We are nearing the end of 2013 and I have been thinking about the last twelve months and the progress that Nick has made during this time. It has been a productive year and Nick has really made some great strides in all areas. The one thing that stands out the most to me is his resilience. He has been exposed to many different situations and places; and he has taken it all in his stride. He is an uncomplicated kid with a very endearing character. He is also a bit of a screen addict, but then again so are a lot of teens these days ~ well, that is our excuse! :)
The following words and pictures have been copied from my personal facebook page and my Bright Side page. The majority of them are *firsts* for Nick.
1 January 2013
Happy 14th Birthday, Nick.
Never in a million years did we think that Nick would ever speak!
His progress in trying to sound out words has been delightful.
I read an interesting post on mindfulnessover at Hopeful Parents and thought it was well worth spotlighting.
Two questions is all that it can take to be mindful of any given situation. (I always go for the easiest option!!)
What am I doing? Why am I doing it?
For sure, the above poster is not exactly what the writer had in mind, however, I feel that the two questions can be used in any way that works for me. Yesterday I chose to put some thought into my style of communication and how I can help my child to THINK for HIMSELF!
Tomorrow I may reflect on my feelings of angst!! :-)
It's holiday time and I am loving that we can take life slow (er).
I have been thinking about our days and how we can fill them productively, although also taking into account that there will be a lot of down time. Nick doesn't play or draw or ride bikes, therefore his spare time is spent on the iPad, computer, listening to music and/or flipping through books! It is not possible to be a proactive Super Mum and keep him busy all the time... and that is okay!
I decided that the best thing for me to do would be to work at creating a balance. We could have social time by going out for coffee, walks and/or visiting friends. We could also carry on with our daily activities like shopping for groceries and other general day to day stuff. I could assess each day and incorporate RDI planned engagements where possible. AND, we could also have our chill time!
A friend suggested that I start a vegetable garden with Nick and I thought it was a great idea. Even better I could approach it from an RDI angle. With that in mind, we headed off to the local nursery and purchased some lettuce and flowers. Nick's role was to be in charge of the trolley and also help with the plants.
Life took over and it was a couple of days before we started preparing our trough for the lettuce plants. Again, I set up the activity as an RDI planned engagement. My plan was for us to carry the bag of soil together and then have a regular pattern of using a small spade to take turns moving the soil. I thought Nick would be able to handle that quite easily. My challenge for Nick was for him to think about another way that we could move the soil rather than use the spade (very slow). I wasn't too concerned if he couldn't figure it out, I just wanted to give him the opportunity to think for himself. The video clip below spotlights the process of removing the soil. Unfortunately Nick is facing away from the camera, although you should be able to read his body language.
I found that Nick was quick to pick up on what was going on and he naturally made his own decision about how to move the soil other than using the spade. When moving the soil I did help to scaffold the activity just a little bit. I say the words, "shake, shake" and I really love that Nick started shaking the bag with me. We were working together so nicely. At one point Nick moves away so I pause the action and then Nick comes back to help again.
This next *very short* clip is another little challenge for Nick. I decide that we don't have enough soil, therefore we need to collect another bag from the garage. I am really thrilled that Nick stayed with me and also help carry the very heavy bag from the garage to the trough.
The following clip shows Nick's next challenge. I spotlight that we need to open the bag and Nick immediately picks up the scissors (this is second nature to him now!). He really battles to operate the scissors and he is unable to cut the bag. I scaffold quite a bit in order to help him out and although he can't manage to cut I am really thrilled with his resilience. What really blew me away was the fact that he decided to make his own plan by putting the scissors down and trying to tear the bag open using his hands.
Throughout our planned engagement I made sure to pause frequently and give Nick time to problem solve. I used declarative language so that Nick could hear my thoughts and make his own plan. We took it slow and there was no pressure to perform. I do admit to talking too fast and being too quick with my movements while Nick is trying to figure out the scissors ~ the beauty of taking video footage means that I can look back and reflect on progress and also bookmark any areas that can be improved upon.
Note to self: Remember to SLOW down and PAUSE a bit more!
