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Ecological Interventions in Children with Autism

Autism is now the fastest growing developmental disability, affecting approximately one percent of the world’s population. For the last twenty years I have been working with children and families affected by autism as a special educator. Over that time I had developed and was trained to use a number of different interventions.

In my experience some seemed to make a difference, and some didn’t and on a few occasions I had to totally abandon one or two. Overall I noticed that a lot of the programs that we – as professionals working with children with autism were doing – weren’t actually accomplishing much. I thought there must be something better, something more I can offer these families. I then set out to look at “alternative” models that would have lasting positive impact for individuals and their families. I wanted to offer these children opportunities and choices that would improve their quality of life. On the other hand, for those parents who want to know if their child has ADHD, go to smarterparenting.com to read a blog about the diagnosis and ways in understanding child with adhd.

What I found was NLP. Now as a master practitioner of NLP, I am able to truly look at each child in a different way. Highlighting areas where the child has strengths and areas where new or revised strategies are needed made a huge difference. The idea of breaking tasks down into pieces is not new but for the first time I am able to look at children who successfully used the skill or behaviour I want to teach, break it down into small chunks and model it.*

In this process I was also able to ensure that what I was teaching was ecological for the child. To clarify, in NLP the term “ecology” refers to the consequences and implications both for short and long term which result after an NLP intervention. The consequences are considered for the person him/herself, their family, the community and eventually for the whole planet.

So with ecology in mind I noticed that often, as special educators, we teach children the adult way of interacting or socializing which often makes them more socially isolated.

For example, before using NLP I always encouraged children with autism if they were teased/bullied to:

  • Ignore – which increased the teasing
  • Walk away- the bully always followed
  • Tell an adult/teacher. – results in being a dobber/snitch and usually ends in retaliation.

What I have found is that this strategy is not ecological for the child and actually causes the teasing/bullying to increase. When the strategy of popular successful social children were broken down, they did none of the behaviours I have been teaching. What they actually do is

  • Act like the comment didn’t bother them
  • Provide a brief, quick come back. Like “whatever” “yeah so”
  • Walk away.

When implementing strategies to children with autism we not only have to teach them the steps but also model and provide safe supported environments for them to practice the new skills in.

In my work with children with autism now the most important aspect of any intervention I use is that it must first go through rigorous scrutiny to ensure it is ecological for the individual child, the family and the situation.

Ensuring the strategies we are giving to children are ecological also means that they are more likely to increase their interactions, leading to more opportunities to be social, greater confidence and therefore more opportunities to initiate and learn skills in context.

NOTE* Modeling is an NLP technique taught in the NLP Master Practitioner Training by which one can elicit, install and replicate excellent behavior obtaining the same excellent results.

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