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Through his Puzzled Eyes - Diagnosis and Early Childhood - 2
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diagnosis and childhood
Jonathan was born in 1989, a beautiful healthy child with an expressive personality. He had good eye contact, would laugh and was receptive to social cues with his parents and siblings.
However, when he was about 2 ½ years of age, he began to regress dramatically. His eye contact became non-existent and the few words and even phrases he had mastered in the previous months slipped away into completely non-verbal interaction. Something wasn't right, and my parents decided to seek medical help. They took Jonathan to a neurologist, who first diagnosed Jonathan with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a prognosis that meant he could never develop “typical” brain function for his age.
Throughout the years, Jonathan needed a tremendous amount of academic and behavioral support. Jonathan was extremely, EXTREMELY hyperactive, to the point that his teachers needed to physically restrain him in his seat for minutes at a time to even begin to work on his limited academic programs. Jonathan's inability to foucs always made the process of learning new things very difficult. He had zeroo attention span, had very limited understanding of language, and because of his inability to sit still he was often the individual in his classes that required the most 1:1 attention.
In 1995, he was one of the first students admitted to the Eden II Genesis School located in Plainview, New York. This school was created because 5 sets of parents (including my extremely dedicated mother Olga) worked tirelessly to secure funding for a school dedicated to the academic and behavioral goals of individuals with autism.
The central focus of this school was the utilization of ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis), a method of reinforcement-based teaching that has proven effective in assisting individuals with autism. This school gave him structure, specialized attention and an intensified focus on giving Jonathan the tools he would need to contribute to the community as a whole.
It was vitally important to establish consistency between the home and school. Jonathan's teachers communicated well with the family, and us siblings would simply observe and mimic to the best of our ability. We needed to make sure that Jonathan's development had fluidity; if it is worked on at school, it is worked on in the home.
THE EXCUSE ME PHENOMENON*
One example of tackling some of his autistic behaviors on the home front was dealing with understanding personal space and saying “Excuse Me” to people instead of bumping them. For years, the school tried different creative methods and ways to help Jonathan avoid bumping into people. One day, they figured out a creative way to force Jonathan to think about it. For about two weeks in a row, (at home and at school) every member of the family would purposefully get in Jonathan's way (clog the doorway or hallway, stand in front of the refrigerator). Every time he tried to force his way past one of us, we stopped him and reminded him to say “excuse me” first. Jonathan didn't understand at first, but after hundreds of minor interactions he finally began to figure it out. Once it sunk in, we never had to remind him to say excuse me again!
This commitment to consistency was not only important for Jonathan's development; it enriched our focus on helping Jonathan' overcome his behavioral and academic issues on a continual basis.