I was working with a client with ASD during one of my sessions on the physical calming techniques discussed in my previous post. He commented that when he became upset that he was unable to 'stop' what he was doing because his body wanted him to 'keep going.' We tried several role play exercises where would become physically excited then try to stop. We even tried the game 'red light-green light' to help reinforce the notion of stop versus go. Unfortunately even when he was able to get his body to stop moving, his mental excitement continued. It seemed as though requesting him to stop being excited was too abrupt a process and not effective for him.
As we were discussing alternative approaches, we realized that you wouldn't ask a person running full speed to suddenly stop. Doing so would either cause the person to fall or get hurt. When sprinters cross the finish line, they typically take several gradually slower steps before coming to a complete stop. We then came to the conclusion that if his brain was going 'full speed' that it would not be fair to ask him to suddenly stop what he was doing and try to redirect his thoughts or feelings. People with ASD typically need more time for transition. Therefore, we included a prompt to slow down prior to stopping. That way he could reduce his excitement gradually before stopping and have more time to stop the negative thoughts and emotions and transition them to more positive thoughts and calming activities. He indicated that he believed that this would work better for him and he was looking forward to trying this out at home.
The message for me as a therapist was 'listen to your clients." The broader meaning in terms of this post, however, I believe is that for many children and adults with ASD, we are doing people a disservice by asking them to stop without warning, particularly when there is excitement or strong interest involved. Stopping suddenly may not be feasible. We give people with ASD time to transition from one activity to another, why not give that same transition when changing behavior, switching thoughts or trying to implement calming/coping procedures. Stopping may still be the ultimate goal, but perhaps we educators, therapists, parents, caregivers etc. should be asking the people we serve to slow down first.
Steven C. Altabet, Ph.D.