As mentioned above, Nick's resilience shines through and for us this is HUGE!
Since taking the above footage, we have planted our lettuce and have also attempted to water them using a a juice bottle that requires squeezing. This activity provides so many opportunities for planned engagements and introducing further challenges. Who know, maybe Nick will even attempt to taste a lettuce leaf!!
We all have our own little routines and familiar patterns that we feel uncomfortable deviating from. I have this compulsive need to floss my teeth each night before brushing my teeth. Miss a night and I feel a little uneasy and am forever moving my tongue around my mouth, feeling for bits that may be caught between my teeth. (Sorry, too much info!). This is standard stuff and let's face it if I miss a night it is not the end of the world. I may feel a little antsy, however, I can shrug it off and say "oh well, I will floss tomorrow morning!"
Throw autism into the mix and it is another story. For years my son could not and would not tolerate any changes in his life, whether it be change of routine, type of food or even driving down an unfamiliar road. I was extremely fixated on keeping the peace; and keeping everything the same in order to prevent my boy from becoming terribly distressed. I didn't like to see my son unhappy and totally out of control of his emotions and unable to regulate himself. It was depressing and absolutely heartbreaking. It was terrible to live in this state, continuously tiptoeing on eggshells to avoid drama.
As time moved on, I learned that it was possible to move on from this way of life. I discovered that I could help my child to overcome his high anxiety and his need for sameness. And, I went with it because the alternative was to stay at home with my son and only have two safe places, home and school with nothing in between. That is not a life. I didn't want to become reclusive and I certainly didn't want my son to remain fixed in his patterns and unable to move forward. I wanted our family to have a regular life as much as possible.
I started introducing changes to my son's routine. I am not talking heavy duty changes. I am talking about the little variations that would be a *tiny* challenge for him. I am talking about putting a pen on the edge of a table and saying to him. "I am just going to leave it there for 5 seconds, it will be fine". During those five seconds I would be giving him reassuring smiles, knowing all the time that he wanted to clear that table because NOTHING was allowed on the table. Five seconds. That is all.
More little changes like;
Adding a tiny piece of carrot to his Spaghetti Bolognaise sauce. "Oh wow, I see some carrot" (it took a good six months before he would eat the carrot, however, he was comfortable with it being there!)
Driving down the wrong road, "Oops, silly me, I have driven the wrong way... but it will be fine"
Getting him familiar with going to ONE coffee shop. Then introducing another coffee shop.
Cutting his toast in different ways and spotlighting the change.
Wrapping his school snack in paper one day, tin foil the next ~ and spotlighting the difference.
Moving his chair to a different place. Sitting next to him. Sitting opposite him, so on and so forth.
I could go on and on.....
These days I have a flexible child who adapts to change very easily and the word 'transition' doesn't enter our vocabulary. He no longer needs a visual schedule and is perfectly fine if I change my plans at a whim. This afternoon, my husband arrived home to pick me up as we needed to collect my car that had been in the garage for the day. Nick was playing on the computer, however, when I called to him "let's go, we going out!" he shut down the computer and came to join us. When we arrived at the garage, it wasn't possible for him to stay in his Dad's car so he came into the showroom with us and waited patiently while everything was sorted out. He showed NO signs of stress over the fact that he was in a brand new place and everything was unfamiliar (except for his old Mum and Dad!). He did not ask for "car". He did not ask for computer, iPad or anything else that he uses to escape. He was a regular kid, out doing chores with his folks. Absolutely brilliant stuff.
I know that we have a long way to go. Food issues are still a problem, however, he has made some lovely 'healthy' progress of late. He is also uncomfortable when in the company of a lot of people, although he is happy to go visiting with us and will quickly make himself at home wherever we go. The iPad helps tremendously in situations like this.
Gone are the days that we had to stay at home. Gone are the days when we had to make arrangements to leave him at home while we went out and about. These days he comes with us and we are no longer a family divided. Of course we make accommodations for him, we also do the same for his brother. Our life may not be the same as Mr and Mrs Joe Soap with their regular 2.5 children who live down the road, however, this is our life and we are making the most of it.
