Primary School Years: Friendships – Extract from ‘Look Into My Eyes’

Many of my earliest memories are from my primary years. I don’t really remember much before that, and what I think I remember, I can’t be confident about – are they my memories, or just memories based on photographs I have seen? In this chapter, I will share my experience of my primary school years from about five years old up to ten or so. During this time, I began to recognise that I was different and started to learn about how to cope with the world around me.

Mum always described me as having a lot of common sense. I would describe myself as having common sense that sometimes isn’t common, and other times doesn’t make sense… From a very young age, mum trusted me to look after my younger siblings. She had tried babysitters, but often I was still the person with the most common sense in the room. I had good observation skills for safety, and because I couldn’t care less about most things that others seemed to really care about, I was often very calm. If there was an incident that needed to be handled I was likely to be the one who could work out what to do, and then calmly do it. This trait has helped immensely throughout my life.

Mum was a riding instructor, so growing up, she had to work when everyone else was off. My stepdad was a landscape gardener, so he worked long hours whenever the weather was suitable. Because mum taught people to ride horses, I spent most of my time around horses as a child. From the age of about eight, when mum was teaching, I would often be looking after my brothers. We would be at the riding centre, so mum wasn’t far away if we needed her – she couldn’t afford to have anyone else look after us, but she trusted me and felt I was responsible enough to look after my brothers. I knew that if there was a problem, I could either find mum, or seek out any of the other adults who ran the stables.

I remember some of my first experiences attending my first primary school. It was a small school with a cold outdoor swimming pool. I have certain memories that stand out about the pool. I remember flies floating in the pool. I remember the smell of the water. It smelt like water – I mean, it didn’t have an odd smell – but I remember the fresh watery smell from the pool. I also remember the feeling of being in the water, and remember times when my nan would come along and help out during swimming lessons. I didn’t like the swimming cap I had to wear. It used to hurt my head when I put it on and took it off. The cap would stick to my hair and felt like it pulled hair out of my head whenever I took it off. I did enjoy swimming though. My favourite thing about swimming was being underwater. I loved putting my head underwater, and as I got more confident, I would hold myself fully underwater at the steps. I loved how the sound changed underwater – it was quiet and peaceful, not as chaotic and overwhelming as the world above the water. I remember believing I could almost breathe underwater. I was aware that I couldn’t, but I felt that I was able to stay underwater longer by relaxing and imagining I was breathing, so I would make all the actions of breathing without actually breathing in. I would almost cycle air round, as if I was somehow breathing within myself.

I didn’t really have many friends in primary school. I was polite, so if someone engaged with me, I would be polite and do my best to try to engage with them back, but I didn’t really have much interest in interacting with other people. I would much rather have spent a break time at the hedges around the outside of the school grounds searching for snails and looking at other creatures. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I would take an ice cream tub around with me which I would fill with leaves, twigs, snails, caterpillars or grasshoppers. I wasn’t necessarily very good at socialising, and didn’t particularly care about others. That isn’t to say I wanted bad things to happen to others – I have always wanted everyone to be alright – but I was far more caring of animals. One day, when I was out with mum while she was teaching horse riding, I found an injured grasshopper. I took it home and tried to nurse it back to health by creating an environment for it and giving it some food.

Unfortunately, it didn’t survive. I didn’t get upset about it not surviving. I wanted it to live and get better, but my attitude was: once it had died, it had died. I did all I could think of to try to save it, and to my knowledge I couldn’t have done more. I remember burying it in the garden, because I thought that was what was supposed to happen to dead things, then I got on with my life. I didn’t get upset about not being able to save it, because I had done everything I felt I was able to do.

At one time, mum tried to arrange a birthday party for me at home. She invited many children I knew, and on the day of my party, no-one turned up. I think this was a telling sign of my relationships with others. I was polite to people but never really invested in my relationships with the other children in school. I was pretty much the same at home. I would prefer to spend time alone doing my own thing, but was generally polite. I don’t recall too much play with my brothers. When we did play, it was usually something active like hide and seek or manhunt, or it was making dens or climbing trees. It wasn’t really things where I was having to play with my brothers, but more things where I played alongside my brothers, or could feel like I was doing my own thing or engaging in a project – making something for some purpose.

