I think back to my own childhood and the children’s program, ‘Playschool’. In that program a look through a window revealed a world of awareness and education. “Today, we will look through the …. square window” the presenters would say. It could have been square, round or arched window, and as children, we would try and guess which one it would be before it was announced.
Role on more years that I would like to count and the principle of those windows is still so important to us in supporting our son. It is difficult for someone not directly involved with autism to understand how difficult it is for them to pass over the threshold and experience the world outside. Fear and anxiety can grip them so tightly, to take that step is just too much.
Our own son is dependant on our home to give him that sense of safety. When he feels safe, he will relax. When he relaxes, we can create an inspirational environment. We have made adaptations to our home and one key change was to install large windows that enable our son to see outside into the garden. Marc’s window, as we have come to call it allows him to look outdoors from the safety of his chair, indoors. Just like the playschool team did, they invited you to look through the window and see a new world and activities. We encourage Marc to look through this window and see all aspect of nature with birds, butterfly’s, bees, squirrels, cats as well as ourselves and our dog. We plant up pots, so that different flowers appear through spring, into summer and autumn for our son to see the colour and the movement of stems in the breeze.
Beyond the window and the pots, is the main garden. Always our aim is to encourage our son outdoors into the fresh air and (hopefully) sunshine. Include him in our planting up the pots and guiding his attention to look at the detail of each flower, the birds in the bird bath or on the feeders and the antics of the squirrels as they try continuously to get to the birds food.
We encourage our son to take photographs too, it’s not easy for him as his has a right sided hemiplegia which leave shim unable to use his arm and hand on his right hand side. I set up a tripod to help him. These photographs are the used to help recreate memories of activities he did and to generate an enthusiasm to do it again.
Encouraging him to ‘step over the threshold’ into the garden is an ideal way to reassure him that his fears and anxieties are ill-founded. Of course, every time we look to step outside, we need to repeat a process of reassurance, but, it works. With patience and encouragement, our son will go outdoors and we use this success when we look to go further away from our home.
Supporting such complex needs is not easy. It is time consuming and it is often met with resistance. Calmness, resilience and an endlessly positive approach is essential and does deliver results. Get it wrong and it will take a long time to recapture a willingness and enthusiasm to indulge in something new, but get it right, and you will open up a world that will stimulate, enthuse and importantly, bring a smile.
To care for and support a person with autism will also open your own eyes to how wonderful the world is. Your detailed attention to all that is around you, needed to support the person you care for, but in doing so, you too will see colours, sounds, movement and activities in the minutest of detail as well as the larger view. You will learn, you will experience far more than you may have done previously.
A win-win outcome, all starting from looking through the window 🙂