Sunday, February 27, 2011

Please & Thank You

Just a few days ago, I witnessed an event that is relatively common in autism and special needs circles that used to be a 'normal' event for me, one that is now appalling to me.

Child was prompted to say "please" when requesting an item, and prompted again to say "thank you" when the child was given that item. Mom helped by guiding child's head toward therapist. (I wrote about that here.) The therapist with the item "helped" by reminding the child to tell her eyes "thank you".

What's so horrible about that, you may wonder? Manners are a good thing.

Manners are a good thing, but let's help our children experience manners within a context of real reciprocity, the full package of communication, non-verbal and verbal/words/"talk".

The child was not given an opportunity to orient her body or her gaze toward the gift giver, was not given an opportunity to reply on her own. Those opportunities were stolen. Worse, the child was not expected to be able to do those things. (Why are parents taught to behave this way with kids on the autism spectrum, anyway?)

"Please" and "thank you" are soooooooo much more than three little memorized (rote) words and meaningless eye contact. Teaching a child on the autism spectrum that "please" and "thank you" are only about eye contact and saying the right words is not only short sided, it is giving the child a completely different experience than the rest of the world gets.

Let's quit ignoring reciprocity at non-verbal levels when we think about, work with kids on the autism spectrum. Please. Thank you.

As a parent, I did not understand this at all until RDI(r) came along for me almost seven years ago. None of the professionals in my life understood it, either, much like the therapist in red scrubs who thought she was "helping". Why is a developmental approach still so rare? Why do so few therapists and teachers understand this?

Being a competent responder of prompts does not = the interaction and reciprocity that children on the autism spectrum need to practice and experience for themselves. Being a competent responder of prompts does not = the interaction we parents long for. You can't get there from here.

The therapist would have impressed me had she used an experience sharing statement, like, "I'm over here."coupled with plenty of processing and response time instead of a direct prompt demanding an immediate response with empty, meaningless eye contact in the directive, "tell it to my eyes".


Our children need practice and experience in interdependence, interaction, reciprocity, turn taking, etc, at non-verbal levels, first. The basic non-verbal dance steps are critical to the later steps. Feeling self taking an action in concert with other is one of the basic foundations, and that cannot be experienced by following prompts. You can't get there from here. If you as the parent or therapist is doing both sides of the dance for the child with autism, you are creating learned helplessness: I don't have to hold up my side, non-verbal and verbal, of the interaction, because someone will directly prompt me when needed.

I won't be using that therapist or sending my child to her summer camp program. You probably guessed that.

And if you're interested in reading more about my journey, away from prompting, toward non-verbal foundations of interaction, start with the label "learned helplessness" (lefthand side bar of my blog).

1 comment:

Prince Andrew and the Queen Mum said...

You have been awarded The Stylish Blogger Award :)

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