I was far better at getting on with adults. I would ask questions all the time about things I was interested in, wanting to know more. At school, I would take my time getting ready to leave lessons so that the other children would leave and I could then ask the teacher any questions I had. If the lesson didn’t interest me, then I would get out as quickly as I could to try to avoid being stuck in the middle of a crowd of children all leaving at once. If I had to choose between spending time with children or adults I would usually choose to stand around the adults, and would normally latch on to one adult whom I would sit next to and talk to. That adult was normally chosen because they’d first approached me and started talking to me, but they would then be stuck with me until they walked away. If they walked off and left me, I wouldn’t seek anyone else out; I would rather sit on my own and keep myself to myself. Sometimes, another adult would come and talk to me and I would then talk to them about topics I enjoyed until they walked off too.

Look Into My Eyes: Asperger’s, Hypnosis, & Me by Dan Jones, is available in Paperback and for Amazon Kindle: http://apn.to/prod/1542551196

Primary School Years: Meditation, Animals & Developing Interests – Extract from ‘Look Into My Eyes’

At about eight years of age, I found a book that had a profound influence on me – The Magic of Thinking Big. This was a book I found lying around the house one day, and as a small child who loved magic, seeing a book with ‘Big’ and ‘Magic’ both written in the title was enough to make me want to know what it was about. The book taught me that you can achieve almost anything; you just have to plan and put in effort.

I learnt an incredible amount between the age of eight and ten – it has helped me immensely. The next significant learning wasn’t until I was 13, when I discovered hypnosis. As well as discovering The Magic of Thinking Big, I also lived in an environment that allowed me to spend a lot of time in the woods – or at least outside, with nature. I used to spend much of my time sitting in trees. I found life at home often stressful and noisy, and I wanted to escape, so I would go into the woods. I would find a tree, climb up high, and sit on a branch with my eyes closed, just listening.

In the tree I would focus my attention on the sounds of birds. I would try to locate where they were by focusing on individual sounds. I would focus on the sounds of the rustling leaves and try to notice each individual one, trying to break the sound down and see how it was formed. As an eight-year-old, I had never heard of meditation, but I had discovered meditation for myself. Sitting in a tree doing this helped me to feel calm; it helped to shut out the ’noise’. I think I was lucky having the opportunity to grow up in the countryside rather than in a town during this period of my life. Warningcamp became a place I would call home as a child – and still think of as home now.

Having a mum who was a riding instructor also gave me the opportunity to be around horses for all of my childhood. Mum has always told me I seemed to have a natural talent for horse-riding. I think I just feel a closer connection to animals than I do to people. Animals don’t expect me to try to communicate with them verbally – they don’t communicate with multiple messages, like people do. Most animals communicate very simply. People can say one thing and mean something else, and then when you don’t understand that they meant something else, they get annoyed or they tell you that you are stupid for not realising or understanding. On the other hand, an animal will just communicate one message at a time.

I used to have no problem getting on to any horse and riding it – horses seemed to trust me, as I did them. That doesn’t mean I thought they would never hurt me, but what I trusted was that they would be clear with their messages, and that I would understand them. Most wild animals, and many other animals, don’t demand my attention. I like being in nature, just observing, rather than needing to play with the animals. I love observing and learning, and it was this mindset which helped me to discover meditation sitting in the trees. All I was trying to do was to observe and learn. In the same way that someone parking a car may turn the music down to help them park, I closed my eyes to help me hear and focus.

During these early years, I started to become aware of patterns. I don’t know whether I had always liked patterns, but I was becoming more self-aware and so becoming more aware of what I liked and didn’t like. I seemed to have an ability to guess well with competitions like ‘how many coins are in the jar’. At a country fair, when I was about eight, I guessed the number of coins in a jar and got it correct. During the summer holidays when I was nine or ten, myself – along with many other children from the two primary schools in Arundel – painted a mural of different animals. On the last day, we were told to guess how many animals were on the mural, and the person who guessed closest would win a prize to be presented by the Mayor of Arundel. I guessed closest – just one number out.

Many of my lifelong interests started between the ages of five and ten. I have always been confused by people changing tastes and interests as they grow up. My view is that if you like something, why would you one day not like it? Between five and ten, I developed an interest in the music of Elvis Presley; I discovered books that taught me things, rather than just being stories; and I started meditating, although I didn’t know it was meditation at the time. I also became aware of some of my habits which would sometimes get me in trouble.

