Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sensing Transitions

A popular topic in support groups composed of parents of children with an autism diagnosis is the dreaded "T" word: TRANSITIONS.

As I've learned more about how joint attention develops, I'm learning that I need to be aware and careful not to reinforce,

"I don't have to pay attention to what's going on around me because my mom and dad do that for me and feed me the clues I need."

Parents and professionals need to give children w/ asd lots of opportunities (all the time) to begin to shift their attention and gather information themselves, using yourself in ways that puts the child in the position a) to be responsible for herSELF and b) to make her own discoveries.

On one internet chat group, a mom asked why her child screams at every transition. If he isn't sensing the approach of the end of an activity, HE IS ALWAYS FEELING SURPRISED AND CAUGHT OFF GUARD. You and I might scream, too, if our lives were one huge surprise after another.

Think about it. During Sunday morning worship, when the pastor closes his Bible, we sense that the sermon is about to end and we'll be going home soon. Children on the autism spectrum tend not to sense those non-verbal "hints" that a transition is about to happen. They see the pastor close his Bible and it contains no MEANING. To them, he simply closed his Book.

There are cues and clues happening all the time that a transition is about to happen. For pre-schoolers, we lead them in a clean-up song to spotlight a transition. But for children who don't sense the cues, we're merely singing a song, missing the fact that we're about to end one activity and begin another one.

We parents and professionals tend to work around that lack of understanding MEANING that plays into SENSING (from the inside--it's not really conscious thought a lot of the time) that a transition is about to occur by the heavy use of visual schedules.

Visual schedules are great--but RDI(r) is the first intervention that explained to me that they should be thought of as SHORT TERM compensations as we work during the day on giving our kids competence with non-verbal interaction and reciprocity with others and with self.

Self-awareness, self-control and self-regulation all develop OUT OF a relationship with OTHERS. In other words, co-control, co-awareness, and c0-regulation come FIRST in development, where the adult gradually gives more and more responsibility to the child for him/her SELF. That includes attention sharing (joint attention), attention shifting, referencing for meaning, predicting and anticipation, and all of those things begin BETWEEN PEOPLE in a developmental progression (via relationships).

Shutting up (turning OFF "talk" and "words") will put your child in a position to have to get information visually and non-verbally. The child becomes an active participant, joining, co-regulating. "We-go" is a very different experience from that of passively responding to prompts or following a visual schedule.

If I understand development correctly, putting your child into positions to be an active participant with you, nonverbally, reaching, stretching, inserting his own arms into a coat you hold open, inserting his own foot into a shoe you're holding, reaching for a plate or snack you extend to him, are all ways to begin to give him opportunities to co-regulate and coordinate with you, so he can feel himself taking an action, and are all foundations of anticipating and recognizing transitions.

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