What is Autism – the three main challenges:
    A well-rounded program that supports people with autism to live as independently as possible must start with an understanding of how autism commonly affects the human brain in general. Using this lens of understanding, it is then necessary to pinpoint exactly how autism manifests in each individual. People with Autism spectrum disorder have three main challenges: Communication, Behaviors and Social Skills

Our Philosophy and Mission

    The Whole Self Center’s philosophy suggests that every human being is more than a body with a brain. When caring for a child – a whole person - we are experiencing the creative spirit present in that child & in ourselves.

    • As we remain interested in exploring creative possibilities for the individual in the moment, we are more open to experiencing something new, such as developing a valuable skill we never knew or thought was possible.
    • In this way, we are less likely to stay stuck in repeating our old, inhibiting habits & behaviors.
    • By living this understanding with individuals with autism, we continue to become better able to respect & support children for who they already are, deserving of love & attention simply for being.

Autism - Communication

Communication – whether verbal or nonverbal, people with autism have difficulty conveying their thoughts to others, and they may need to use gestures, visual images, sign language, augmentative communication devices , and/or echolalia (repeating others’ words). 
Considerations about nonverbal individuals:

    • Although most parent would like for their child to learn to speak, they understand how monumentally complicated it is for their nonverbal children to form sounds, let alone words. Showing an individual the picture of an item and asking them to label it is not enough to facilitate word recall and the ability to pronounce the word correctly and/or independently.
    • No one can be certain if or when a nonverbal person will speak.  While it is important to continue to explore different methods of helping an individual learn how to form words by moving the muscles in the tongue, lips, jaw and throat and learning how to project sound, it is even more important that parents/caretakers and professionals continue to explore how to support communication and the ability to express individual and original thoughts.
    • The lack of ability to speak does not equate with a lack of intellect.  There have been many cases involving nonverbal people on the spectrum who began speaking later in life who revealed that although they were not able to respond in words, they understood what was being said around them.  They longed for the opportunity to be able to express their thoughts and to respond to what was being said to or about them.
    • It is assumed that using augmentative communication devices or different forms of picture symbols and sign language to support an individual to communicate their basic everyday needs will suffice and indeed it often does for many people.  However, nonverbal individuals who begin speaking later in life view their ability to talk as a major accomplishment – and the fulfillment of a long held desire.
    • Many of the attempts to help a person with autism realize new skills might need to be halted at times if an individual’s challenging behaviors (as described below) overtake the ability to learn how to learn.

Considerations about individuals with autism who speak:

    • Individuals with autism who use verbal language to communicate can have a range of difficulties depending on their understanding of language and how it is used to get personal needs met and to interact in social situations.
    • Even though an individual with autism can speak fluently, the person may struggle in the typical world.  In fact, individuals with autism who seem highly typical may “fall through the cracks” as their difficulties with understanding others and being understood goes unnoticed.  They may be seen as oppositional and/or defiant rather than in need of services and support. 
    • Keep in mind that the autistic brain views the world in discreet pieces and that the pieces don’t often get combined in a way that allows an individual to see the bigger picture. For example, while at school a young man with autism was told by his teacher that it was time to pack up and go.  He responded with, “I’m coming woman.”  The teacher sent him to the resource room as a consequence for speaking to her inappropriately, but the boy was confused.  He later told his mother, “I don’t know why I was sent to the resource room.  I called her woman because she’s a woman.”  
    • As we interact with people on the spectrum who speak, we can begin to understand patterns in how autism can affect language develop.  For example, it’s common for some individuals to repeat what others say, a response called echolalia.  At times individuals will memorize scripts from television shows and repeat it to either express the same emotions as seen on TV or to help them become more organized during a difficult or stressful moment. By listening more closely to the context at which the individual recites the scripts, there are times when it seems obvious that by repeating a few specific lines from a cartoon – a section involving the character being angry - that the person is actually communicating that he/she is also angry.  
    • The challenge with coordinating the muscles of the mouth, speaks to the fact that people with autism have difficulty with motor coordination.  Often, their entire body moves in discreet “pieces” which seems to be the reason why they can sometimes look awkward while walking or making other movements.   This physical tendency with difficulty in motor coordination seems to hold true for the way the autistic brain thinks… in “pieces” of information.  This is why we see even verbal individuals having difficulty seeing the whole picture in situations that seem obvious to us. 
    • If your brain saw the world as pieces of information that never seemed to connect in a “logical” form, it would be very confusing for you.  Idioms demonstrate the challenge the autistic brain has with seeing the whole picture.  Idioms are phrases used in typical conversation that have meaning that cannot easily be deduced by the individual words.  It’s understood that “it’s raining cats and dogs” describes a heavy rainfall.  A person with autism who sees the phrase as individual “pieces of information” may ask, “So where are the cats and the dogs?”  If you ask him “what time does your watch say?” it wouldn’t be uncommon for the person to hold the watch to his hear.