If I heard tunes or sounds, I would make the same sound myself, usually whistling it. I would copy words or phrases that people said which, for some reason, resonated in my mind when I heard them. What’s more, I would often copy them in a replication of the person’s voice. I didn’t realise that mimicking people could offend them – it would just happen automatically. I didn’t even realise I was mimicking them. And when I became aware I was saying or doing something, like whistling or saying a phrase in a specific way, I didn’t normally know where it came from or why I was saying it – it would just happen.

I would find myself mimicking accents and speech patterns that seemed to resonate with me. The best way to avoid offending people was to avoid people, to try and keep my mouth shut, and to keep what went through my head in my head. This was never easy, as most of what I would do would just happen. Often others would point out to me what I was doing, and I found it very difficult to stop something when I didn’t notice myself doing it.

Look Into My Eyes: Asperger’s, Hypnosis, & Me by Dan Jones, is available in Paperback and for Amazon Kindle: http://apn.to/prod/1542551196

Autism: Dealing with Anger – Tips for Parents

Those with autism often have extremes of emotion, they can be calm one minute and angry the next, sometimes without any obvious cause. This can be intimidating and frightening for parents. There are some helpful ways to manage anger. Obviously, the best way to manage anger is to reduce the chances of anger occurring. To do this a parent can find ways of communicating which, as far as possible, don’t create opposition. This isn’t saying don’t put boundaries in place, just reducing how often you say the opposite to the child. So if you say “no” this creates conflict, but there are many times when there is alternatives to the word “no” which can be used, like saying what you want instead of the word “no”. So a child may ask for something (like a magazine), your answer is going to be “no”, so instead of saying “no” you may say “you can… (have a magazine at the weekend/read the ones you have at home, etc)”. Like anything, this isn’t a guarantee that they won’t get angry, but when you don’t present the opposite view it often reduces the chances of conflict occurring, which could otherwise turn to anger. You can also notice triggers and so intervene with distraction when you know a trigger is likely to occur.

When the child is already angry anything which feeds into the fight or flight response is likely to escalate the anger. So any behaviours which could be perceived as threatening or trapping the child will make the situation worse, behaviours where the child feels they are safe and not trapped or threatened help to reduce anger. So talking calmly (not saying “calm down”) and quietly, not shouting or displaying anger in your voice, sitting beside the child (sitting is a calming act, so this also helps you to feel calmer), or away from the child, not standing in front of them towering over them. Giving them a couple of clear options which give them the chance to have a safe way out. For example; I worked with a teen who became aggressive, he was cutting things with a knife and threatening to cut anyone who came near him. I said I was going to sit in the seat (gesturing to a specific seat) and want to just talk to him see how I can help, if he decides he wants to attack me that is up to him, but I want to just see how I can help. I then sat down, we talked and the situation was resolved calmly and without further incident. Whereas a teen I was working with in a local school got angry, he kept saying he wanted to go to a quiet room, which had been an agreed location for him, the teacher dealing with him told him he isn’t going anywhere until he calmed down, the teen felt trapped and eventually injured the teacher so that he could get away, this got him permanently excluded, and most likely could have been avoided if the teacher let him go to the quiet room.

Look Into My Eyes: Asperger’s, Hypnosis, & Me by Dan Jones is available in Paperback & Kindle Here is a link to your local Amazon store: http://apn.to/prod/1542551196

Autism: Understanding Your Child’s Behaviour – Tips for Parents

Those with autism often respond in a primal way. They want one message communicated to them, and will usually communicate one message back. They will be happy, sad, angry, anxious, they often struggle with subtle emotions like annoyance. This isn’t to say they don’t experience subtle emotions, but they find it difficult to recognise them if they do experience them, so they will often feel angry and be angry, they won’t feel annoyed which in most people would lead to a more measured response before full-blown anger kicks in. For me personally for example I am normally ‘okay’. I don’t feel happy, sad, angry, or anxious, just normal. For most situations this is how I would describe myself. Then when the microwave starts beeping, for example, I am angry, If I am doing something like working on the computer and want to finish what I am doing before going to the microwave I will be angrily swearing at it to shut the f*** up for the full minute that it beeps for. I can see this is an over-reaction, but it happens every time. As soon as it stops beeping I am ‘okay’ again. Anything which triggers discomfort, whether it is due to excessive sensory stimulation, or uncertainty, etc., is likely to trigger the fight or flight response in the child, they will either become anxious, angry, or they will freeze and shut down from the external world.

