I am very excited to share with you my recent experience with a 12 year old autistic boy whose name is Kyle. Kyle is very unique. He is unique in regard to the sensitivity of his senses. He intensely reacts to smells, light, noise, touch and seeks lots of opportunities for movement. His heightened sensitivity affects Kyle’s behavior in many different ways. One of the way in which it impacts his behavior is expressed by his extreme vigilance and avoidance of people, objects and any new situations.
Over the past 6 months my interaction with Kyle has been very limited, especially in the area of touch. Because Kyle is so defensive in the way he perceives touch sensation he is much more comfortable with touch input that he is fully in control of. In order to give him full control I have brought materials of different textures that he can explore on his own. I as well brought a vibration pillow and placed it in his favorite corner in order to expose Kyle to a variety of touch sensations. I am very happy to say that he has been experimenting more then ever with all the textures however he has still been very resistant to having me place my hands on his body, until yesterday.
Yesterday, when I walked into Kyle’s playroom he was demonstrating his typical behavior. He was curled up in a ball on his bed while peeking at me from under his hands. I decided to play a peek-a-boo game with him since he was pretending to hide his face from me. As I was playing the peek-a-boo game Kyle began to smile and suddenly sat up on his bed with his feet hanging down. At this time he was much more open and connected to me in comparison to the beginning of the session. So I decided to use the peek-a-boo game to transition into a game where I can touch Kyle’s feet. I pretended that his toes were hiding from me. He loved the idea and kept smiling while wiggling his toes as I pretended to look for his toes all over the room. The sillier I became the more fun Kyle was having. Since we were so connected I decided that it would be a good time to finally find his toes as part of the game and start touching them. So I did just that. Bingo, Kyle was very accepting of my touch and gave me both of his feet to massage. After massaging his feet for some time I then asked Kyle’s permission to touch his head, which he was very open to. I propped my self up behind him and asked Kyle to place his head on my lap. I was able to message his head for about 15 minutes. My next step was asking Kyle to allow me to touch his face. To my surprise he was opened to that as well and even pressed my hand into his chin with his hands. I was able to massage his jaw line and his lips for approximately 5-7 minutes. It was such a great experience. I felt his whole body fully relaxed and trusting of my touch. This was truly a miracle for a child who does not feel comfortable with any type of touch sensations.
As I was leaving, his mom knowing that I like apples offered me a nice green apple as I was heading out. Suddenly, Kyle ran up to me and whisked the apple out of my hands and vigorously started to lick it. I was very amused by his behavior and decided to let him have the apple since he seemed to really enjoy it. As I got home that day I found an email from Kyle’s mom stating that he ate the entire apple by him self without having to cut it into little pieces. She said this was the first time he has every done that. She also attached a beautiful picture of him eating the apple with such joy in his eyes.
Following this email I started thinking from a standpoint of an occupational therapist about the power of our jaw. First of all, the jaw and our mouth is one of the best connector points between the head and the body. It is very important to note that. Most of the children who have autism have difficulty organizing incoming sensations, which creates lots of chaos in the brain because the signals are not send to the appropriate place for processing. This makes it very difficult for the child to use their body effectively. Providing deep pressure touch/message to the jaw/mouth will open up channels of communications between brain and body. This type of input will allow the child to feel the muscles of his mouth and jaw, thus help with speech production, chewing, biting on hard foods, and allow for brushing of teeth for those children who are defensive to being touched in that area. As in the case of my little friend Kyle, giving him that extra sensation into his mouth, jaw area allowed him to connect and become aware of that area. Therefore, he was able to feel the muscles of his mouth and use them effectively for the first time to eat a hard big apple.