Arthur

Arthur is 24 years old. He spends most of his time in a residential center in the Flemish region of Belgium. He comes home each two weeks to spend the weekend with his family.

During my first visit in one of these weekends, I find him on the couch, completely covered with a blanket. The contour of his body is clearly delineated by the folds of the blanket. This is also my first photo of him.

Pictograms

Arthur is non-verbal. He communicates using pictograms and he often goes back to the big pictogram board to check the planning for the day or the week. The board presents the key persons and activities of the day in chronological order. His father talks about the way they use pictograms. He points out to a generic “visitor” pictogram on the board planning for that day. The visitor is me.

While at home, Arthur often walks back and forth across the living room. His stimming behaviors involves mostly his arms and hands. He flaps his hands in front of his face. He keeps his forearms raised almost all the time.

Learning

We sit at the table in the dining area and Arthur reluctantly stops his walking to join us. He completes a puzzle and then start working on a game in which pins of different colors are used to fill in different areas within a drawing model.

For a person with the support needs of Arthur, the acquisition of basic autonomy skills can take longer. Parents need to find what works with their child and there are no predefined recipes for success. Arthur used to wake up very early and didn’t realize what time it was, nor how much longer he could sleep. He was starting to move and make noise, waking up the other people in the residential center where he passes most of his time. His father resisted the suggestion staff to put him on a sleeping pill and instead bought a watch with a dial of 24 hours instead of the usual 12 hours, calculated both in the morning and in the afternoon. The area included between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. was highlighted on the clock face as sleeping time. Arthur gradually learned to adjust his sleep according to this interval.

Hiking

When I meet with Arthur and his parents for a hike in the Flemish countryside, my autistic son also joins us. I see him checking out Arthur and, after a while, trying to take his hand and walk together. We are also meeting other members of his extended family. As the whole group moves across villages, patches of forest, and open fields, Arthur walks alone, doing his characteristic stimming with the hands in front of his face. From time to time, he gets closer to his mom or dad, as if he needed a moment of reconnection to keep going. The hike ends with a surprise: icecream for everybody!

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