They are also likely to have a black and white mindset, so they may be working well in class in school, then one small thing happens and they go completely the opposite way, they shut down, or get angry, or suddenly refuse to do anything. This can seem to come out of nowhere because others around them don’t necessarily recognise the patterns of what just happened. The child themselves may not be able to reflect on what happened to be able to understand why they went from calm to angry. One way to help find out what happened is to ask “what happened” and ask for a description of what they were doing before they got angry up to when they got angry. If you ask “why did you do that?” they are unlikely to know why, and so not likely to be able to answer this question. Asking “what” instead of “why” is more likely to lead to giving you the pattern of what happened, and you have a chance then of piecing together the “why”. An example of this was a child who was sat at home playing a handheld games console, then he got angry and threw it across the room, and started being violent. Asking why just got the answer “I don’t know, I just felt angry”. Asking what happened elicited that he was sat in the living-room, the TV was on in the background, he was playing his game, then he felt angry, threw his console, and became violent. The mum analysed what he had said and realised that the TV programme that was on was a talk show where the topic was absent fathers, and it was an emotive programme. The child’s father was absent and made no attempted to be in his son’s life. It was most likely this which triggered the sudden aggressive outburst. The child wouldn’t have noticed or worked that out by asking him why, but the parent could work it out. What made us confident that this was the cause was that it fit with other outbursts which had happened and what was occurring during those outbursts, like an outburst in class when the school children had to make Father’s Day cards.

Look Into My Eyes: Asperger’s, Hypnosis, & Me by Dan Jones is available in Paperback & Kindle Here is a link to your local Amazon store: http://apn.to/prod/1542551196

Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) and Autism

It is horrific to think that there are people out there who think using Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) is a good idea. I shared something about this on Twitter (https://twitter.com/AuthorDanJones/status/959198577611419650)

I struggle to comprehend how someone would conclude that this is a good thing and how they would decide to inflict this upon their child. Any parent using this to try to ‘cure’ their child will be committing child abuse which needs to be reported to the Police and Social Services as they are putting their child at immediate risk of harm. The parent needs help to be educated about autism and about what they can do to help their child with their child’s specific needs.

There is NO evidence that this works to help autistic children, there is NO cure for autism, autistic people are born autistic, you don’t cure how someone was born.

I think social media allows the idea of various false cures to spread and if a ‘cure’ sounds like an easier solution to the real answer then some people jump on it, and the way some people think is that the more ‘the establishment’ are trying to say don’t do it, the more they distrust that and believe they are lying and they want to use the cure. I think there is a very worrying anti-science trend where people seem to have left logic at the door and decided that opinions and personal beliefs count more than objective questioning, rigorous research and peer review. This doesn’t just go for autism, but also for health and nutrition with all of the claims of detoxing and intolerances, etc, with therapy with claims of homeopathy and various other alternative health treatments, and in science with claims as ridiculous as the Earth being flat and human caused climate change not being real.

Dan Jones is author of autism books including ‘Look Into My Eyes‘ and ‘Asperger’s Syndrome: Tips & Strategies‘ and has over 20 years professional experience as well as being autistic.

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and Autism

In regards to Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). On the surface there is a lot that seems right with it. The main thing that is wrong with it is its premise about people being broken and needing fixing, although I am aware that there is a lot of variation in how practitioners practice, and for the record I have never been through ABA, but I am autistic and I do have over 20 years professional experience (and training) working with autistic individuals across the spectrum.

A lot of what ABA practitioners do, like positive reinforcement of desired behaviours and actions towards desired behaviours, and (for many practitioners) not reinforcing negative behaviours is something taught on almost all parenting courses. But the focus isn’t just on helping autistic individuals with specific areas of their life, it is saying that some of the things they do are wrong and need fixing. There is also an issue of things the autistic individual likes being used as rewards, and not allowing these to be used in other areas of their life. Depending on what is used, this is also bad practice. If a child has a certain interest they should be allowed to do that interest, not be told they can only do it if they do x. My view is that the general rule should be if something positively meets any of the child’s innate emotional needs that should be supported and facilitated, not turned into a reward – this is just good parenting practice.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t behaviours some autistic people do which don’t need to be addressed, but they focus on things like stopping stimming, and forcing people to make eye contact without thought about why the autistic person does these behaviours. These behaviours are just treated as something they shouldn’t be doing.

