‘Why did you ring the bell?’ I asked him patiently.
‘He answered in all innocence, ‘the handle said “Pull me” so I did!’ From that day on we had thick glass placed over all the fire alarm handles.
“If you tell such a child: run along to the kitchen and get me something, he would literally run. They understand everything in their most literal form.
“Even the most high functioning child sees life though a looking glass, that is why the system of working with them on a one to one basis works best. For those who don’t talk at all, we use augmented devices with buttons.
“For example at lunch or snack time when they want to eat, if they press the button with the picture of a cucumber they’ll get a cucumber, chicken and they’ll get chicken or any other food item pictured.
“Coping with the frustrations of being unable to express themselves, they sometimes become very moody,” Dr. Weinstein explains, remembering one child who had been through a number of schools and was still not talking. “We worked with him for months, taught him using all our best methods, and still nothing helped. One day the family went on vacation and all of a sudden the child started talking. By the time the family returned he was saying full sentences. That is when we realized that all the years he was learning he was storing the information, in his head. Something triggered his thought process, breaking the barrier and releasing all the knowledge he had accumulated over the years.
“Once again the first thing we do is teach them how to interact with other people, to hold hands, to call people by name, to understand that crayons are for coloring, not eating. The life of an autistic child is complex – for their parents even more so.
“Everyone wants successful children. These parents are no different, so when they hear that they have an autistic child they want an instant cure. They come to the school and after three months they say, ‘nu! What’s going on, where is the progress?’
I have to keep reinforcing the message that change takes place very slowly. Not everyone is prepared to accept that; I’ve had parents withdraw their children from school dreaming that in some place else they will find a miracle cure.
“Unfortunately, there is no such cure.
“As a result of the heartbreak that I’ve witnessed I started arranging get-togethers and seminars so parents can meet with other people facing the same challenges. Furthermore, as parents, they also need skills; they need to know how to help their children carry out basic tasks that ordinary children do automatically, such as brushing their teeth or making brachot.
“When a child makes his first bracha I feel like I have succeeded in building an entire world. You have no idea what it is like” he says his eyes twinkling.
“Once parents invited me to their son’s bar mitzvah, ‘if he would not have attended your school there would have been no bar-mitzvah,’ they said. Of course, I went to the bar mitzvah, where I was asked to speak.”
Dr. Weinstein got up, and started to describe the child, praising him for his efforts, achievements and admirable character traits. All through the short speech the boy ignored him, running around as though it was somebody else they were talking about, but as soon as Dr. Weinstein finished the child came over and gave him the biggest hug. There was not a dry eye in the hall.
“One again it brought home that children with autism understand a lot of what is going on around them, but are caught up in some kind of trap that seems to control their behavioral patterns.
“Never speak negatively about them in their presence – they hear. Behind the glass wall that separates them from relating to the outside world they hear everything.”
Dr. Weinstein was asked to open a branch in Israel using the ABA method. His initial attempts were stymied by bureaucracy, government regulations and, of course, financial issues.
He left Israel disappointed, but determined to continue his efforts. Once again Yad Hashem took over and a few months later, the Education Ministry was studying the use of the ABA method.Sarah Pachter
About the Author: Sarah Pachter lives in Israel and writes for a number of publications. She is the author of the book "Supermom? (Who? Me?)"
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