Take away, for a minute, the fact that we work or live with young people with autism. Instead think of the scene in that movie where the family are on a road trip…

…cut to the kids sitting in the back and one asks “are we there yet?”

They keep asking me…

Not 5 seconds later they ask again. By the time the family arrives at the destination, the child has asked no less than 500 times. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. How do you make the trip more bearable? You can’t make them be quiet, and threats to leave them on the side of the road prove fruitless. So what do you do? You might give them an estimate of when you will arrive. You might tell them what has to happen before you get there (“eat lunch, drive for 4 hours, watch a movie”). You might suggest they play ‘I-spy’ for the 20th time.

So what happens when a child with a disability, who may not be able to speak but uses visuals or another means to communicate, asks for something they love or want? If they had a voice we couldn’t stop them. So does that mean just because they have a disability we shouldn’t let them? Of course this doesn’t mean we always have to honour what they are asking for. But just as the parent did in the car trip, we have lots of other tools. We can tell the students when they might be able to access their request, we can acknowledge their request but then redirect them to what they need to do. In any case, if we are able to:

(a) allow a child to request their needs and wants
(b) acknowledge this request and
(c) either honour it, redirect and/or indicate when they may be able to access it

Then we may be able to avoid the overwhelming sense of frustration that many young people may experience when they think they have not been heard.

A practical cautionary tip, “wait” and “later” are probably not going to cut the mustard in terms of supporting a child to understand when they may be able to access preferred items. Using a schedule to redirect as to when a preferred item or activity might be accessed is a more concrete way of supporting their understanding.

Rachael Bowen
Giant Steps Sydney
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