Background to my interest in teaching children with autism


Ninth, it became necessary for Kevin to develop his life according to his own rules. A goal-finding programme was introduced in which he was asked to find and develop two kinds of goals. The first kind were ‘achievement’ goals in several areas of living – including work, property, special relationship, family, leisure use, community contributions and values development. These goals were assembled, boiled down to highly abstract and almost inconceivably ‘big’ goals. Then a method of management of life by objectives and results was structured in which he would have to accomplish a series of sub-goals toward the achievement of each main goal area. For each goal he would have to educate himself, do a ‘market analysis’, design his final product, get into production, sell himself and his design to others, and expand his activities and perhaps extend the original goal. For each of these sub-goal areas, he defined a series of objectives necessary to complete that task and, finally, a series of action plans to make it possible for him to complete each objective. He did well with this detail.

But the ‘real’ intention of the goal-finding programme was to get Kevin to develop and pursue another kind of goal, namely, ‘personal development’ goals. He was asked to list all the qualities or characteristics of his ‘ideal self’ – all the personal qualities he would like to have as part of himself. He was encouraged to include ‘outgoing’ to compensate for his introversion, ‘spontaneous, emotional and free’ to compensate for his habits of excessive emotional control, ‘assertive, decisive, forceful’ to compensate for his energy inhibition, ambiguity-intolerance and indecisiveness, ‘happy, joyful’ to compensate for his flat and joyless depression, ‘fair and irrational’ to compensate for his wish to control others with the force of reason, and ‘loving, gentle and considerate’ to ensure that he would like himself as he became these new qualities. Of course, he doubted that even the extreme exercise of his will would ever permit him to acquire these qualities – which led to the second stage of this ‘personal development’ goals programme.

Having completed the list of the personal development qualities he wanted for his ‘ideal self’, he was given a statement to explain how these qualities might be achieved. Felicity said that the way in which we became the way we are is because all through our lives, whether or not they were conscious of it, others have had goals for us. Mother, father, brothers and sisters, teachers, friends, colleagues, maiden aunts and the local cop all have constantly been rewarding us for acting in the ways which they considered to be appropriate. That would be fine except that they all have had different goals for us, and each has pulled us in a different direction as he or she rewards or approves, or even just notices, our behaviours. No wonder we are so confused about who we are by the time we grow up. But now, as grown-ups, we are free to decide for ourselves who and what we want ourselves to be – and we are free to ignore others’ attempts to train us to fit their images of us. The only remaining question is: How?

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