I like touching soft things and if someone is wearing something soft I want to touch it. I’ve read Of Mice and Men, I know how an overwhelming desire to touch soft things can have a negative impact and be seen as inappropriate behaviour so I don’t do it, but when I was younger I wouldn’t have a problem reaching out and touching the soft material – for me it was reading Of Mice and Men that made me aware of the potential reaction or thoughts and feelings others can have to what I saw as an innocent action so I don’t do it, but this kind of behaviour is fine to help someone change.

It is also fine to teach autistic people how to relax physically and mentally, how to manage their emotions, etc, and exploring and teaching someone alternatives to stimming. It doesn’t mean you are saying stimming is wrong or that they shouldn’t do it, you are just trying to explore the idea of having more choice and freedom about how they behave. It could be that they decide to use some of the explored ideas in certain situations and stim like usual in other situations.

Stimming isn’t the autistic person’s problem, the people who usually have a problem with it are others around that person who don’t think the autistic person should be doing the behaviour. For the autistic person it is a solution, not a problem, what you want is to help someone have a range of potential solutions available to them to choose from.

Likewise, not making eye contact isn’t a problem to the autistic person, it is a problem to others who decide to interpret it as rude or not listening etc, to the autistic person it is usually a solution, it perhaps helps them to keep focused on what is being said so they take in more information, or it helps to reduce anxiety levels, etc… So again what you want is to help them have a range of potential solutions to choose from, like ways they can ‘fake’ making eye contact, or strategies for how and when they can make eye contact etc.

I’ve never experienced ABA and I’m not an ABA practitioner, so I can only talk about what I know about ABA from learning about it rather than any personal experience of it, but I do have experience as a professional working to support autistic individuals, and as an autistic individual myself. My understanding of ABA is that how it is usually practiced is behaviour modification through intensive positive reinforcement of desired behaviours and no reinforcement of undesired behaviours (although I am aware some practitioners have negative reinforcement of undesired behaviours and these can be unpleasant for the autistic individual and can cause them unnecessary anxiety, so you would want to check how a specific practitioner operates). As mentioned the main problem is who decides what is desired and undesired behaviour, and why do they think that behaviour is desired or not, and what do they think will happen if the child does the undesired behaviours? Another issue is some people talk about it like it is a cure when it isn’t a cure – if someone is autistic, they were born autstic and they will die autistic. They will not be cured. They may develop coping strategies and strategies to blend in and strategies they will use in different situations to appear neuro-typical in specific situations, and for some they may get better at this over the years, but they will be working hard to do this and will need to have some area of their life at least where they can be themselves, not this artificial version of themselves. And some people may decide they shouldn’t have to pretend to be anything other than themselves, and so they refuse to do so, and as long as they aren’t causing harm to others or to themselves then this should be allowed.

In parenting courses the aim is to help parents develop an authoritative parenting approach. This approach works fine even with autistic children, although you must be even clearer with autistic children around boundaries, consequences and routines etc., and it is very important to keep everything at the level of understanding of the child, whereas most children can cope fine if the parent doesn’t get it right all the time. So you want to have parents develop a child-centred authoritative parenting style, where they are led in how they apply that parenting style by the individuality of the child.

An authoritative parenting style focuses on showing high love and high limits and expectations. So it is different to an authoritarian parenting style which is high limits and expectations and low love (an army major style).

So you expect your child to do their best (not the same as expecting them to ‘be’ the best – you praise them for effort rather than focusing outcome only) you expect them to take responsibility for their actions, because you come from a place of love you show respect and respect their opinion, what you are doing is child centred, so the focus is on what is right for the individual child, not what are you going to impose on your child. That is the fundamental difference between ABA and what I would recommend, that ABA is like an authoritarian approach, it is dictating to the child how they must respond and what the practitioner decides is the right way to do things, rather than an authoritative approach which would be based on what is in the child’s best interests as a unique individual.

Some could argue that some children don’t know what is best for them, and over some issues (with all children) this is true, but the areas where someone should intervene are where a child may come to harm. So taking action because your teenage child has gone off with the local drug dealers because they see them as ‘friends’ who ‘get’ them, unlike you the old parent who knows nothing is a reasonable thing to do. The child doesn’t see the risks they are placing themselves at and the role of a parent isn’t to be the child’s best friend, it is to protect the child and help them develop into a responsible, respectful adult.

