In 1999, I found myself bound for the East Coast to attend my first autism conference. My son, Benny, had been diagnosed in 1997 when he was three years old. I am a psychotherapist by profession, specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy for individuals having a variety of diagnoses. I knew little about autism, but was determined to learn and learn fast.
I had thought about ways to apply the strategies and concepts of cognitive therapy with my son and had come up with some ideas that made sense to me. My ideas included: 1. having curiosity about his behavior, not judgment, 2. keeping journals about his behaviors regarding their frequency and intensity, 3. making guesses at what he might be thinking and feeling to explain his behavior, and 4. working with the behaviors in ways that challenged him to have to think about actions he was taking.
My ideas had me wondering more about what he was thinking, if he was thinking, why he might be thinking in a certain way, and what his behavior told me about the workings of his mind. Instead of being primarily focused on changing or stopping his behaviors and seeing him as an example of how an autistic person should be taught to behave, I began analyzing his behavior to learn more about “him.”