I've worked with children who flap their hands with excitement. Their joy is so great they can't contain themselves in those moments. Even when playing an iPad game where the game requires constant touch, those hands fly up on their own to flap in excitement. Those gestures “stand” out and label the child as different.
I've also worked with children with autism perfectly absorbed and content in their own world. They could happily throw leaves into the air and watch them drift down for hours on end, or spin things, or do whatever else necessary to make their world bearable.
Then I'm asked to change them. I don't work with moderate/severe populations now, so this is more looking back at some of the play therapy I did in college.
I'm supposed to draw these children out. I'm supposed to help them blend in with their peers. No more flapping or obvious “stimming”. No letting them sit absorbed in their own world for hours on end.
Part of me sees the point of “changing” them. After all, it's easiest if kids fit in, right? And people on this Earth are social beings, so they should interact, right?
The other, bigger part of me, agonizes. Why does it really matter if a child flaps his little hands in excitement? Why should I take a child content in his own little world, and make them live in ours? Who am I helping? The child? The parents? Society? I know the parents would love to see their child look at them and engage with them, instead of ignoring them while spinning toy cars. But what about the child? What if the child's neural world is so disorganized that our “neuro-typical” world is too disorganizing and challenging? What if the child uses his flapping hands as his greatest expression of joy? Who are we to say that our world is superior?
I always struggled with these thoughts when working with those children, and while most of my current OT children are much higher-functioning, it does sometimes still come up. For example, a child with a diagnosis of autism who likes to wander around the playground at recess, not interacting with others. Is this a huge deal? If the child wants to interact and doesn't know how, and we can help the child, then sure, great. But if this child with autism is bombarded all day every day with stimulation and needs recess to decompress and wander around alone and is perfectly content, should we take this opportunity away from the child and force social time? I say no, but many others would disagree with me. And I can see their point. But I can also see mine.
*Obviously I work with students with special needs, and I try to always keep their best interests at heart…I work with an interdisciplinary team and we work very, very hard to help our students reach their goals and participate in the educational curriculum to the best of their abilities. We work to improve their areas of weakness while remembering to celebrate their strengths and unique abilities!
**Keep your eyes open…the magic weighted blanket give-away will come sometime this week and be up for several weeks…winner chosen randomly….U.S. residents only (sorry Emma)…:)