Helping a child to learn to speak through calm positive reinforcement is a good thing, helping to improve and develop many skills is good. With ABA generally as most practitioners appear to do it nowadays there isn’t a focus on negative consequences, but negative consequences are fine. There are two types people should use – natural consequences and related consequences. So if a teen goes out drinking and is drunk a bad consequence would be to shout at them and take all their belongings away, a good consequence would be, if they were sick, they clean it up. In the morning they get woken at a usual wake up time, they don’t get to lie in bed and sleep, just like normal they have to get on with the day. The headache etc is the consequence of drinking the night before. If they put themselves at risk by their behaviour and it was relevant then you may have consequences like, if they end up meeting with those same friends and not being home when you tell them they need to be home by, because they could be at risk you will call them, if they don’t reply and come home you will phone the police to find them etc… So these are negative consequences but relevant to the behaviour.

It is also important to help teach autistic children to manage uncertainty, to manage change, to manage sensory problems, because as they grow up all these things will happen if they are to be independent, to understand non-verbal behaviours and how different combinations of behaviours are linked to different emotional states, and communication skills etc. So teaching the skills and reinforcing this learning is good because these are things they will need to learn. This is just an extension on what parents should be doing with any children. Children need to prepare for independence, so they need to learn to do various household chores, to cook, how to interact with others in different contexts – like saying please/thank you/hello/goodbye, etc, how to catch public transport, safety awareness, what to do in emergencies, etc… all of this and a lot more needs to be taught to children/teens before they leave home. With autistic individual’s they may well have a lot more that they need to learn because they have additional challenges they will face if they are to live independently. You can’t avoid uncertainty, change, sensory challenges, social communication challenges, etc., and live independently and hold down a job. To avoid all these things means to be alone and probably reliant on others – either through direct support or through benefits etc and perhaps just living alone never stepping out of your comfort zone.

I don’t see any of these as trying to change who someone is, they are teaching and developing additional skills so that the person has more choice. The non-autistic teen may leave home and never clean their flat, it doesn’t mean they didn’t learn how to clean. They know how to clean, they know it is an important skills, but they can decide not to clean if they want to, and it could be that when they end up in a relationship or reach a specific age they suddenly decide they want to clean after all, and as long as it doesn’t become dangerously unhygienic or pose a risk to anyone then their decision to clean or not to clean is their right. Likewise an autistic individual may leave home and live independently and may decide to go to work, work, then go home, and never socialise, because this is comfortable for them and they prefer it, but if they had to attend a team building work course for a weekend they know the skills to keep calm, to get through it, even if they would rather not do it. It could be that they decide not to do it, but that is their choice. The idea is to give them more freedom and choices rather than the only choice being ‘I can’t do that, I’m quitting this job’.

Another issue with ABA is that it is just ‘identify the behaviours that we don’t want the child to do and change them, identify the behaviours we want the child to do and get them doing those behaviours’. As mentioned, it misses the ‘love’ element, the respect for the child and what they are communicating by their behaviour and their inner world and emotions. So if a child gets angry when told to stand in line at school because they struggle with the noise, with the chaos of all the movement around them, with people bumping into them, touching them etc, and then they get angry, ABA would focus on rewarding when they can be in that kind of situation and be calm – a good practitioner would hopefully have taught them the required skills. But the reality is that they are unlikely to have been able to practice being in those situations in ‘real-life’ so what happens in a therapy session may not translate to the real-life setting. A preferable strategy would be to have the school recognise that the behaviour is communicating the challenges the individual is experiencing with the situation and look at what can make that easier for the child, like perhaps having a few smaller lines, or having them at the back perhaps able to wear headphones, or have them seated somewhere etc – obviously there are many factors you would look at to decide on the way forward. One thing I would do if it was me as a professional in this example is agree a way out of the queue but also get agreement for the child to do some of the strategies they have been learning and see how long they can successfully remain in the queue and whether they can remain their longer than they did previously before implementing what we have agreed.

Autistic people have a very emotional inner world and many autistic people either feel a lot of emotion or no emotion, there is rarely a nice mild in-between stage. So this has to be explored and respected as well.

