A recent article by writer and contributor D.G. Swain - who was diagnosed late in life as being on the autism spectrum disorder - about her experiences in life is particularly evocative. In particular, her comparison of being a bird in a world of fishes was a vivid analogy for someone who is ASD and tries to fit in with his or her peers.
Here are some excerpts from her article:
“Imagine being a bird in a world of fishes. You’re on the shore, and you’re supposed to go to school (heh) with them, and you’re supposed to get on with them, but you’re still a bird. But, it’s what you’re supposed to do. So, you dive in, hold your breath, do your best to make friends. After a while, you can’t hold your breath anymore. You have to come up for air, to get back to your own element. Your fish friends and lovers sometimes get pissed off because you leave them suddenly. Some understand, or at least accept, that you literally cannot help it. You have to breathe!
Some auties learn to get through this by holding their breath for a really, really long time – unnaturally long, even – and then when they have to come up for air, it’s a huge explosion of flailing and gasping. Others work out ways to only spend a little time hanging out with the fishes and then hiding on the shore so that no one realizes they’re not in the water all the time.
Me, I kinda want some SCUBA gear, I think that would work best, but I also want to have permission to not be in the water all the time. SCUBA gear would make it so that I could be comfortable hanging out with my fish friends. I wouldn’t have to think about how to breathe when I’m around them after more than a few minutes.”
Concidentally, her article shares a similar message with an article by our supervising consultant, Dr. James Partington, Ph.D, BCBA-D, on how not all special needs children can join the mainstream straight away.
Because these individuals often lack many basic skills and require specialised instruction to pick up these skills; but they cannot learn these skills simply by being around other children who have these skills.
Therefore to help these children with developmental delays reach their full potential, it is imperative that they receive early and intensive intervention services.
Educational services, such as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), that emphasise teaching specific language skills can and do help many children overcome their delays and learn the same academic skills as typical children.
These basic skills, including language skills, are akin to the “SCUBA gear” Swain mentions in her article, and they help equip children with ASD with key skills that help them fit in better with their non-ASD peers in mainstream school later.
As Dr. Partington put it:
“Children with developmental delays must learn many critical skills to be able to care for themselves, now and in future.
We must therefore ensure that they receive appropriate educational services that help them to not only be included with their typically developing peers but to develop actual friendships and learn from those interactions.”
Link to Swain's article: https://themighty.com/2016/09/autism-why-it-can-be-hard-to-relate-to-and-understand-others/
Link to Dr. Partington's article: http://www.todayonline.com/voices/not-all-special-needs-children-can-join-mainstream-straight-away