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All about awareness
Stephen Shore

An autistic person himself, he went on to become an expert in the field. He obtained a doctoral degree in special education from Boston University. Since then, his focus has been on helping autistic people develop their strength to the fullest extent.

Meet Dr Stephen Shore, a self advocate, who has penned his experiences in Beyond the Wall and the just released Understanding Autism for Dummies.

Shore is a multi-faceted person. He is a music teacher, enjoys mechanics, computer analysis, teaching and Indian cuisine. He spoke to Krishna Roy, coordinator, special education of Akshar.

The behaviour of an autistic child is a matter of great concern for most parents. Is there a way out?

First, you have to consider how much the behaviour interferes with the child’s normal life. If it is too little, you don’t need to do anything. If the behaviour is intrusive, you need to redirect it instead of stopping it.

He can do anything for 30 minutes everyday at home to relax. Give him a calming device like a squeezing ball, or yesterday’s newspaper to tear up if he likes.

The child needs to follow a routine at home. Divide his day into study time and break time. The child can do something of his choice during a break.

A child with Autistic Spectrum Disorder prefers sameness. Any change in the situation upsets him. So any transition needs careful planning.

How far can children with Asperger’s syndrome be brought into the mainstream?

My earnest request to parents, therapists and special educators is to make a person with Asperger’s syndrome aware of himself. He must find answers to questions like:

Who am I?

Why am I different?

Introspection will lead to self correction.Telling a person he has Asperger’s syndrome makes him more socially acceptable.

Dustin Hoffman plays autistic savant Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man

To create awareness, what do you advocate for ordinary people who have little knowledge of autism?

Recognise and respect the culture of autism. Understand what it is all about. Everybody has the right to education. Some people do well, some need help. The challenge is to provide people with the right kind of help. Curb discrimination and take a genuine interest in the problems of an autistic child. Consider how these children will function when they become adults.

We usually take short-term views of life-long disorders like autism. People are daunted by the large expense involved in educating challenged children. But if you take a long-term plan, it will ensure that these people become self-sufficient and contribute to society rather than being a burden. The short-term cost will then be repaid many times over.

How can we make autistic children self-reliant?

Teach the student as much skill and interdependence as you can. If 98 per cent of the world were populated by austistic people and the rest were what we call “normal”, then the latter would be called normal while the remaining two per cent would be regarded as those with disorders. Therefore we need to profile autistic people to make interdependence with the normal segment of society possible. I may not be a pilot but I depend on the pilot to fly.

I am not an auto mechanic but I know enough about my car to know when I should go to him. While I need him, the mechanic also needs me for his business. That is interdependence.

You can build confidence in a child by improving eye contact, by socialising and by using the theory of mind (trying to understand what the listener might be thinking).Instead of making music a subject, try to teach through music. It can be used as a tool for teaching concepts like big and small, loud and soft, high and low.

What should be the optimum level of mainstreaming?

There is no set formula. There are three variable factors that influence mainstreaming: teacher, school and the child. The extent of mainstreaming may vary from place to place, depending on the mix of these variables.

It should be done depending on the child’s strength. A person with autism has a problem differentiating between the part and the whole. So teaching should involve working at the child’s perception. One needs to know what he is focusing on — looking at a plate, chapati or the black spots on the chapati.

(Send your autism-related queries to krishnaroy_2001@yahoo.com. Dr Shore can be reached at stephen@autismasperger.net and www@autismasperger.net)

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