I think one thing for parents to be aware of is that ABA isn’t a ‘cure’ it isn’t designed as a cure, it isn’t meant to ‘cure’. The autistic person is and always will be autistic. With any luck they will just have learned skills and behaviours that help them navigate the world better. So parent’s shouldn’t seek it as a cure, but as support for themselves and their child if ABA is what they are seeking. ABA doesn’t teach a child to be emotionally spontaneous etc, so the child isn’t going to suddenly start hugging or ‘showing love’ how they want the child to just because they had ABA. This comes from teaching about emotional intelligence and theory of mind, and reciprocal communication etc, and even then (I’m nearly 40 and struggle with all this) it doesn’t develop to be ‘like normal’, and if the autistic person is directly asked they will probably state that they are just doing what they think they are supposed to be doing for the situation. This can annoy people, like when one partner says to another ‘I want you to wash up because you want to wash up’ and the other partner says ‘I am washing up because you want me to wash up and I want to make you happy’. This type of situation happens a lot with couples, and ends in unnecessary arguments. The first person should be happy the second person loves them enough to do something they don’t really want to do because it will make their partner happy.

Here is some research around ABA (here is a meta-analysis study: A meta-analytic study on the effectiveness of comprehensive ABA-based early intervention programs for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders – ScienceDirect)

Over the years I have worked with autistic individuals across the spectrum. Some who would be described as having classic autism may well struggle for certain learning to stick, for example, one autistic girl I worked with had a tendency to run across roads without looking. It didn’t matter what was said to her about the dangers of this, she wouldn’t stop at the road side. This individual and others like her have needed far more intensive support, guidance and monitoring. I prefer the idea that parents learn the required skills and are supported to parent in a way that will get the most from their child. This support should include ways for the parents where needed to have ‘me time’ whether it is having times when an experienced professional will look after their child for a day, or an evening, or where the child can go away somewhere for a few days on a short break that is tailored to their interests, etc. I know support like this exists (at least here in the UK) but that it is often difficult to access due to funding and thresholds.

My view is that the goal with autistic children should be to help them develop and thrive in their own unique way. Behaviours that they do which don’t cause problems to anyone else and don’t harm them should be allowed to continue if the autistic individual wants it to continue. The child’s level of understanding should be what is considered when looking at what to teach, and the context things will be needed in. There needs to be more focus on listening to the autistic community about their experiences and what their behaviours mean to them, rather than making assumptions about what behaviours mean based on a neuro-typical perspective.

There is nothing wrong with many behaviours autistic people, especially children do, usually when you explore who has the problem, it is someone else – “they aren’t looking at me so they aren’t listening” your interpretation, not necessarily correct, “they are daydreaming they aren’t paying attention” your interpretation, not necessarily correct, “they are fiddling with something/doodling etc, they are being rude/they aren’t paying attention” your interpretation, not necessarily correct. There are many examples like this where because something isn’t the way they would do it, they assume it shouldn’t be done that way.

If a behaviour is likely to cause harm in some way to the self or others then it needs addressing, just like you would with anyone else. If it doesn’t cause harm to the self or others then you can teach alternative ways of getting the same outcome as the behaviour, but it is up to the individual whether they want to do their current behaviours or the alternative behaviours, but this involves understanding the internal workings of the behaviours from the autistic person’s perspective first and accepting that what may be seen as something different is likely to be a solution for that person, not a problem for that person.

Dan Jones is author of autism books including ‘Look Into My Eyes‘ and ‘Asperger’s Syndrome: Tips & Strategies‘ and has over 20 years professional experience as well as being autistic.

Living with Autism: Birthday Party for One

In this video about my experiences growing up and living with autism spectrum disorder I share about the first birthday party my mum arranged for me (and the first party she had arranged for any of her children – it was to celebrate my 5th birthday) and how it went – hint… no-one turned up… 😦

Living with Autism: Being a Hug Free Baby

In this video about my experiences growing up and living with autism spectrum disorder I talk about how I never used to hug as a baby and how as I grew up I would hug occasionally if I was asked to do so for a photo, but always felt uncomfortable with it, and what my experiences have been since then into adulthood.

Living with Autism: Fighting Low Expectations

In this video I talk about my experiences as a professional who works therapeutically with families as well as my own personal experiences of fighting low expectations. People with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome are often very capable they just need the right guidance and opportunities to learn skills which don’t come naturally and instinctively.