words & photograph by Stella Bradshaw
William will be 20 this November.
Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in 1997, William has the cognitive ability of an eight-year old.
WIlliam was very quiet and did not speak until he was four years old. He did not play with toys and when left alone, tended to rock. His choice of self-stimulation was flicking his fingers. Thankfully, he did not hurt himself.
At that time, the Bradshaws lived in New Jersey, USA and there was different viewpoints on schooling kids with Autism. Parents tended to want to mainstream the children in regular schools with support. The school districts were all for placing them in specialized schools. There was also the home-based Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) Therapy. This was considered avant-garde. Expensive and labour-intensive.
After speaking with Dr Bernard Rimland, founder of the Autism Research Institute, the Bradshaws opted for ABA Therapy. While Dr Rimland supported mainstreaming children with Autism, he felt that it was no use placing them in such environments if they did not know how to play or socialize.
For William, Dr Rimland recommended the ABA program until he learned how to model his behaviour from those around him. This would significantly increase his success at a regular school.
After nearly three years of 40-hours-a-week of ABA Therapy, William was enrolled in a regular Kindergarten class with specialized support.
However, in William’s second year of primary school, the teacher noticed him shutting down. It was almost as if he realized he could not keep up with the others and therefore no longer actively participated.
William was then transferred to a specialized class within a regular school. Except for gym, art, and music, William was in special classes with support aides. In this environment, where he was getting the best of both worlds, Williams thrived.
Throughout the years, Williams continued with Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, and Auditory Therapys such as Fast Words and Tomas Music Therapy.
When the Bradshaws returned to Sydney Australia, William had to be placed in a school for children with special needs. The education system just did not have the same sort of arrangement that New York had.
In 2012, William graduated from high school.
His teenager years presented new behavioural challenges. Together with the onset of puberty and having girls around, school became a hot nest of emotions. William became easily frustrated and angry, not being able to control his outbursts. There were a couple of incidents involving physical fights.
In 2011 William saw Dr Fiona Martin, a psycholoigst, and Kevin Farrow, an energy healer, to learn how to control his emotions. It was important for him to recognize signs of frustrations and to self-soothe before the emotions became too overwhelming.
William was taught meditative breathing by both practitioners . When he recognizes he is feeling angry, he counts to 10, using deep breathing. These self-soothing strategies are working beautifully for him.
Both Dr Martin and Kevin have vast experience in working with both children and young adults with Autism.
Kevin also works on “opening” William’s heart as the liver, the seat of anger, is directly connected to the heart. In “opening” his heart, William is more calm and less reactive to perceived slights.
At other times, Kevin works on the spleen. It is believed that a rigid spleen results in a mind that is “all over the place”.
“William continues to have little episodes (usually at home) but it is such a joy to observe him using one or all of these strategies to calm himself down. All of us and his network of support have learned to work with William.” Stella says.
At the same time, William also sees Dr Marilyn Golden, a holistic general practitioner. She monitors his diet by checking on his blood tests twice a year.
Ever since William has been on a high dosage of Vitamin B, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin D3, there has been a vast improvement in his moods. His other supplements include juice plus and kelp.
Sugar, gluten, and casein were reduced significantly in his diet, following Dr Golden’s advice. William is almost vegetarian as well. 80% of the time, William does not have any cow’s milk, wheat products, or animal products.
Dr Golden believes some children’s Autism is due to inflammation in the brain. She is currently stuyding this with other other patients with Autism.
Now that William has graduated from school, the aim is to help him be as independent as possible. And to learn appropriate social skills.
William cooks his own dinner four times a week. It is microwave frozen meals for now. He also does all his personal grooming, including shaving, and the laundry once a week. These activities have boosted William’s self-esttem and aids in his self-development. It also helps him in having fewer episodes of frustration.
Currently, William is in a two-year transition to a work program, where they will train him to be work-ready, either in a supported work environment or an open employment arena.
To date, the workplace enjoys having William on their team as he radiates smiles and positive energy.
I guess if any reflection I have about my experience with William is not to get overly focused on finding the “cure”. To “fix” William.
Rather, investigate and explore different therapies for the child to reach their potential, whatever that may be. Accept the child, as he is. Stop comparing him to others and celebrate whatever accomplishments he achieves. Celebrate him for who he is, not what he can do.
I paraphrase this wonderful sentiment from the mother of CeCe, a severely autistic girl from Andrew Solomon’s book, “Far from the Tree”, that (CeCe) is the zen lesson – why does she have autism? She has autism. It is what it is.
Accept the child and love them as they are as we continue to educate and train them to be as independent as possible and perhaps even to participate and contribute back to the community.
In the training and therapies, one advice would be to seek assistance from others and create a support network, be it family, cousins, volunteers or community.
The more others are familiar with the child with disabilities, the more comfortable they will be with their idiosyncracies, the more the child will be able to function out in the world at large.
Furthermore, it gives the parents and care takers a much-needed break when others can step in to take care of the child. As per Hilary Clinton, it really does take a village and never more so than for a child with autism or other disabilities.
Don’t underestimate these children with Autism. They know more than we think they do. They do get such wonderful feelings of accomplishment when they are allowed to do things independently. The tasks may not be done perfectly, or in the way we would like, but praise them. The boost to their self-esteem is priceless. This would encourage them to take on more tasks with increasing level of difficulty and complexity.
When I look at my son William, he has these unusual and limited ways of communicating. But yet he is my teacher and zen lesson.
He is basically a happy human being who wishes no harm to anyone. He lives in the moment and what you see is what you get. He has opened my heart to love more and from our relationship, I finally understand the meaning of compassion and patience.
He is truly a gift from God.
Kevin Farrow, Founder and Director
372 Darling Street
Balmain NSW 2041
Phone + 61 2 9818 1522
Sydney Child Psychology Centre
Dr Fiona Martin, Principal Psychologist
Suite 3 836 Military Road
Mosman NSW 2088
Phone +61 2 9960 1222