Everyone develops at their own
pace and trying t...ïo force an Autistic child to meet some predetermined
developmental schedule might be counterproductive.  If the parent or caregiver
can provide the child with  a sense of security, not place demands on the child,
and can wait until the child's behaviors have lessened to the point that some
learning can take place then the child is going to be able to start making good
progress in communication and social skills and will no doubt evenually exhibit
age appropriate language skills. My fear is that when we try to induce a behavior
in a child who's Autism is raging, thus preventing him from making sense of
he world, then we are causing the child to retreat even further and into negative
behaviors and to distrust people who come to the child saying they have come to help.

Our first goal should be to identify the highest level of functioning a
child is capable of.

Autistic behaviors will diminish if a chi....ld can learn new behaviors are
functional and beneficial.

Autistic behaviors may increase if unreasonable demands are placed
upon the child. Trying to order an autistic child to sit still when he
is being bombarded with sensory input he cannot control is futile.

There are many treatments that appear to reduce sensory overload
self stimulating behavior, fear, anxiety and aloofness in Autistics
that do not require the child's cooperation. ( examples: diet,
meds, sensory integration therapy)

Direct behavioral management:  time outs, scoldings, with holding
favorite toys, probably won't work if the child is unable to
understand what is happening and why it is happening.

Being patient and waiting until the child is able to participate in
memorization work before beginning formal schooling is
probably the best plan.

While you are waiting, learning is still going to take place. This is called
exploratory learning. The child is free to go where he wants and
to pick out what ...
he finds of interest. The parent/teacher's job is
to identify things by name and to model simple correct word
combinations,  encourage the child in his abilities, and to foster
an environment which will encourage the child to focus his
attention on one activity for five to fifteen minutes. Having a
support person with the child during his exploratory time is

In preschool environments the child will need the support person to
educate school staff and to intercede with the child's
classmates as necessary. The school's schedule should be
followed as much as possible with  the child's shadow or teacher
making transitions as painless as possible. The caregiver/
teacher should empathize with the autistic child when
tr...Wansitions or other scheduled events are not easy and provide
the child with a non-judgemental, understanding person that the
child  can safely vent on without redress.

My  experience is that a child who can focus enough to follow three
step directions will learn to follow five step directions. A child
who can follow one step directions will learn to follow three step
directions. All of this is dependent on the child being able to focus.
Predicting when that time will come depends on a host of variables.
Try nonconfrontational behavior management techniques, if these do not
work then wait until the child  matures enough to be able to listen
and respond appropriately.

I sure do invite feedback to my essay from anyone and everyone.
Let me know how you feel about my observations.
Thanks ahead of time.

John W. Clabaugh MS., CCC/SLP