Twice in a row, we have seen the student whose session is just before my daughter's session. He's an adorable little boy at a pre-k or kindergarten age.
As soon as his session is complete, he is directed by Mom to get into his coat and when his coat is on, he rushes to the elevator. This study takes place on the top floor of a tall building. Mom can't pause to talk to the researcher because she has to run after this child.
Like my daughter at that age, he has lots of words and "talk". (He is charmingly conversational. My daughter was not.)
But he has little idea what is in his mother's mind. And he has no sense of responsibility for self in staying near her with what is in her mind (that Mom wants him to wait for her to go to the elevator together).
He is very competent with the routine. He knows the path to the elevator, knows how to get on one if the door opens. He probably knows how to push the button to call the elevator. All of those are skills of independence. (My "sidebar" question is: What about interdependence?)
And should he get on one of the six elevators going down in that bank of elevators, he would expect his mom to deal with it, to find him.
Yes, he is competent with what the routines are. But not as competent with how people are.
I had a child very much like that little boy. We were heavy into behavioral intervention. And it wasn't until my behavioral program fell apart and a developmental opportunity dropped into my lap that I found that we could help her experience the interdependence, the attachment and joint attention she needed in order to stay with me, to hold some responsibility for herself, and we did it without addressing it explicitly in a program.
That still boggles my mind sometimes. When our behavioral program fell apart, we were introduced to the concept of interdependence, what it is, why it is important, how to grow it in the order it happens in typical development.
The same experience and practice, the same skill that the child needs in order to stay with Mom until she is ready to leave is the same skill he needs to stay with his class at school. It's the basis for collaboration in the workplace. (One of IDEA's objectives is future employment. Shouldn't interdependence be a focus in special education? It should be. But it is not.)
And watching the mom and researcher rush to the bank of elevators to grab the boy before he can descend without them reminds me of something I read about attachment quite a few years ago.
It is worth sharing again:
Interdependence (and attachment) are so important. Too often, in autism intervention, we sacrifice interdependence on the altar of independence. And we don't have to do that. Nor should we.from "Hold on to Your Kids WHY PARENTS NEED TO MATTER MORE THAN PEERS" by Gordon Neufeld, PhD and Gabor Mate' MD.
From page 65: "When the child experiences his need for proximity in physical terms -- as very young children do -- attachment serves as an invisible leash." ...
"For the most part, however, this attachment programming gives us great freedom. Instead of having to keep our eye on the child continuously, we can afford to take the lead and trust in his instincts to make him follow." ...
from page 66:
"The child's instincts to keep close to us can get in our way and frustrate us. We do not welcome the work of attachment when it is separation we crave, whether for purposes of work, school, s*x, sanity, or sleep. Our society is so topsy-turvy that we may actually come to value the child's willingness to separate more than her instincts for closeness. Unfortunately, we cannot have it both ways. Parents whose young children are not properly attached face a nightmare scenario just keeping the child in plain sight. We should be thankful for the assistance attachment provides in holding our children close. If we had to do all the work, we would never be able to get on with the sundry other duties that parenting involves. We need to learn to parent in harmony with this design rather than fight against it."
# # #
"The desire for sameness with important attachment figures leads to some of a child's most significant and spontaneous learning experiences, even though closeness, not learning, is the underlying motivation. Such learning occurs without either the parent having much conscious intent of teaching or the child of studying. In the absence of attachment, the learning is labored and the teaching forced. Think of the work that would be involved if each word the child acquired had to be deliberately taught by the parent, each behavior consciously shaped, each attitude intentionally inculcated. The burden of parenting would be overwhelming. Attachment accomplishes these tasks automatically, with relatively little effort required from either parent or child. Attachment provides power-assisted learning--how delightful it is, many people have found, to study a new language when in love with the charming instructor! Whether we know it or not, as parents and teachers we rely heavily on attachment to make models out of us."
page 67 of Hold On to Your Kids, Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, by Gordon Neufeld, PhD and Gabor Mate' MD
If you are a parent in the middle of heavy-duty autism intervention, don't forget the non-verbal foundations of attachment, interdependence and joint attention first, the way they occur in typical development.
My two cents worth.