Courtenay and Ben and Autism

By Courtenay Meridew

When I accepted a position at The Cridge Centre for the Family as a Support Worker, I had no idea the amount of compassion, community and diversity I would encounter. My first day was filled with friendly coworkers and warm welcomes. My favorite of course being from my supported child, Ben. Ben waved his hand an inch from my face and shouted “hello Courtney!” seconds before giving me a great big hug. This greeting was so enthusiastic and loving, but it also displayed Ben’s delay in social skills, as his diagnosis is Autism.

Key characteristics for Autistic Disorder are “the presence of markedly abnormally or impaired development in social interaction and communication, and a markedly restricted repertoire of activity and interests.” These proved true with Ben as I quickly learned his knowledge of social cues was limited and his repertoire of activities he enjoyed was minimal. Two years ago when Ben and I first started hanging out he had social challenges that would frustrate his classmates. Specifically, personal space and remaining quiet during instructions would agitate the group. Through applying my educational background and experience in combination with Ben’s focus and love for his peers, he soon learned the importance of socialization and boundaries. Don’t get me wrong, you can still hear Ben’s echoing “hello!” down the halls as he greets everyone he passes, but he respects personal bubbles and the need to ask before giving hugs. Like anyone, Ben forgets these “rules” as he calls them, but with gentle reminders, he is able to refocus and present himself as a mature young boy. Having just turned thirteen, these social interactions are more important for Ben than ever before. Tackling his delays in social skills has allowed Ben to engage more with his peers, which ultimately expands his repertoire of activities and interests. Ben has now gained the confidence to play the board game ‘Sorry’ and ‘Go Fish’ with his peers. These games provide the opportunity for Ben to connect with others and express himself more.

The best display of Ben’s progress came during a game we play on the front field, called ‘Trading Post’. In this game the children must collect items they find on the field (for example flowers) and return them to the trading post in exchange for gems. To get gems, their item must have a purpose (for example medicine or clothing). The goal of the game is to collect the most gems and ultimately exchange them for land. I had been hesitant to suggest this game to Ben because it is a complex and chaotic game, that he previously showed no interest in. However, I was wrong to hesitate because any activity can be modified to allow everyone to participate. Ben saw the gems and immediately wanted to be the banker in charge of trading the items. He took on this role with so much enthusiasm. I sat back and observed Ben shouting “this is worth two dollars” and “what is this item for” to his classmates who waited patiently for the verdict on their collected items. Everyone loved his overpriced estimates and his exaggerated movements and voice. This game demonstrated Ben’s progression with his social skills and communication, and his love for inclusion. Being thirteen means Ben will no longer be in the program come September, but I have no doubt he will exceed all expectations in his future.