On Wednesday, a group in Virginia spent and hour and a half in the world of a person with autism.
Everyone in Bonnie Zampino’s “Autism Experience” training wore suede gloves too big for their hands, and goggles that make light extremely bright.
According to Zampino, this is how it feels for some who have Autism.
“When people can walk a mile in those shoes and understand where those behaviors are coming from, they’re going to look at individuals with much more comfort than wanting to control that person.”
The training is meant to illicit the same feelings that cause some people with autism to have outbursts doing things many think are, or should be easy – like seeing questions on a white board, or coloring a picture.
This is done by having the participants perform tasks like stringing a bead while wearing the goggles and glove, and feel the frustration and difficulty those with autism feel doing similar tasks.
If people see how hard it is, maybe they’ll understand the reactions.
“In today’s world, we look at the behavior of people with disabilities as bad, manipulative,” Zampino said.
Zampino said she created the training after what her autistic son went through at school.
“Basically I would get a lot of calls from his school asking me why he did certain things: why did he hit someone? Why did he stab a child in the hand with a tooth pick? Why did he do x,y and z, and I didn’t know.”
Determined to learn, Zampino created the training and the non-profit, A Safe Space, so she and others can understand better.
By letting people feel the frustration, Zampino said she hopes people will develop more compassion.
Nikki Orndorff, a behavior specialist who works with autistic people, said the training helped her gain a new perspective.
“It’s a lot easier for me when I’m working them to say ‘ok, he’s having a hard time. He’s not being stubborn, he’s not giving me a hard time, he’s having a hard time.”
According to Zampino, she wants her training to encourage people to use less restrictive responses to autistic people’s outbursts.
Holding someone down or putting someone in a room alone, she says, is inappropriate.
Zampino works with a group called Ukeru Systems that teaches people how to deescalate situations using methods that are non-restrictive.