Autism is a Dynamic System

Autism is not simple. It is not just a genetic disorder, an eating disorder or brain damage. Autism is a whole host of different factors and I love working with children with autism for exactly this reason.

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Most children, even with severe disabilities, prefer to spend time with other human beings. They like to interact. They enjoy being looked at. They enjoy being touched. Children with autism (often) don’t!

With children with autism there is often trouble with eating or digestion. There are movement difficulties. Autism has so many different factors to learn about, to discover and – best of all – each one is radically different between children!

I can see one child who’s very highly functioning – maybe Asperger’s – and they will not eat pasta. Another child – a little boy I work with, Zach, is amazing at taking a pen and flipping it and flipping it three times in the air and catching it and catching it on the same side each and every single time. I could train that for years and I might be able to get as good as he is.


People on the autism spectrum have such amazing and specific quirks! They have unique preferences that it is a new puzzle each time. Every timeI see a child, even somebody I know, I get to learn about a new child.  I have to start with them exactly where they are and I can’t assume. If I come and I assume that the child I’m working with today is going to be like the child that I worked with last week, there’s no moving forward. It’s such a fun reset, such a neat and intriguing and useful way to start. I get to practice my own internal, mental, emotional and physical flexibility because one child might not want to come into my door and one child might want to leap on me and, right, have a piggyback ride. Because there are so many contributing factors I could see this situation as difficult, but actually it is a lot like the rest of our lives!  Our family and friends aren’t always feeling the same way. We do assume that they are how they usually are. We can usually get away with our assumptions. But how much more kind, more respectful not as assume we know where someone is. I practice with kids with autism.

Autism is a dynamic system. To engage with a child with autism I’m required to bring more of myself to table, be the best that I can possibly be. But instead of viewing this as a difficult, I view it as a learning experience and fun.

By Robin Zander

Robin is the author of this blog. He is a dancer, producer, and entrepreneur, and passionate about learning and behavior change.

1 comment

  1. Our son also didn’t eat pasta for a long time; he’s diagnosed with mild to moderate ASD. He now eats it without issue after we made up a song (he loves to sing):

    Fusilli, fusilli
    Aren’t you silly?

    Not surprisingly, we have higher success rates with getting him to eat fusilli over other types of pasta. We’ve found that we have better success by reframing things.

    He wouldn’t eat one morning because he wanted his favorite fork, which was not clean. Instead of dropping everything to clean it or whatever else we could have done, realized that we need to reframe for acceptance. So another strategy is to append x to a word so we told him that’s his first-favorite fork (the blue one) but the green one is is second-favorite fork and which is his third-favorite? And we got him to not get stuck on “favorite fork” and instead to come to the conclusion that he has many favorite forks! It’s sort of taking a side trip to get him past a rut which seems trivial to us but isn’t to him.

Thanks for participating!