The Davis Autism Approach® is a non-invasive, gentle approach designed to allow autistic individuals to participate more fully in life.
Speaking about his own autism, Ron Davis explains in his book, ‘Autism and the Seeds of Change’ (co-authored with Abigail Marshall) that there were three phases that he had to go through ‘to become a human being’. First he had to individuate and become just one thing, ‘me’. Then secondly, he had to develop an identity for the ‘me’ that he had become. And thirdly, he had to adapt to the world of being human among society.
The Davis Autism Approach is designed to follow the three developmental steps that Ron Davis identified in his own life: individuation, identity development and social integration.
A typically developing child will probably begin to develop the ability to orient himself during the first year of life. Being oriented simply describes the mental state that goes along with being able to focus attention and perceive the world around you accurately. A child’s orientation enables the child to develop his position in the environment, to understand where he is in relation to people and objects around him. He can develop a sense of self and learn to feel secure in familiar surroundings. If a child does not develop the ability to orient himself, it can feel like he is in a world of chaos or confusion. If a child cannot make sense of his surroundings, the world around him can become unpredictable and scary. This is why the autistic child may develop repetitive behaviors, such as arranging a car collection in a particular way, as a means of creating familiarity in an unpredictable world.
A child with autism either fails to go through this phase of developing orientation altogether, never gets through this phase completely or regresses once being through it. The goal of individuation is to help the individual to develop a sense of self separate from others and to develop the ability to orient. He develops the capacity to be fully aware of his surrounding environment. Once individuation has occurred, the autistic person can begin to interact and learn efficiently and is ready to move onto the next step of identity development.
Identity development refers to a normal and continual learning process that takes place as children grow and develop. They begin to understand how they function in their environment and how their world functions around them. Having developed a sense of self, they are coming to terms with the world that ‘self’ inhabits. During identity development, the autistic individual learns to understand his own thoughts and emotions. He develops a core identity. He also learns to function effectively in his environment to a point where he can take a role of responsibility, whatever that may be. Identity development enables the autistic individual to process and incorporate new experiences and new ideas and new skills and new knowledge. This will continue all of his life, after the course has been completed.
The third and final phase of the Davis Autism Approach is social integration. It provides the foundation for people with autism to develop and maintain social relationships. The Davis program is not designed to teach an individual social skills or rules. Instead it provides the person with an understanding of a set of basic concepts that guide interactions with others, rather like a road map. The individual learns to direct his focus to the awareness and respective of the needs and wants of others. In this way, he will be able to become a more effective member of his community and participate more fully in life.
At the end of the course, the individual has developed the tools and concepts participate more effectively and independently. Of course the end of the program does not spell the end of the learning process. This continues for the client with each new experience and situation he encounters.