Little changes have made our boy more flexible and comfortable with trying new experiences. The little changes are paving the way towards bigger challenges. Slowly and surely, step by little step, we will guide him forward. Watch this space!
*This post was written for Hopeful Parents. I generally only share the link to my post over at Hopeful Parents, however, today I thought I would add a little change to my regular pattern and share the whole blog post right here!! :-)
I admit it. I am feeling a little frazzled, a little out of sorts, a bit antsy and somewhat stressed.
School breaks up on Wednesday and do you know what that means? Woo hoo, it's holiday time! No more early mornings.... yeah right! Loads of free time to do whatever rocks our boat. We can take life slow and just go with the flow. I can spend quality time with my kids. No pressure to get them to school or Nick to therapy. Long days with no plans.
I pulled out the calendar to check out the length of the holiday. 41 days, people. 41 days! That's a lot of time to fill, especially when one kid just happens to be autistic. Especially when that kid would LOVE to spend every waking minute glued to some sort of screen.
The truth of the matter is that I really relish those mornings when Nick is at school. It gives me the freedom to do what I want to do without any responsibilities. I am going to miss that, big time!
Anyhow, in an effort to look on the bright side, I have been mulling over a few ideas on what to do with Nick. The days will offer up many opportunities to hang out, get out or chill out. We can also put some extra time into working together on planned engagements. I am so tuned into living an RDI lifestyle that Nick will always be a part of what we are doing, whether it be making breakfast together or hunting for the bread and milk at the supermarket.
I found a nice weekly planner and I do intend to use it. It took me three minutes to scribble some ideas onto the first page (see photo below). I may throw out this first sheet and start again, however, just writing down the *to do* list has made me realise that our 41 days are going to fly by.
And if it all gets a bit much and I need some time out, then I will just call on Nick's big brother to Nickysit for a couple of hours. I am sure he will be keen to earn some bucks!
It has been quite some time since our last planned engagement. Sadly, Nick has been having a tough time so I have eased off for a few weeks. He is now on the mend and I have just come back from a four day break (no kids!) so we are raring to go!
Now, young Nick is always a bit tricky after having a long break. He finds the couch far too comfortable and would much rather blob there and listen to story CD's than spend some quality time with his Mum. In fact, I do feel that I have been a slave to his whims over the last few weeks!
Today, I kindly made up his fruit and veg juice and then took it to the sofa ~ this was his cue to get up and collect a glass from the cupboard, which he duly did. Now, after he had drunk the juice... and before he could head for the couch again, I quickly started passing him items that needed to be put away. Fruit and veg into the fridge, glasses and such into the sink, rubbish into the bin. I was delighted that he took on his role and just went with the flow. At no time did I tell him what to do ~ he chose to assist! (Although I do admit to being a sneaky Mum and grabbing opportunities when I can!)
Anyhow, his involvement with the clean up prompted me to set up a planned engagement.
I decided to choose a simple activity, something that had been done before and one that we both felt comfortable with. I wrote up a framework sheet for 'walking to the gate'. I decided that our roles would be to walk to the gate, collect a magazine each and then walk back towards the garage. Now this is a very easy activity, therefore I also needed to throw in a little challenge for Nick. For the challenge I decided to involve our dogs and Nick's role would be to throw a ball to them. Thus I would be setting up a regular safe pattern and then introducing a challenge (edge plus one). I wanted the activity to be mostly non verbal and I wanted to play particular attention to slowing down, referencing, pausing, co-regulation and giving Nick opportunities to problem solve. Note: the wash basket was a prop and I wasn't sure if we were going to use it or not!
Please note: my video clips are not of the greatest quality. It was windy and the mic can't pick up the sound of voices from a distance (not that it matters as we were mostly non verbal).
In the following video clip you can see that we decided to use the washing basket and it was a great prop for us to carry together. It slowed us down and whenever Nick pulled on ahead, I just paused the action and waited for him to reconnect. He is very capable of referencing my face and body language for information and he is also aware of his role. At time code 0:50, I pause and then throw the ball to the dog, modeling what I would like Nick to do when he reaches his challenge.
