Dr. Antonio and I are deeply grateful to have the opportunity to attend the APAC2019 conference with delegates from 33 countries. Singapore did an outstanding job in the organization of the event, particularly in involving individuals with special needs and autism.
It was a deeply illuminating and emotional experience for us to be exposed to the vast reservoir of research, knowledge, and experience of researchers, parents, professionals and adult autistics. So special thanks to our anonymous sponsor for giving us this opportunity to share our work and learn.
We wanted to offer our genuine concerns regarding some of the perspectives we derived from the programs we attended at the conference. And we apologize in advance for any misinterpretations or misunderstanding of the concepts shared.
At this conference, we heard two opposing standpoints on autism.
Either speakers spoke about the autistics’ deficits and impairments that will persist throughout their lifespan OR
They called for the need to accept autistics for the way they are.
The following strategies were then prescribed:
1. In the case of the autistics whose functioning is closest to mainstream norms, the strategies are to “normalize” them as much as possible.
I saw presenters and delegates “agree” with one another when watching demonstration videos or role playing that were meant to show what the autistic individual is doing “wrong”. But in this one-sided description, they failed to look at what the neurotypical counterpart was doing.
Furthermore, much of the program was skewed towards the needs of this group of autistics. The needs of families like mine with autistic loved ones whose functioning was quite distant from this group were not addressed at all.
While I applaud the advocacy of the autistics who seek to have the voice of autistics represented, it was difficult for me to relate their experiences to those of Sebastien, my autistic son, who does not express his emotions and needs as they do with such eloquence. For he reveals his emotions with his body in silence; this is not a kind of language that most can understand.
2. With regards to the “acceptance” strategy, the observations of the “quirky” behavior of autistics are descriptive. At the most creative level, speakers talk about harnessing these behaviors as interests in the pursuit of autistics’ happiness.
But this acceptance does not acknowledge the fact that autistics engage in inappropriate behavior because they are not fine.
Just plainly accepting them for who they are is not helping them. If we are not helping them, they will keep engaging in this kind of behavior.
At the same time, helping them is not equivalent to just normalizing them.
Just trying to normalize them represents a focus on behavior without attempting to understand their perspective
3. A critical gap at the conference was importance of the relational dynamics
in the autistics’ lives that first start out when they are given their initial diagnoses. As they are confronted by a plethora of heavy and intense emotions such as disappointment, sadness, anxiety, and fear from parents, therapists, and teachers, autistics struggle to develop an integrated identity.
What is needed is the professional concept of a “guide” who possesses an accurate understanding of the evolution of the autistic potential, to transform this relational dynamic. Along with the specific tools, autistics can be initiated on a promising journey of change.
Dr. Antonio Rinaldi’s Dynamic Relational Therapeutic Approach, created in Water (ATDRA in Italian), addresses this critical gap in the current autism landscape.
Please do take the opportunity to join us in the free workshops organized by A Mother’s Wish, with the venue support of National Library Board:
To learn more and sign up for our three different free workshops for parents, teachers, and professionals interested to become ATDRA therapists:
Workshop 1 for everyone (June 29, 10am-1:30pm): https://whatisautismatdra1.peatix.com/
You should attend Workshop 1 if you come to the following workshops.
Workshop 2 for parents only (July 13, 10- 12): http://ptix.at/eZsEGq
Workshop 3 for teachers only (July 13, 1- 3 pm): https://whatisautismatdra3.peatix.com/
To sign up for subsidized swimming therapy sessions (autistic individual) and private consultations (for parents): https://bit.ly/2TLBAdz