ASD: Difficult to build a connection and interact with others
Autism Spectrum Disorders are a group of developmental disabilities that affects communication and behavior. People with ASD face challenges with social skills, and repetitive behaviors. Many people with ASD find it difficult to build a connection and interact with other people.
Ari first came to Kav L’Noar at the age of 12. He was already under the care of an external psychologist, who was helping him deal with issues connected to being on the autistic spectrum. But Ari’s mother felt that it wasn’t enough. “The psychologist is wonderful”, she said, “but then Ari leaves his office and has a whole week of having to deal with the world by himself. It’s not fair to Ari, and now that he’s approaching the teenage years, it’s only getting worse”.
Ari’s mother said that she found it particularly hard at home because Ari’s older sister Dina acted like his polar opposite. “Ari likes things to be very calm, quiet and controlled. But Dina will shriek when she is on the phone with her friends. She will throw everything around the house when she loses things and has epic crying episodes when something goes wrong. Dina may be a typical 14-year old but she is so demanding. She always wants my undivided attention. And it seems like Dina really does need more help from me. Ari doesn’t really react to anything as long as I let him stick to his routine. Dina always wants an emotional connection and seems to have these enormous feelings bursting out of her.”
Ari may have been easier to manage at home, but that didn’t mean that he was actually managing. Anybody who met him could immediately see that something seemed strange. Ari would talk to them as if he was a much older professor delivering a lecture. It didn’t matter what the person would ask him or say, Ari would just talk at them about something else entirely. He used unnaturally high-level vocabulary. He wouldn’t respond to any question or comment. Ari would just talk and talk and talk until the person gave up and walked away. Adults humored him and thought he was cute in his own way. But the kids in his class just laughed at him between themselves and went off to do their own thing.
Ari would also react very badly to criticism, however mild. If a teacher corrected his spelling on a piece of homework, Ari would obsess about it for days. His parents were afraid to say anything negative to him because the fallout was always just too great.
Learning to make a connection with a Kav L’Noar Mentor
Menachem was chosen to be Ari’s Kav L’Noar mentor. Menachem was himself calm and reserved. He typically spoke and acted in a quiet and gentle manner. Because of this, it didn’t take long for Ari to feel safe with Menachem. Menachem and Ari developed their own routine of how they would interact. Menachem would call Ari at set times during the week, and speak to him for set amounts of time. They would always meet at the same spot and would typically take a bus to the same bookstore every week. Ari would show Menachem what was on his latest book wishlist. Menachem would engage with Ari and respond to his monologues however he could. Progress was painfully slow.
The first connection breakthrough
The first breakthrough came after six months when Ari spontaneously responded to something that Menachem said. Menachem hid his excitement and continued to quietly work with Ari on his communication skills.
Menachem found ways to help Ari develop his flexibility. One time, he purposely ‘forgot’ his bus card, so they had to walk to the bookstore. Ari immediately panicked, but Menachem was right there to reassure him. Ari knew that Menachem understood that this disruption to their routine was a big deal for him and wouldn’t belittle him for his anxiety. Menachem for his part didn’t try and force a bigger change too fast- they still ended up at the same bookstore that day.
Ari has transformed beyond all expectations
After 18 months, Ari has transformed beyond all expectations. He can now hold real conversations, which is hugely empowering. Not only will he now agree to try some new things, but he will even enjoy them sometimes. He is much more open to doing things differently than he ever was before.
Menachem, however, is not yet satisfied. They have come so far that he wants to carry on working with Ari in the hope that he can start connecting with him on a more emotional level for the first time. It’s not true that Ari’s emotional older sister has stronger feelings than he does. In fact, it’s the opposite. Ari’s emotions are even more intense, and he fears that they would completely overwhelm him if he allowed them to surface. He has unconsciously shut himself down, but the feelings are still there underneath. Ari and Menachem have been laying the foundations for 18 months and have made dramatic progress, but there are still more breakthroughs yet to come.
*All names and identifying details have been changed to protect client confidentiality.