How expanding interests helps those on the autism spectrum – The LILA Principle
Over the years, I have tried to expand my children’s interests to help them increase knowledge, keep their lives interesting, and to foster growth. This has also been an educational goal in both school and home therapy programs. My son Marc, now 24, has a great range of interests that has broadened beyond ceiling fans and Thomas the Tank Engine. Julia, 22, has also developed many interests such as cooking, puppetry, animation, The Muppets, cats, and ballet. How did this transformation take place? How did these interests increase from just a couple to many?
I have thought about this and can say it is because of two things – something I call the LILA Principle (Leave It Lying Around) and exposure to a wide range of activities to build connections. Here is how the LILA Principle worked in regards to Marc’s reading.
LILA in action: reading, music and ballet
My husband, Ron, and I have been avid readers for many years and buy books every month. We have always allowed both of our children access to any book on our shelves. Occasionally, I buy audio books for Ron to listen to while driving. A few years ago, I bought him Bob Barker’s biography Priceless Memories; Ron put it on a shelf when he was done with it. Six years ago, Marc found that audio book and began to listen it with great interest as he knew Bob Barker’s voice from the Price is Right game show. I decided to get him the book version as well to see what he would do. He started the CD over again and followed along with the book, running his finger along the text. He never made a mistake or got behind with turning pages so I knew he was able to read the text. After completing the book with the CD, Marc started reading the book aloud without the CD accompaniment.
Marc was most interested in celebrities. He would find different interviews on You Tube, then ask to read their book. I kept the teaming of the book and audio CD for the next 3 titles he wanted. By the fourth title, Marc just wanted to read aloud without having to hear the CD at all. Our avid reader was born! Marc now reads a biography every week that is 200 – 300 pages long. He can’t read silently in his head, only aloud. He devotes 2 – 3 hours a day to reading on the weekend when school is on, daily during the holidays. He has read biographies on Bill Clinton, Betty White, Dick Van Dyck, Celine Dion, Bob Newhart, Queen Elizabeth and dozens of others. Marc was also fortunate to have a work experience placement in high school at the local library, which gave him access to all kinds of books that he began to sign out and read.
As a result of this reading, Marc now wants to visit all kinds of museums because he likes to read the plaques aloud. He now also knows many museums will show a documentary video on topics they highlight. This has increased his interest in watching documentaries at home. When Marc reads those plaques, he gets very excited when a name comes up that he knows such as Queen Elizabeth.
I started taking Marc to classical music concerts. He has had a lot of exposure to music his whole life as his father is a professional pianist. I took a chance last year that he may enjoy a Baroque concert featuring a solo mandolinist, Avi Avital. He liked the music so much, he asked for the CD which I purchased. Marc then began conducting to this CD and also using it for relaxation and in his yoga sessions. Avi Avital lead to other concerts, one that featured a string quartet. This became a new passion and we now attended the Banff International String Quartet competition and festival every September.
I took both children to their first ballet 6 years ago. It was very modern and more like dance than classical ballet. One of the pieces that was performed was Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which began Julia’s love of Queen. She discovered the Muppets did their own version of the song on You Tube so this got her researching more about the Muppets and what kinds of music they performed. Julia then wanted to study puppetry when she finished high school this year and become a puppeteer. She started taking private lessons twice a month to build her puppeteering skills. I ordered a documentary from the library called Being Elmo which is the story of Kevin Clash, Sesame Street’s Senior Puppet Coordinator. Let’s see where this will lead!
10 tips to increase interests and expand knowledge
- Leave things lying around to be discovered.
- Introduce things that are related or connected to a topic of interest.
- Visit places of interest. You never know what may click or grab their attention.
- Volunteer. We volunteered at a Farmer’s Market for 9 years. After 3 years, Marc started eating a huge variety of fruits and vegetables from having been exposed to them in a work environment.
- Read and visit your local library.
- Attend all kinds of events from sports, music, lectures, plays and films – whatever you can get your hands on. Not everything will be a success or liked, but it never hurts to try.
- Participate in many different activities.
- Travel if you can, even if it’s just an hour’s drive outside of your city or town. You’re bound to notice something different.
- Build on an interest. For example, Julia became interested in cats after attending her first cat show. She then started following a cat foundation online. This lead to the eventual adoption of our first cat (a three year process) which then grew into a work experience job at a pet store, which lead to a volunteer position with the cat charity once Julia turned 18.
- Talk to people – ask what they do for hobbies, ask about organizations they belong to, be a spectator at something they participate in.
Exposure to many different things will expand interests and lead to new and exciting things. Follow the LILA Principle – leaving things lying around – which allows for children to discover something in their own time and way. Every person is unique. It is our job to help create a path that leads to a meaningful, rich life.
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