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How Storytelling Transformed the World for My Child With Autism

“Once upon a time, a very special little boy was struggling to cope with his ugly thoughts. And Mommy brought home the magic of storytelling.”

The last two years of our lives have been the toughest times.

We have a child on the autism spectrum. Coming to terms with his diagnosis was difficult, but not even close to the challenging years we would experience afterwards.

If you have a child with autism, you probably plan extra carefully for those little changes in your child’s routine. You try to avoid or minimize those moments as much as possible. You make arrangements and read social stories to prepare your child for the changes to come.

For reasons beyond our control, we had to change school, home, town, country, language and leave family behind. All these changes happened all at once.

Can you visualize that?

I won’t try to sugar coat it. My son struggled with anger, sadness, emotional dysregulation and all sorts of extreme behaviors I prefer not to share to preserve his privacy.

But in the middle of those harsh times, magic also happened.

We discovered the power of storytelling.

We were struggling to help our son deal with intrusive thoughts and feelings he could not properly understand or express. What can a kid with autism do with abstract, confusing, sad and angry thoughts?

So we turned them into tales crafted and personalized for him.

His “monsters” had come to the real world. Those thoughts were no longer abstract entities, they were fairy tale characters to which he could relate and understand. In our stories, the little boy that bore his name would ask Mommy for help, in the same way he could ask Mom for help any time he was in need.

In real life he didn’t seem to achieve victory over those intrusive thoughts, but in our fantasy world, those ruminations-turned-monsters could be overcome. Together, with the help of our wit and a good dose of humor, we would defeat the evil monsters.

All of a sudden, thoughts that would have made him shout and cry would now make him laugh. The Confusion Monster got locked in the loo; the Forgetting Monster got stuck in the garage; the Muffler Monster was tickled away.

The story crafting has continued ever since we discovered this powerful tool. Storytelling has become more than just a way to deal with ugly thoughts. Storytelling is now a reward he works hard to achieve, even when nothing else seems to motivate him.

And the magic has come to our real life, beyond our fantasy world. Our boy has begun to create his own fantasy stories. A kid with cognitive issues has started crafting stories with interesting and fun twists (narrated stories as he can’t write them). Months and months of ongoing storytelling have helped him develop a new skill. It feels to me like a mind-blowing success.

He still prefers to listen to my tales, but it is such a joy to listen to his stories full of unexpected turns.

The magic seems to have touched the rest of the family. I can still feel the smile on my lips when our daughter’s teacher told us what a great storyteller she is.

And you are now reading my lines. This would have never happened without the power of storytelling.

Follow this journey on Very Special Tales.

Getty image by evgenyatamanenko