Here’s Why Kids On The Autistic Spectrum Don’t Like The Spotlight

A child on the autism spectrum is born busy, clueless, and lost in their own world, reacting, responding, shrieking, staying silent, avoiding eye contact, shaking off what they don’t want, only playing with the same. toys. How can you take the spotlight away from them & make them comfortable?
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Imagine the life of Tom Hanks. He is getting paid a million dollars for a film, he’s told how much he should weigh, what dialogues he should speak, at what speed, what style, with what expressions, what clothes he should wear, how he should speak to the shopkeepers on set, how to speak to the family members of the lead actress, how he should sit, stand, laugh, where to keep his hands and when to cut the scene and begin again, just to do the whole rigmarole of acting for a film. 

This is the everyday life of a celebrity in the spotlight, they choose this as a career and get paid millions of dollars for it, and it is worth the investment.

Now, to draw parallels to the life of a child on the autism spectrum, they’re born busy, clueless, and lost in their own world, reacting, responding, shrieking, staying silent, avoiding eye contact, shaking off what they don’t want, only playing with the same toys, same games, eating the same food, refusing anything else. 

To empower these children in education, skills, and mainstream society, we begin to train them, to fit into our world by rewarding them each time they do what we ask them to do, we put them in a spotlight and reward them for every little correct move which resembles that of a neurotypical child or adult.

We ‘fix’ their every movement, every gesture, and every engagement by ‘shaping’ their behaviour through external reinforcers or rewards like stars, hearts, claps, or ‘good for you’. This constant reward can stunt our children on the spectrum so much that they wouldn’t know their flow if not for a reinforcer guiding them through and through to every next move. 

Soon we run out of levels on the special education continuum to support this step-by-step training we’ve got them used to, and our children on the spectrum who were so used to being handheld are left in the world to fend for themselves or in factories or offices where special help or shadow staff is appointed to guide them through, or in many cases this external dependence can make it even impossible to do the former two, thus, they end up in special needs homes with caretakers to manage their daily routine. 

What if our children on the spectrum were facilitated into independence without scrutiny, unnecessary spotlighting, and the unnatural ‘fixing’ right from the day they were born?

Steps to make the spotlight and scrutiny a little more natural

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  1. Get them exposed to food of all kinds, music of all kinds, books of all kinds, people of all kinds, and toys of all kinds, and then help to build joy in some of those through active engagement, a shared curiosity, a sense of togetherness, and oneness rather than a reward as a result? This natural engagement with the world, through feelings, reactions, responses, and outcomes of the experience could help build intelligence, and emotions and assimilate them more naturally in the world rather than a star sticker for every good deed and effort. 
  2. Get them to grow curious about their own selves– Did your friend smile when you kissed his hand, did he eat your food when you shared it with him, what did he say, did you feel scared on the jungle gym, who helped you out, why do you think she helped, did you feel good when you solved the math problems, or when you placed the cubes in the right order like on the board, did you get excited when in the book Martha reached the top of the hill, did you feel a beat in your belly when you heard Tara sing so beautifully…simple, natural, organic ways to build feelings, thinking, reactions, responses, likes and dislikes for our world.
  1. Try to build a natural flow into their routine, habits, and day. Sometimes the robotic process of ABA [Applied Behavior Analysis] takes this flow away, it makes our children operate like actors on a movie set, doing and saying things they were taught to get rewarded or to fit in.

Education for those on the spectrum is harder because they draw a lot of need and attention, thus scrutiny and spotlighting becomes second nature to their existence, as educators, our job is to remove this spotlighting and work very hard to actively engage, expose and educate them in a myriad of ways, to protect them from the world, so they grow into humans first and specimens for examination only much later, that too, only if they choose a career or a field that requires this as a profession.

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