Friday, August 14, 2009
Dan E. Burns, the author of Saving Ben: A Father's Story of Autism sent me a copy of his new book so that I could write a review. I am so glad because even though there are plenty of memoirs on the autism parenting experience, he is a really talented writer and I always find that each memoir has a different perspective to offer.
I am only halfway through the book, but in this case the boy has severe developmental delays and at five years of age the parents suffer through- screaming, lack of toilet training, stripping and an overall unwillingness to cooperate doing anything for himself. Now the father has discovered that behavior modification can make a big difference in his search for a "cure". I don't believe that autism can be cured but I do believe that the person can be helped to lead a happy and productive life. Even Temple Grandin who is obviously successful, is not "cured".
However, a few thoughts- I come across parents during my hippotherapy work who have syrupy sweet voices even while saying "no" as the child throws a toy and wonders why the child has these behaviors. I try to role model being firm. My voice gets angry when the child tries to pull my glasses off or throws my activity on the ground and then I make them do the activity (hand over hand) one more time. After that I try to find something they really enjoy, (like popping bubbles while we walk), can do successfully and follow up with a rewarding trot.
I always want the kids to get a lot of sensory stimulation with trotting, weaving and going up and down hills no matter what, so I often start out the session with these and toward the end of the session do something less desirable (such as lacing a board or closing buttons) and give an additional trot afterwards. I also like to have the horse walk, stop for the child to do a brief step in an activity (such as put a ring on a stack) and then walk again (movement reinforcement again). All that stop and go provides its own wonderful sensory input.
These are just a few thoughts spurred on by this book and I will write more when I finish reading it. The best thing about hippotherapy and the kids with autism is that I have all these great sensory reinforcers at my fingertips and they can't run away from me.
Barbara Smith, M.S., OTR/L author of, The Recycling Occupational Therapist