Autism has been a rising issue in the health community within the past two decades, and therapists have been making movement toward answers. Scientists are still working hard to locate the exact causes of this disorder. They have, however, been able to find out more about the symptoms, and how professionals can best assist these individuals. To this point most research has been using external rewards to help these children meet goals that may or may not be helpful in the long run. Many therapists and scientists in the field question whether or not this is the best option for treatment of this disorder.
To find a cure, it is best to first look at the issues at hand. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that onsets at a young age. Autism affects a person’s ability to recognize social cues and body language. This can cause them to have trouble knowing what is socially appropriate. Autism can also affect the individual’s ability to speak or understand spoken words. 40 percent of autistic individuals never speak. This makes it important for these individuals to communicate in other ways. Autism is diagnosed on a spectrum. The DSM-IV-TR outlines that a child is not able to make friends in the same way as others in their age group, they do not try to fit in with the interests or goals of their peers, and they lack the ability to reciprocate social and emotional cues. Other symptoms for autism spectrum disorders include: impaired conversational skills, common use of repetitive language, the constant need to complete tasks or rituals that are nonsensical, and repeated use of common mannerisms. The problem: how can care professionals use intrinsic rewards to help those with autism meet realistic goals?
There has been conclusive anecdotal research that supports multimodal learning as being helpful for young students struggling with autism. Multimodal learning is a teaching method that uses multiple methods of communication to get messages across to students. One program using multimodal learning practices is called integrated movement therapy, which was developed at the Samarya Center.
Integrated movement therapy is based on six core principles meant to get autistic individuals moving toward answers. Structure and continuity keeps the classes in the same structure. This is important for autistic students to feel comfortable, and know what is to come every time they enter the class. Social interaction allows the students to interact with both their peer group, and an adult instructor. This gives them practice communicating outside of a normal classroom setting. Next is language stimulation. Educators are to make sure they are stimulating their students constantly with vocal feedback. One very important principle is self-calming (the ability to stop and breathe). These classes should offer tools that help these students stop and breathe, as many have trouble controlling their urges. Physical stimulation allows the students to experience the world in a different front. Lastly, the teacher must provide a space for safe self-esteem building. The combination of these six principles allows children with autism spectrum disorders more self-confidence in their everyday lives.
The classes are set up the same every day. First the students go through the daily ritual of taking off their shoes, then they place themselves at their mat. The class comes up with the schedule and controls the periods when they sit still. This allows the students to feel comfortable and gives them agency in the classroom.
Teachers have known for a long time that movement increases a student’s ability to learn languages. Movement education may be the key to helping autistic youth make emotional and social connections. This education will also bring these youths a higher self-value and experience socializing with other students by sharing in a group activity. Students with autism have the space to ask questions, and the freedom to move their bodies toward answers.
By Joshua Shane