Home autism Collaboration Corner: Knowing the Big Picture and Little Details of Autism

Collaboration Corner: Knowing the Big Picture and Little Details of Autism

by Kerry Davis
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As Autism Awareness month wraps up, I thought I‘d share my learning moments from working 15-plus years with my students on the spectrum, their families and my dedicated co-workers who support them:

  • Autism is a spectrum. There’s not a cure or a fix, but there are evidence-based interventions and nuances for each child that will help him or her succeed. My job (and yours) is to recognize those little details and shine a light on them.
  • I’ve developed a super appreciation for things that spin, shake, light up and squish. I also appreciate when these features suddenly become appalling and over-stimulating.
  • Sometimes the best way to get a child’s attention is to speak just above a whisper or not talk at all. Less is more and often things don’t just sound loud, they feel loud to a person with autism.
  • Sand and water play are seriously awesome.
  • Regardless of where a child is on the spectrum, you can find an activity that feels like fun and learning at the same time.
  • Candy doesn’t always taste or feel good, but hot sauce tastes delicious on French fries.
  • Take the short and long view on augmentative and alternative communication. Work on the here and now to make your clients efficient communicators, then model your expectations to bring them to the next level. Make them life-long communicators.
  • Students and families will show you when they are ready—ready to try something new, ready to accept who they are. You just have to listen, be patient and push. But not too hard.
  • Finally, having co-workers who are cued in and can step in and help at a moment’s notice is invaluable and—when in action—nothing less than a work of art.

What lessons have you learned from working with clients on the spectrum?


Kerry Davis EdD, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist in the Boston area, working with children who have significant communication challenges. She conducts trainings and workshops, and serves as a volunteer clinician and consultant for Step by Step Guyana, a school for children with autism in South America. The opinions expressed in this blog are her own, and not those of her employer. kerrydav@gmail.com





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neilpatt May 3, 2015 - 5:19 pm

Autism is extremely demanding and very draining on both the parents and the caregivers. This support will encourage partnership participation in educational opportunities that match the needs the autistic person and their families.

Full Spectrum Mama May 4, 2015 - 2:20 pm

As a parent on the spectrum with a child on the spectrum, it’s nice to see these sorts of open-minded realizations from a professional who seems to approach us as equal…

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Knowing the Big Picture and Little Details of Autism

Teresa Britt-Hutsell May 5, 2015 - 11:31 am

Great post indeed. I, myself, have worked with children on the spectrum spanning nearly 29 years. I’ve grown to appreciate all noted and agree wholeheartedly. The saddest thing I see is those that give up. These are little (sometimes big) human beings with generally a great deal of intelligence. It’s a matter of finding the right key to unlock that door. They do always listen, even when you think they aren’t. They are often their most horrid critics. They know when they are unable to do something. Their frustration builds with that. You hit the nail on the head with very often less is more. I’ve noted that I might bombard an area of learning through play of their liking for months with no notable learning occurring then suddenly, the best session they have it at 100%. I’ve learned they have to love me, trust me, know I’m there and I mean no harm. They also must learn, however, I have my limits on what I will tolerate but their so-called punishment for inappropriate behavior is definitely on a one to one ratio and rarely the same from client to client. I’ve specialized in the food aversion aspects for -5 years approximately as well. It’s not about the food… It’s texture, taste, smell, chewing required, and so many more things that again, are NEVER THE SAME. like everyone in this world, they are their own individuals and whoever tries to change their core will fail. Your best attempt is at formulating a way of training those skills in a positive direction. I’ve been blessed with seeing many cases become what others see only as a bit “different.” Well, what is NORMAL? Are any of us NORMAL? It’s a trial and error, tune in and watch closely, listen, work and never give up strategy that reaches these individuals. But, again, mutual love and trust are the first and foremost established factors. I know this. Some of these kids are the ones that make me love my job. They are the ones that often make my day the best it could possibly be. They can live like no other. They can learn waaaay beyond their expectations. They are amazing people and I feel blessed to be a part of the lives I’ve been involved in the treasure of helping to re-direct and find a door or window to go through. All of those spinning and twirling and squishy objects indeed lose their appeal slowly as the door opens wider and the system is fed properly. A great OT can be our best asset. A great parent an even greater one. Blessings, Teresa

Teresa Britt-Hutsell May 5, 2015 - 11:36 am

I must correct my last statement. Or Daddy. Or Grandma/Grandpa, Aunt/Uncle, whoever loves enough to give tough love when in need and yet nurture at the same time, caring for not only that child but also for themselves enough so they can be their best for that child!

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Knowing the Big Picture and Little Details of Autism

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