Sunday, November 22, 2009

Control and Surrender

Having a child on the autism spectrum has set me on an interesting journey. Our first big intervention was behavioral, where our goal was to make the child appear to be indistinguishable from her peer from the outside. The intervention of choice was based upon the principles of classical and operant conditioning and looked a lot like animal training. Our child learned to perform on command so long as we used the right words and had taught her the expected response.

The changes I'd hoped for didn't happen with the behavioral approach. Don't get me wrong -- she learned what we taught her. We taught her to rely on us for direction when we deemed it necessary (which was pretty much all the time) and overall, she was very passive in navigating the ups and downs and twists and turns that occur moment-to-moment.

She was rigid. Inflexible. The four of us danced and tiptoed around her a lot, trying to avoid a meltdown. Her need for control was palpable. And, to keep peace, we obliged her.

She was INdependent. She had no concept, no experience with INTERdependence. Joining another was outside her realm. She could perform when asked, but not join. There's a difference, a difference I did not understand until we made a change in our approach.

Leaving the purely behavioral approach behind and switching to a developmental model set me on a path of my own self discovery.

The developmental model we use is based upon the course of typical development, starting with birth, of the parent-child relationship. Go back in development, get infant foundations of reciprocity and interaction in place first, and move up a developmental ladder that has been heavily documented by psychologists.

Suddenly, the changes began to appear -- the changes I'd longed for but failed to see when we began the behavioral intervention. Joining and following are more important than following rules and prompts. That became clear (finally) to me. My role as a parent changed drastically as I began to hand to my child in little increments responsibility for herSELF. I began to realize that my exhaustion had come from having to manage her all the time with prompts and reminders, and dropping the behavioral training and picking up a developmental approach made my job a little easier.

And I began to realize that maybe I need some work on being an apprentice. I'm a Believer. A Christian. And I realized that I have a lot of apprenticeship still to practice and experience.

Think about it. If God created us in His image, would the earthly parent/child relationship parallel the spiritual Parent/child relationship? And now that I better understand infant development (emotion sharing, referencing, turn taking at non-verbal, pre-speech levels), just how practiced am *I* at looking to my Heavenly Father for information? Am I an experienced "joiner" with Him? Joining and interdependence implies giving up a lot of control.


When I think about the need for control that we see in autism, I realize it parallels my own. As we use a developmental approach to remediate the core deficits of autism, I realize I need the same remediation to work on my core deficits of spiritual autism.

Ouch ouch ouch. Truth hurts.

I've been pondering (for a long time) the idea of how the Bible illuminates our spiritual relationship development intervention.

One local youth pastor said in a spring '09 sermon that our job as parents is to "TRANSFER THE CHILD'S INTERDEPENDENCE ON *US* (parents) TO AN INTERDEPENDENCE ON *GOD*". That means I must have that interdependent relationship with God, first.

Friday, I was in the car, listening to the very end of this radio program (6:46 minutes left in the program) when the hosts began to talk about "surrender". The hosts had a conversation with a caller, and the hosts words hit me hard enough to want to share them: "I'm gonna choose to believe that what He says is true until He proves it wrong, rather than I'm going to question it until He proves it's right. That's surrendering." (Is the opposite a form of spiritual autism?)

And that comment is followed by another profound statement by one of the radio hosts, "The Gospel is full of damaged goods that the purpose of Jesus to come down here is to transform damaged goods in redemptive people that are working whole." Could that last statement a definition of a spiritual relationship development intervention?

This time of year is a time for reflection. What changes do I need to make in mySELF? Too many to list here, and probably too personal to list here.

I'm thankful for the growth in me because my child regressed into autism.


Daniel "Captain" Kirk said...

Most parents I meet IRL are either trying to normalize their kids through inclusion with little or no social skills intervention, hoping the school or therapist will magically solve everything, or taking a flavor-of-the-month grasping-at-straws approach.

Virtually everything I've read on teaching social skills takes a behavioral approach or seems to assume kids on the spectrum can just pick up social skills they see modeled. Where would you recommend beginning to learn about a developmental approach?

Penny said...

Papa Bear, there are several developmental models. The most thorough is RDI(r), out of Houston, TX, Dr Steve Gutstein's intervention, with consultants all over the world. We are long-distance clients of our consultant, visiting her a few times a year in person and doing everything else by phone and internet. Join a yahoo group called "Autism Remediation For Our Children" and ask some questions there if you're interested.

Communicating Partners is Dr James MacDonald's intervention. I have a link to his "ARM" (adult child development map in my upper right side bar of quick references.

SonRise, Floortime (PLAY Project), Gentle Teaching are other developmental models. We tried Floortime -- I hated it. RDI(r) gave me more specific direction. Floortime might be something for you, though. (Don't discount something just because I hated it. *grin*)

If you can find my "man on a bicycle" post under the "autism intervention" label, you can read a little bit about my journey away from behavioral and to developmental. The other post to look for is the one about why I decided to homeschool.

Penny said...

You may find Ross Green Ph.D's ALSUP helpful (it's in my quick reference box, upper right side bar of the blog) and the work of Dr Reuven Feuerstein helpful. (iRi has a new book out about Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment).

Daniel "Captain" Kirk said...

Thanks. It looks like I have some reading to do!

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