Sarbani is the founder and everything-woman at the Bubbles Centre. She was one of Ally’s first teachers, which is how she built a relationship with Ally’s mum, Elizabeth Albuquerque– a relationship that subsequently informed the Albuquerques’ investment in the land that is now the Bubbles Centre. (If you are just now tuning in, Ally is my host sister, a wonderful young girl on the high-functioning end of the Autism spectrum.)
It took merely one day to pick up on Sarbani’s otherworldly connection with the children at Bubbles and the second-nature manner in which she communicates with them. It was from her that I initially learned the importance of directness when communicating with children with Autism. Unlike communicating with neurotypical children, it is not rude or condescending to spell things out, and it is important to encourage children with Autism to do certain things—simple things—on their own.
Take nine-year-old Akil, for example. Akil is a high-functioning child on the spectrum who has difficulties with eyesight and mobility. Another noticeable disconnect is that he frequently forgets where he puts his things—generally his book bag and his shoes—despite designated spaces for students’ belongings. On my first day at Bubbles, Akil seemed to be standing right in the midst of his belongings wondering where his shoes had gone. Sarbani was seated on a stool in front of him, directly next to the shoe rack where poor Akil’s shoes sat patiently, waiting to be acknowledged. Whereas I would have picked up Akil’s shoes and placed them near his feet with a smile, Sarbani took a different approach that would guide Akil himself along the 6-inch path to his orphaned shoes… and it was brilliant.
“Where are my shoes?” Akil asked.
“On the shoe rack, Akil. Where’s the shoe rack?” Sarbani asked.
“I don’t know,” cried Akil.
“Well, where’s Sarbani?” Sarbani asked, in an unsuspecting third person.
Akil turns to Sarbani.
“Your shoes are on the shoe rack. And the shoe rack is next to Sarbani. So where are your shoes, Akil? Look next to Sarbani.”
And Voila. Our little Akil located his gray and red crocs, plopped them on the ground, and scooted off– all on his own. All he needed was a bit of a nudge, a nudge peppered with the basic level of specificity that our society deems useless after age two. Yet, this is the level of specificity upon which children like Akil so basically depend.