There are many kinds of therapies available to individuals with autism that parents can sometimes get overwhelmed. A story by News.com.au reported one Australian dad’s unconventional decision when it came to his son’s therapies.
When this story began, Sam Best was a 14 year old with autism who needed help fully developing his social skills and ability to deal with unpredictable situations. Dr. James Best, Sam’s father, was not seeing the results he wanted for his son explaining to News.com.au that “Sam could play the piano and he could reprogram computers and pick up maths really quickly but he couldn’t go to the shop by himself or have a normal long conversation with a friend.” Hoping to help his son, Dr. Best decided to change course. The Best family, packed up their belongings and even sold their home to embark on a 6 month backpacking trip through Africa.
As one can imagine, every day experiences on a backpacking trip are real challenges for an individual with autism. Sam dealt with everything from public transportation, to ordering food at restaurants, to checking in at hotels. Dr. Best also explained that he was very focused on Sam’s ability to have prolonged conversations with strangers. The full story, “My Son Sam,” published by an Australian news outlet called ABC shows clips from the trip in which Sam has choppy and distracted conversations, mostly comprised of semi-random statements rather than a true back-and-forth, with many people. The episode also shows the father son duo on an African safari, boxing on a mountain, playing chess, and even white water rafting. In a shorter video from ABC, Dr. Best admits his nerves during parts of the trip. Watching his son have tantrums and meltdowns when confronted with the realities of life during this adventure brought up a lot of questions as to whether or not this really was the right thing for his son but those fears were wiped away by a six word question.
“Have you ever been to Australia?” This was the question Sam asked the woman who owned the hostel he and his father were staying in. This was the first time in his entire life Sam had ever prolonged a conversation on his own. With six simple words, Dr. Best felt tremendous pride and relief that his unconventional methods seemed to be working. After the trip, Sam showed clear improvement in his social skills and ability to accomplish daily tasks. ABC also reported that Dr. David Trembath, who studied videos of Sam throughout the trip, saw a 78% increase in eye contact and 75% decrease in abrupt topic changes when talking to strangers. Dr. Trembath even went so far as to say, “I think this journey could shake up the field of autism.” He came to this conclusion after examining video updates that Dr. Best sent throughout the trip. Other professionals are understandably more skeptical about the effects of the trip but agree that the idea of increasing unpredictable situations and removing things like technology may be a new development to help adolescents with autism.
Now 16 years old, Sam reflected on the trip by saying, “I’m more grown up after this. I’ve been learning to talk to people more often. And thanks to Dad for making me more mature.”
Watch the full episode of “My Son Sam” on Facebook.