In this next clip you can see that Nick is unsure of what to do and he keeps placing the ball into the basket. We are now at his challenge. Whilst we are standing there, I am thinking of ways in which I can scaffold the situation in order to help Nick. I eventually decide to keep it simple and just hand him the ball. Nick immediately realises what to do and to the delight of the dogs, they get a ball to catch. You will see that Nick goes on ahead without me. I stop and quietly wait for him to decide to come back. We then walk to the gate together.
This last clip shows us walking slowly back towards the camera. Nick sees the ball and decides to pick it up and place it into the basket (old patterns die hard!). I don't say anything to him, however, I do make a little noise to help scaffold the situation. This was enough to remind him that his role was to throw the ball to the dogs. From around time code 0:50 I am just recapping on what we have done and spotlighting the challenge of throwing the ball.
Although our activity was simple and in total we were only there for five minutes, I thought that it went very well. Nick was connected and capable of regulating his actions with mine. He did need a little bit of scaffolding to help him decide what to do with the ball, however, I do need to point out that I didn't tell him what to do. At the end of the day it was his own decision.
I really like that I kept the pace slow and calm. Nick was not under any pressure to perform and he coped so well considering that we have been out of action for some time.
We will continue to do this activity over the next few days and I will be throwing in other variations and little challenges. The dogs are going to love me!! :)
2: If you do talk, stop repeating
yourself, say something once and then pause.
3: Pause (a
lot) and give the child time to process the information.
4: Pause for as long as it takes, at least 45
5: No reaction? How close are you to the child? Are you at the child's
6: No reaction? Make a small noise, perhaps gently clear your
throat or click your tongue.
7: No reaction? Gently touch the child
on the arm and wait for the re-connection.
8: Eye contact.
Think of it this way - it might not be a case of the child being scared of eye
contact, it actually might be because the child doesn't understand the
importance of referencing a face for information.
9. Child still not referencing? Make sure
that you are at the child's level, make a little noise, wait for the connection.
Spotlight the connection with a lovely smiley face.
10: Child still not referencing? Bring in a favorite activity. Blow a few bubbles and then pause.. Wait for the
connection and a possible response. Big smiley face and blow again. Push your child on the swing, pause
and wait for the connection and possible response. Big smiley face and push again.
When the child gets the 'why bother' of referencing a face for information,
start bringing in more facial expressions and exclamations. A big smiley face = "That made me so
happy". A sad face = "Ouch, I bumped my knee!"
12: Start using your eye gaze to share
information. Exaggerate those eyes and look towards a place that you would like
the child to look at. Perhaps you are doing a puzzle together.... look towards
the piece that you would like the child to pick up. When the child feels competent with eye gazing within a close proximity then extend to other areas of the environment. "I can see the blue car over..... (use your eye gaze)....there!"
in that body language along with your facial expressions. Over emphasis your
movements. Shrug your shoulders, turn your face, body, arms. Think about your natural movements and then expand on them in order for your child to pick up further communication cues.
14: Don't forget to pause (a lot)
15: Cut back on your
use of imperative language. Asking numerous questions does not give the child
the opportunity to *think* about their response. "Show me the blue car" doesn't
require much thinking on their part!
16: Increase your declarative language. Use your
words in such a way to invite a response. Give the child a chance to hear what
you have said, process the information and then plan their response. "That blue
car looks fun to play with".
17: Don't expect your child to read your
mind. Use declarative language to *suggest* what is about to happen. "I need my
car keys". "Hmmm, I can't see your shoes".
18: Share your thoughts using declarative language in order to help your child become aware that you may have different thoughts to them. "I really don't like the taste of your yogurt!". Think aloud.
19: Remember the 80/20 rule (80% delcarative, 20% imperative). Believe me, it works! Oh, and when you become accustomed to using declarative language it actually becomes second nature.
20: For children who battle
with transitioning, chanting a few words works a treat. "We are walking,
walking, walking". "We are walking to the car, we are walking to the car". If
your child is receptive to holding hands, gently sway arms backwards and
forwards to the rhythm. A musical sing song voice can also be
21: Slow down. Take your time, there is no rush!
