I have had a number of people ask me why Imaan's Son-Rise playroom was so boring. I agree that in comparison to a typical classroom, the room does looks boring with the white walls, cream coloured floor, light blue shelves, no paintings or pictures on the walls or even a pc or electronic gadgets.
However, the fact is that the playroom is not boring - otherwise why would our son pull us into the room every morning. The reason we make the room so "plain" is to reduce the sensory input and so that they focus on the (one) people in the room.
Based on the Son-Rise philosophy, the one person in the room will first create bond / rapport with the child. This is done by joining in with their repetitive and exclusive behaviours (i.e. the isms), be it spinning plates, flapping hands or lining up toys. Imaan isms to date are throwing stuff to see them fall, clicking switches, jumping on the trampoline and staring into space.
Gradually the child will notice the person doing the things they like doing. As the person joins, eye contact is encouraged and celebrated with excitement, energy and enthusiasm (3E's). More and more connections are built and from these connections, bonds and relationships are strengthened. These bond and relationship are then used as the platform for showing and encouraging more communication and social behaviours. The child will learn that socialising with people is wonderful, fun and exciting. And this will make them more motivated to talk. Because they WANT to interact. Not being forced to connect or interact. The reward is people - having fun with people. The reward is not computers or electronic toys or games or objects but another human being!
On the other hand, some people (even 'experts' in autism) were of the opinion that the children with autism should be (updated 10:20 am 19th Sept.) exposed to the "real" World as soon as possible, meaning that they should be put in a real classroom with all the "wonderful" sensory input - singing, colourful and bright pictures on the wall, computers with games, movies, etc. It all sounds great - and is definitely great for neurotypical children who benefit from all these sensory input. However, most children with autism have sensory integration issues and are highly overstimulated. For example, my son used to scream and throw a really bad fit whenever we went into a store.
Imaan has been to nurseries or child care centres since he was 15 months. There were lots of toys, lots of fun activities, singing, story telling, lots of other children, etc. etc. Now he is 4. If this strategy works, he should be a chatter box by now. Instead he was almost non-verbal a month ago. According to his key worker at the Enhanced Resource Nursery (ERN), to get the word 'Apple' out of his mouth was very-very difficult. Why? Because he was neither motivated nor connected to the person requesting him to do that. Too overwhelmed by sensory inputs. Too distracted by the noises that he couldn't make sense off, lights, printers, computers, buttons and switches. However now, through playing in his low sensory room with one other person using the Son-Rise philosophy, he learnt to speak over 90+ words and is now more MOTIVATED to say and practise the words when we modelled them for him.
We have only done this intensively for a MONTH (once he stopped going to the ERN). Only ONE month! and YES! The words came out in the playroom initially! But later on, all over the house and now even in the car. Just recently, we were traveling to Greenwich, London. Before passing the very looong Blackwell Tunnel, we had modelled the word 'tunnel' for him. He has been using that word since then, every time he sees a tunnel. He even calls a tent as "tunnel". That shows that he is generalising* it to other situations and objects that looks like a tunnel. He is using that word spontaneously, with sustained eye contact. This is truly amazing! This is nothing short of miracle!
And also, within a week of only "life-style" Son-Rise programme (this is way back in Jan 2010), he was toilet trained.
What usually happens when you take an autistic child into a typical classroom is that they will try to cope and sooner or later will shut down and go into their isms or go into a melt down. We definitely do not want that to happen. This may be in fact making them more disconnected to the outside world.
One strategy that many schools try to do is to expose these children gradually and hopefully get them used to typical classroom. This is very difficult considering that the classrooms are usually busy. What happens is that while the child is trying to cope with all these sensory input (noise, many kids talking at the same time, different colours and pictures on the wall, big open space, clutters etc) trying to teach him anything else usually not going to be effective. They might ultimately get used to the noise but with no connection to the other children forget about learning anything from the teacher.
However, we are still monitoring Imaan at school now. It is too early to say anything but from our observations, Imaan goes into his isms more often at school than at home.
*Person with autism usually will have problem generalising what they learn to other situation. Imaan has been specifically 'diagnosed' by an expert as having 'central coherence' problem in the brain. It is a peceptual-cognitive style that Imaan 'supposedly' has which means that he has limited ability to see the big picture or to understand context or to generalise what he learns.