Autism Treatment Center of America®

Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues

Chapter 6 Part VI

As the program continued, Raun produced more varied facial expressions and communicated more with gestures. Playing in the mirror had become one of his favorite games. I was increasingly conscious of his ability to control his environment. He manipulated us now by taking our hands, pulling us toward objects he wanted, and then crying. The message was loud and clear. I want. I want.

What wonder! In the morning, he took Samahria's hand and led her to the refrigerator to show her that he wanted juice. In the evening of that same day, he pulled me to the bottom of the staircase to show me that he wanted to go upstairs. The second floor area was Raun's private world, where he often wanted to go to be alone. We always allowed him this solitude, although we would intercede after an extended period of time.

When we put a glass of water on the table, he would go after it once he saw it. We would help him hold the glass in his tiny hands. Previously, Raun had responded only to foods and liquids placed directly in front of him. Now he extended his frontier somewhat further. He would follow us and the glass with his gaze rather than sit Buddha-like with a fixed stare. Had he solidified new connections in the synapses of his brain? Had he altered the hard wiring of his neurons as his interest in the world grew?

We had also noted his increasing attentiveness to people; he was more involved, almost caring, in his manner when playing with us. Perhaps the reasons were obvious. People had become increasingly more useful to him, helping him get more of what he wanted. And we, the people, had used every experience of contact as an opportunity to express acceptance, love, and joy. Always, we had been the ones to initiate contact and cheer his accomplishments, whether he built a tower out of blocks or looked directly into our eyes. Now Raun began to make moves toward us. He would give us a plate or the top from a jar so we could spin them. Give and take in our interactions had increased dramatically by comparison with those first weeks in which he showed little response to our imitations of him.

Another hurdle had to be jumped. Initially, Raun had used crying as a means of articulating wants and asking for things. We permitted it and reinforced it because we believed that the fact he was communicating was far more important than the specific form of communication he chose. We did not want to extinguish what had just begun by confusing him with potentially incomprehensible directions. But now Raun was much more aware of himself - of his wants and his abilities. We could build on this strength. We believed Raun could accept and deal successfully with change if we altered our own behavior slowly and respectfully. Instead of jumping to fulfill his wants every time he cried, we decided to pause, ask him what he wanted, encourage him to point or make some gesture to help us understand, and then deliver on his request. Sometimes, he appeared impatient with this strategy. Other times, he stared at us genuinely perplexed. We followed this procedure over and over again throughout the day.

Each unfolding week ushered in new accomplishments - new breakthroughs. Yet I kept reviewing an area I knew to be critically important to Raun's ability to think and ultimately talk.

Each evening, for weeks, I put him through the same test, hoping in this way to help him eventually to accomplish the near impossible. I would greet him in the kitchen and show him a cookie. When he put his hand up for it, I would slowly move it away while encouraging him to follow it with his eyes. Then I would make a great show of putting the cookie behind a piece of paper. He would lose track of it once it disappeared from sight and then stand there confused. He still could not keep an object in his memory when it was out of view. He still had a limited ability, at best, to solidify images in his mind for future reference. Developing and perfecting this area was critical; it would serve as a foundation upon which he could build language.

This would be our game - Raun's and mine. The rehearsal for perhaps another time.

Chapter 6 Part VII