A couple of weeks ago, a pediatrician attending one of our workshops on Medical Clowning at Kaiser East Bay asked if we had any special techniques to engage children with autism. Since we haven’t focused on autism, I asked my colleagues in Paris, Sao Paulo, Haifa, Dallas, New York and Zurich. Here are some answers:
– The autism spectrum is so vast, and while there are some similarities between kids, and some things that you find in most of them (like an aversion to loud sounds), for the most part we have to take each child as she or he comes. We find that our listening skills and keen sense of what is going on in the room allows us to adjust very quickly to where that particular kid might be.
– Play slowly
– Not to try to make contact directly but to propose a play that the child can see at a certain distance first .
– Use music (a lot of autistic children love music and some have an incredible musical memory)
– Use non-verbal skills such as being in touch with the breath of the child, repeating the same rhythms for a long time and then proposing a very minimal change etc.
– A child who is not watching you may still be with you deeply.
– Sometimes you can explain what you are doing, narrate your actions, even as a clown. This can build security with a lot of children with autism.