Christoph’s mum, Desiree, said she would love to see her son write his own name—one day. That was in March 2015. Now at the beginning of 2017, we look back with delight at the progress Christoph has made. Hand writing is just one of a range of skills he has acquired since Desiree voiced her wish.
The goal has been reached
Christoph moved to Kalamunda Senior High School in 2015 as a year seven student in the Education Support Centre. Thanks to the school teaching staff and to therapists and support staff from the Autism Association of WA Christoph has soared beyond that writing goal. Pre-literacy skills attained through the Association’s School Age Therapy Service programs set him on the path to begin writing. During May last year, Christoph began writing his name independently at school; the name now proudly heads all of his work. Much more has been achieved with new letters and words emerging every day. Working with education assistants as well as the classroom teacher at school, he is well supported to continue learning.
Supporting sensory needs
Christoph has high sensory needs. As with many people who have Autism, he needs to be in an environment where his sensory difficulties are understood. Fortunately, with the collaboration between the school, Christoph’s family and the Autism Association those needs are well understood and the appropriate support is provided. Christoph is sound sensitive and could become distressed in a noisy environment. Unfortunately, he cannot tolerate the use of ear muffs to help lessen the impact of sound. To counter this, he is enabled to take regular breaks to go outside for a swing or to play with sticks on the ground—a favourite activity that meets his need for tactile input. Strategies that Christoph has learned to help stay calm include deep breathing and the use of sensory equipment such as Fit Balls. Importantly, he now has a greater understanding of his emotions and is more able to manage his anxiety.
More opportunities for learning
Great gains have been made since Christoph joined the Association’s school age group therapy programs. These programs—facilitated by experienced speech pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists and therapy assistants—are designed to develop specific skills, within a small group setting. The self-calming skills that he is acquiring are being practised at school, home and other environments. Having more control over the way he feels, enabling a much calmer life for Christoph, also opens up more opportunities for learning. Through one of the Autism Association programs he is embarking on becoming a Super Chef, having fun preparing some simple snacks and learning a wide range of daily living skills. Christoph’s education extends—in ways that he enjoys—beyond school hours. On weekends, with support from Association staff he is out and about to engage in the local community—learning to play a drum, swimming, shopping and more.
Games and group participation
Christoph has come such a long way since those days when he found it difficult to work with a group, to share and to take turns—all of which would cause anxiety. At the Association’s Midland Service Centre he is enjoying the therapy sessions where students learn in a ‘hands on’ way the skills they need to engage with others. With the Fit Kidz group he has learned to interact on a playing field—kicking a football or throwing a net ball to a team mate. Similarly, at Kids Club, another of the Association’s play-based programs, Christoph has learned to play indoor games that entail close engagement and taking turns with a peer—no longer stressful activities. Playing Pop Up Pirate and Jenga he is also acquiring valuable social skills. During breaks in these sessions, children have initiated their own games of ‘chasey’ and Christoph has taken part in the chase with enthusiasm. Further to all these skills, this year he is working toward a higher level with a group of older boys where the focus is on understanding the thoughts and feelings of others. This is a great achievement for Christoph, progressing to this level of learning.
Never think the limit has been reached
The progress Christoph has made in the past two years speaks yet again of what can be achieved when appropriate supports are provided for people with Autism. The close partnership between family, school and the Autism Association has enabled Christoph to lead a calmer, happier life and to keep on learning. Of course, the aim for every individual with Autism is to reach their full potential. But we should never think the limit has been reached. Although children and adults with Autism may not always be able to find the words, they continue to show they certainly haven’t stopped learning.