Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Baby on the Airplane (an oldie, but a goodie)

Several years ago, I boarded an airplane on my way home from a week learning about RDI(r). I was startled by a gasp from a flight attendant who paused at the row directly in front of me. I looked up, just in time to see her face unfreeze from the wide-mouth gasping position into a huge grin as she said in a high-pitched "baby-talk" voice, "Hi-dee!"

The couple sitting in front of me were traveling with a baby.

I watched as people boarded and noticed the baby.

*E V E R Y* adult that noticed that baby sitting in Mom's arms stopped to pause and then "talk" to that baby. First was the inhale/gasp sound to attract the baby's attention, then a hesitation, and then a simple greeting: HI! or HI-dee!

There were probably an equal number of times when I could not see the baby at all; I could ONLY observe the adult stranger passing by. The sequence was exactly the same every single time. I was enthralled. No one MADE these people stop and "speak" to this baby, either. No one taught them what to do, but the sequence was the same, and everyone slowed down and used their faces in really animated ways...a really instinctive, natural reaction to seeing him awake in his mother's arms.

When the baby was turned the right way, I could see his face through the crack between the seats on the row in front of me, and then I could see the entire "dance". His response was BEAUTIFUL. And then I got to see the adults react to baby's response to them! When his mom put him on her shoulder, he could see ME through the crack between the seats, and he'd dance with ME, too. The kid actually FLIRTED with me. That baby was DANCING with strangers! ;)

Made me realize again how hard it is for parents whose children quit responding with neurotypical feedback, and how the dance just fizzles out, and usually needs help that begins in the place where it fizzled, if it's going to get started again. This back-and-forth with a six-month-old is one of the earliest foundations, a prototype, for the conversations he'll have later. Yes, going back to get the foundation is necessary -- skipping the foundations gives the child a different experience and lays different foundations, reinforces and shapes something that is not "typical" and can even extinguish "typical".

Also made me realize that it's not a large collection of discreet skills that gets interrupted in autism. Autism is NOT a deficit of discreet skills. Autism starts when the process of learning the dance between parent and child (the intersubjective relationship) gets knocked off course.

Beginning at the right place, developmentally speaking, slowing down, using a pace that's "possible" for the child ("possible" is a Dr Jim term from Communicating Partners), working on interaction and content -- are all important parts of learning to communicate. Sometimes we miss those important parts in autism intervention.

I got an extra lesson that day as I watched both sides of a really early dance lesson. ;)

2 comments:

Tony and Julee Huy said...

I remember being at a restaurant in our early days with Nathan when we were still "wondering." There was a baby there probably in the 6-9 month range. That baby sat in her high chair and made eye contact and flirted with every person that went past!

Nathan was our fourth and we knew very well that babies did that, but to see it up close in that time was a real eye opener. Our baby doesn't do that, our baby never did that, we couldn't even fathom our baby doing that! From his earliest days he tried to avoid eye contact at all costs and I remember thinking, I didn't know babies could be so shy!

It's SOOO interesting watching typical developement with my 5th after unusual developement, the things that come so naturally to some, don't to others!

Stranded said...

Penny this was awesome. I am sharing it!

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