When we switched to a developmental, relationship based autism intervention, I struggled to grasp concepts and implement them into daily routines. I watched a yahoo list (which no longer exists) where parents described activities. I tried to wrap my mind around the concepts while feeling unsure about what I was supposed to do.
Looking back, I realize that giving my daughter many experiences to be competent with me in very simple reciprocity and interaction, back-and-forth, turn-taking, at non-verbal levels, was key, and often, I was trying to focus over her head, developmentally speaking.
When you "program" a child for a skill without the developmentally appropriate relationship goal, you are shortchanging the child. The focus becomes "getting" the child to perform the skill instead of *giving* the child practice and experience that he/she needs. (Schools tend to shortchange children with autism, in my experience, by ignoring the developmentally appropriate relationship piece.)
When you focus on developmentally appropriate objectives within the context of an activity, you're giving the child a "two-fer" (two-for-the-price-of-one) experience.
There's a big difference between "getting" a child to do something and *giving* him/her an experience, both in the approach (delivery) and the outcome.
Yesterday, while I was preparing our Thanksgiving meal, I began to snap the ends from some fresh green beans. My girl joined me with interest, asking what, exactly, was I doing, and could she help me?
As I explained how we snap the pointy ends from the green beans before we cook them and I showed her how to snap the ends off, I gave thanks for the experiences she'd had in the past that allowed her to join me, to want to join me. My appreciation grew for child development and the marvel it is when it happens naturally, and I thought about how challenging it is for a child (and his/her parent) whose development falls off track. And I thought about the many RDIable objectives that could be experienced and practice using the simple background activity of snapping green beans.
Here are a few of them:
Being with (and limits and boundaries) - Mom snaps green beans while child stays nearby. It's an early step in sharing attention, joint attention, theory of mind - and too often, we skip this step in order to "get" something from a child. Don't discount the importance of simply "being with" in terms of making yourself a safe and trustworthy guide and , to borrow from Dr James D MacDonald, a Communicating Partner for your child.
Simultaneous parallel co-regulating roles - Both of you snap green beans together, performing the same roles at the same time
Coordinating roles - Mom snaps green beans, hands them to child to sort, ends in trash, beans in bowl. We can reverse coordinating roles, here, too, if you're working on that kind of objective
Copying Mom's actions with meaning and context - Much more, much richer than simply, "gross motor imitation", Little Bit had to watch me carefully to figure out how to snap the ends off the green beans. She wasn't holding the end tightly enough at first, and once I showed her how to pinch the end more tightly, she was quickly snapping beans with ease.
Experiencing the concept of "good enough" AND monitoring Mom for "good enough" - there's not an exact, right way to snap green beans - they're not all exactly the same length when we finish - we aim for "good enough". Sometimes, we snap off more than we intend - and that's okay, too. We're flexible. For the child, monitoring Mom's face and actions for clarity that you're actions are within the "good enough" range is important to practice and experience.
Variations are natural here. Snapping beans isn't rote. Sometimes, you find a stem or leaf. That goes in the trash. Sometimes, a bean is too small. That goes in the trash. Little Bit came across one that she said had already been chewed. It was broken at one end, already. We snapped a little bit off, threw the waste in the trash pile, and moved on to the next bean. There's more flexibility to experience.
Experiencing mistakes. Both of us messed up a few times, throwing the snapped ends into the bowl of good beans and the good bean into the trash. Oops! This was a fun opportunity to notice a breakdown in our little system, to laugh at ourselves, and make a repair.
Those are just a few ideas off the top of my head. If you think of more, please add them to the comments section.
Snapping green beans together wasn't about teaching Little Bit the "life skill" of snapping green beans. Snapping green beans became the background activity to some relationship practice and experience, and the bonus is the fact that she learned a new skill. Snapping green beans is a "two-fer". I got a big reminder (again) yesterday that finding the right game or activity isn't as important as figuring out how to use activities already in our days to couple with the right developmental objective as we give our children practice and experiences that move them forward.