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The boy who wouldn't stop crying: Gaining Trust

Some children are hard to forget. They leave an indelible impression for a variety of reasons. Arnav, whom I first met at the age of 4 years is one such child. He is the boy who wouldn’t stop crying. He cried, inconsolable; loud sobs for almost three hours every day for about six months. It was the same at home. Any change from his daily routine and Arnav would start crying. Things were so bad that whenever they had guests; Mum would move to the bedroom with Arnav so that the rest of the family could interact with the guests and Arnav would be at ease. It took us almost 6 months; but we persisted and, in the end, we built trust, understood what he needed and finally got him to accept the help we had to offer. It was an uphill battle but being able to gain his trust, to witness the transformation from the boy who wouldn’t stop crying to a boy confident enough to travel to Singapore is the reason I will always remember him.

Even at 4 years of age; Arnav could not speak a single word. He could not even point at something if he wanted it. So, he used the only means available to communicate- crying. That is how babies communicate and since other advanced skills to communicate had not developed, he continued to cry. But why the incessant crying you may wonder. Arnav has severe Autism. The nature of his challenges left him insecure and vulnerable. One could see it in his big expressive eyes and the perpetual frown on his face. 

Arnav had difficulty with voluntary motor movements (Dyspraxia). This meant Arnav often understood what was expected of him but couldn’t follow through. For example, if his mother was calling him; he understood that he was required to get up and move towards her. However, he couldn’t do it as his body didn’t cooperate. Imagine the frustration of wanting to do so many things but not being able to. To make matters confusing for those around him; if he was to get up and walk towards his mother without any conscious command; he was able to do so. Leaving others wondering if he was choosing to follow through sometimes and not at other times.People commented on his wilful stubborness when he wasn't.

Arnav had poor proprioception. This means that the feedback from the various joints in his body was poor. Consequently, his awareness of his own body was poor. As an example, if one were to ask Arnav; he would know the meaning of the word nose. But attempting to identify it on himself was not possible. (Something as mundane as wiping his nose or scratching it (when he wanted to) even was therefore a challenge). Similarly understanding his own body in relation to others, in relation to the space around him was difficult. Small wonder then Arnav constantly sought the security of a wall behind him. Leaning against something solid helped him to identify himself in space better. 

Understanding his challenges with voluntary motor movements and body image helped us to appreciate his insistence on being in familiar surroundings. They were easier to negotiate. We also began to understand why he felt so insecure in a room full of other children. If another child ran around in an unpredictable manner or brushed past him, sure enough there would be a howl of protest. 

Difficulty with voluntary motor movement also affected his ability to move the various muscles required for speaking. Our specific efforts in this direction helped to improve his ability to chew, suck etc but speech alluded him. We were successful though in developing pointing skills. We also discovered his strength in being able to read. This was a strength we channelized to help him communicate through his communication diary. 

There were many challenges that we worked through- such as difficulty in falling asleep. At the time the family met us, there were major

sleep issues. Dad used to drive around the colony until Arnav dozed off. Consistent occupational therapy helped overcome the sleep challenge. 

Our biggest break-through however was helping mum reach out to her child. Empowering her with an understanding of her child and with techniques that helped Arnav to develop his skills as well as create a supportive environment; which built trust. Over time the quality of the family’s life changed. They were now able to participate in family functions, eat out, travel overseas and do so many things that many of us take for granted. 

Today Arnav is 18 years old,you can say hi to him here-, the first video on the site is his. 

Arnav’s mother Ruby was kind enough to write about their early journey, which I share here.

Our journey at Communication DEALL

At the age of 2 years , we found out Arnav had Autism. As a young naive mother my 1st question to the doctor was ,” Will he go to school?”. I had decided, that within 2 years I will make Arnav all right. 

By the age of 4 ,Arnav’s problems had increased and the situation had deteriorated from bad to worse. We were rejected from 2 play schools and by a well- known occupational therapist. 

During the age of 4 , Arnav had fallen into a pattern of incessant crying habit. He would cry the whole day and we were clueless as to what he wants. 

During that time, Arnav got enrolled with Communication DEALL, Mumbai. Deepa was actually God sent. She made me realise , Arnav was trying to tell us something and that we need to understand him better. A new born cries to communicate, so did Arnav. His cries were to let us know that he wanted something. 

One of the first things that Deepa introduced me to was,“ Parallel talk" and “ Informing Arnav beforehand on what to expect” 

1)Parallel talk was a big boon. The day I started to talk for both Arnav and me, I saw a change in his behaviour. He now realised that mom understood what he wanted. For eg , Mom : “Arnav colour this page" . 

Mother on behalf of child says. Arnav :”I don't want to do it". 

Mom: Just this one page , then you can take a break". The child complies. After talking back and forth for Arnav , things got much easier. 

2) Informing Arnav before hand

Suppose you are made to dress up and escorted to sit in a car , will you not shout “Where are you taking me?”. 

This is the mistake, we do to a non- verbal Autistic child. Just because they don't speak ,it doesn't means they have nothing to say. 

Deepa always said , treat your child like any normal kid of that age. Henceforth, I made a point to prepare him beforehand.  

For a hair cutting event , I would enact the whole process at home. The wrap, spray of water, sniping of scissors and so on. I showed him pictures of a relative whom we were to visit and tell him what he could do there. Always carried some books or a puzzle. Deepa always emphasised that talking to the child is a must. 

Deepa put forth the point that, speech is a mode of communication. The steps involved were, 

1.   Sitting 

2.   Eye contact 

3.   Compliance 

4.   Imitation 

5.   Lastly Speech. 

First few months goes in preparing the base. Once you achieve compliance, the child is willing to learn new things. 

Deepa has this quality to hammer the nail on the head. She is always spot on in understanding the child's capabilities. The very 1st year, she told us that Arnav will find it difficult to follow mainstream school. 

I have to admit, accepting this was difficult. I did try academic in a special school Arnav was always good in memorizing stuff, but the practical implications was just not there. For e.g. He knows that the opposite of pull is push, but enacting pull and push was not achieved.