Autism enrichment

learning enhancement

stimulation for growth or comfort, adding wealth of experience

creating new opportunities for self expression, growing skills,

finding new ways to connect with our world.

When I was a very young child I spent my time in a ‘chair table’ seat which

kept me confined for much of the day. From the time I could sit up until I could walk with the aid of my parents holding my hands, I rarely left that table. My mother was autistic and I was her first child. She was terrified of germs since they brought me home as a preemie of 4 lbs with strict instructions to wear masks and sterilize everything!!!! I can remember spending time in that chair clearly. She would give me things such as measuring cups, spoons, some plastic toy or bits of food whenever I would get restive or call to her. She spent a good bit of time out of sight in another room but I could hear her, and often she had the radio on. The sounds fascinated me.
It got to the point that I was bored and restricted in that chair and began to fight being put into it.
A few whacks on my bottom got compliance at first, but soon after I began to fight in earnest. She finally understood that she needed to do something else with me. I was allowed to roam on the carpet or spent time in my crib with playthings.. when I was ‘free’ I was hit on the hands or the backside if I touched something I was not supposed to. I never understood why I was getting hit, It would come out of the blue and I never associated the punishment with the transgression. (that is another story).
A few times when at the grocery store my mother selected little “wonder books” from a rack and brought them home. She was a very poor reader, but I do remember her reading those books to me and my sister … the presence of my sister means I must have been at least 2 years old. How I loved the books! I was hungry for more books and as soon as I could talk I asked to be read to and asked for books when I spotted them in the stores. By 4 I was reading way above my age level, my first adult book was “Robinson Crusoe” which I found at the back of my grandmother’s closet on a visit to her along with a treasure trove of Will James, Sanford Tousey, and other books for older kids and adults. It is hard to describe the joy that brought! I started kindergarten as a reader but although we were taught words to read on the blackboard (boring, I already knew them) I was not allowed access to library books of the classroom in first and second grade. Instead while all of the other kids were reading, I was expected to work on my very poor penmanship and learning to print in first grade, then to write cursive in 3rd grade.
It caused me such pain to be punished like that. I felt only discouragement, the idea that I could write well enough to be allowed to read was never grasped. It caused me such despair that I struggled so with writing. I would never get to that bookshelf. ( I never did, in those classes) I was burning to get at the books!

About that time ( summer between first and second grade) my mother learned to drive and took us to the library a few times. I was so disappointed that I was only allowed to take out 2 books at a time. Sister could take out 2 books too, so that gave me 4 new books to look at. Soon I was pestering my mother for more trips to the library. I think she dreaded it and had very little interest in it.. it meant she had to read new and more difficult books to us (she was so dyslexic her reading was probably 2nd grade level).
Mother hated books around the house, ( somebody might ask her if she had read them, or ask her questions about them) although she usually had a woman’s magazine for the new recipe and craft ideas/ decorating ideas they contained. She hid my father’s favorite books in the back of the closet and refused to let him leave them around the house.
I read those magazines, and when I discovered my father’s books in the closet around age 10 I devoured every one of them. “How to make friends and influence people”, “Shepherd of the hills”, “Sgt York and his people”, ” How to build your dream home for under $5000.”… What if I had volumes of appropriate reading material instead?

I often wonder what might have happened if I had free choice and help in choosing special interest books and free- will selection of books at that age? I did not get that until I was allowed to walk to the library by myself at around age 12. I had to walk to school and the library was on the route. I came home with armloads of books several times a week.

What if I had been given more input and stimulation during the early years in that chair and in my first explorations as a barely-toddler. What if? ????

Fast forward to today’s children, especially those confined in any of many ways and in care (as are all infants and small children). Are children getting enough input from other sources besides tv and videos and continual exposure to electronic games ?
Are they having adventures in new places, seeing ,touching, feeling, observing, hearing,tasting new things every day?
At that very young age I was a sponge for knowledge, absorbing everything I could. Instead of being exposed to every possible stimulus and source of input, I was confined for the convenience of the adults in the house, shut away for the comfort of the adults, restrained and made to refrain from learning new things by the adults in control at home and at school.
Parents and caretakers may not be aware of the huge thirst for information and the inextinguishable curiosity that goes with many autistic children (and NT children too!)
Imagine nurseries, daycare, schools, institutions for care taking for both young and old people.

I worked in a child care institution before I retired ( most of the kids were autistic) and my mother was confined to a nursing home for the last 6 years of her life. I saw for myself the poverty of input on those “care” levels. Except for one ‘planned craft’ a day, it was videos, tv, music… and not much else, all day every day, even those in very limited amounts. (the kids had school and counselors daily as well).
I have seen the minimal interest in giving input and creative/ self expressive outlets to the residents there. “it just makes a mess” “what is the point?, it is a pain”.
What a desolate and vacant environment! Overworked, underpaid for the most part, struggling with their own lives, caretakers, parents, daycare workers and some teachers may be far less enthusiastic than the would-be participants.
I urge those who might have autistic persons in your charge to consider how lives could be enriched at every stage of living.

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