Autism is not a disease or an entity. It is not something that we must seek out to eradicate. Rather, it is a mode of being, an umbrella term to describe how one relates (or does not relate) to the world. If we look at autism as an entity, a 'thing', then this leads us to develop programs that will seek to alter the person into something they are not nor will or can ever be. It causes us to seek to alter the person by force, coercion, and manipulation.
Behavioralism has bought to modify the person, the existential approach rather seeks to understand. How the autistic person behaves should be seen as a form of communication, possibly the only form of communication they may possess to describe their joys, sorrows, or distress. The world of the autist is often misunderstood, one may see the person flapping their arms, and see this as 'strange' and in need of suppression. But if we look inwardly and explore the meaning behind this action, we may find it is telling us of something, it is indicative of how that person feels. It is one of their few ways to be able to share their experience.
I met with a 5 year old autistic boy who was non-verbal. He came into the office and began banging his hands on the computer keyboard. The secretary's immediate response as it was typical to suppress that behavior and make it go away. Instead, I told her to let him go. We had a ball pit in the center of the room, and I told the boy that if he wanted to keep hitting the keyboard that I might have to pick him up and toss him in the ball pit. He continued, and I picked him up and tossed him in. He got out of the ball pit and walked back over to the keyboard. This time, he did not hit the keyboard but outstretched his hands toward it and then fell back into my arms for me to toss him in the ball pit. He giggled and laughed and then spoke the words, “do it again.” I was amazed. Relationship was at the key of this interaction and an emotional connection was forged. I entered into his world, and he reciprocated and entered mine.
I worked with an autistic child who was blind and had paralysis in his legs. When frustrated and overwhelmed, he would require a helmet at times because he would bang his head. Many would dismiss any attempts to engage with him believing him to be 'too disabled' or 'too troubling'. But even here, there was work done in assessing his environment, seeking to alleviate those things that caused distress and overwhelm. And emotional connections were able to be made with him in spite of his challenges and differences. I let him take the lead, and he would at times forgive my hand and lead me through his house. In spite of his blindness, he knew his surroundings by touch. He enjoyed listening to music and he had one game he would play where he would cover himself with blankets and giggle. These were important emotional connections not to be ignored.
A child with cerebral palsy may be autistic, a child placed under conditions of sensory deprivation may be autistic, a child exposed to a toxin may be autistic. Autism is mere a term we have decided to use to label how a person has developed and relates differently to the world. If I am an American and travel to a foreign country and know nothing of the culture or language, I am bound to struggle. If I am an American and travel to a foreign country but have learned something of the language and culture, it will be far easier. This is the direction I believe that programs to aid autistic persons should be geared. Not to alter the person, but rather to help them to be themselves while also having an understanding of the 'mainstream' and being able to navigate through it ..