22: Ask yourself the following questions
Am I doing too much for my child?
Am I jumping in too quickly and giving my child the answer?
Am I giving him the chance to listen, process, plan and respond?
Is my child thinking on a conscious level?
Is my child making his own decisions?
23: "Empower your child to be a problem solver rather than direction follower" ~ Linda Murphy
We are back in the kitchen again and this time we are making almond milk. In an effort to encourage my boy to become a healthy eater, I have introduced juicing and we are now trying our hand at smoothies. I have found that the best way forward for us is for me to include Nick in the whole process of preparing what is needed. Why Almond Milk? Well, it is a great healthy base for smoothies and the activity provides some good opportunities for me to guide Nick.
I always write up a framework for each planned engagement as it helps me to keep on track with my goal. Obviously I don't stick to the framework word for word as life is not like that, there has to be flexibility and variation, little stumbling blocks and diversions.
My framework goes something like this: Start off with a familiar scenario in which we both have a simple role to play. For example; using a reciprocal pattern we spoon ingredients into a container. Then we move onto a contingency pattern where my role is to operate the tap and Nick's role is to collect the water and then pour it into the blender. From there we need to separate the pulp from the milk and we need to help each other out by pouring, stirring and then squeezing. Last but not least, we need to pour the milk into bottles.
The first two sections of our planned engagement are little challenges for Nick but they are ones that I know he will feel comfortable with. The separating of pulp from milk is going to be a larger challenge due to Nick's sensory issues and then the final section is going to be Nick's big challenge. The first three sections will be taking Nick to his *edge* and the final section will be his *plus one*.
As part of my framework I am mindful about pausing and giving Nick time to process any information, think about his role and then to respond. I also know that I want to keep my comments declarative with a bit of non verbal communication thrown in! I realise that I may need to provide quite a bit of scaffolding as we get into section four of our engagement.
Making almond milk ~ one
To be honest I don't really have a lot to say about this clip as we are working together really well. On occasion I pause for effect and Nick references me for information. It is a nice co-regulatory pattern that Nick now finds effortless.
Making almond milk ~ two
This part of our activity is a little bit harder for Nick. He really battles with his motor planning and it has taken time and plenty of guidance from me in order for him to learn how to hold a cup under the tap to collect the water. I am SO delighted when I observe Nick (time code 0:11) planning how to hold the cup as he moves it across the bench and then very carefully tips the water into the blender. This is great progress and I spotlight that successful moment by making the comment, "nice one, you did that really easily".
Making almond milk ~ three
As I prepare for the straining of the pulp, I talk about what I am doing. Nick is listening intently and he is quick to remove the jug off the blender and then pour the mixture. He then backs off a little bit as he is not very keen to touch that horrid looking mulch! I am not too concerned if he doesn't participate as I feel that it is important for him to make the choice to join me. It's wonderful to note that when I do pause with the spoon, Nick does take it from me and tries to stir. I am also thrilled that Nick uses his own initiative to help me pull up the sides of the cheesecloth. Check out time zone 0:57 ~ Nick removes the sieve from the top of the jug. I am not sure what his thinking is behind this movement, however, his action was just perfect! :) I ensure that I spotlight the moment! Time code 1:18 also stands out for me. I pull the jug closer to me and Nick *naturally* adjusts his body to also come in closer! Nick takes on his role of squeezing the bag quite easily and I LOVE how his face lights up and he smiles, obviously enjoying the experience. So far so good!
Making almond milk ~ four
Now we come to the big challenge, Nick's *plus one*.
I am all prepared! I have all the goodies that we need and I know exactly what I am going to do! I talk about the funnel and make a big show of putting the funnel into the bottle. Nick takes on his role although accidentally spills quite a bit of milk. What happens next is actually quite HUGE ~ Nick realises what has happened so he picks up a cloth and wipes up the milk!! (Just for interest sake, using a cloth to wipe up a mess was a planned activity from months and months back ~ I am loving how he now does this automatically!).
Okay, here we have it.... we are now stepping up to the big challenge (time code 1:45). With a little bit of uncertainly from Nick and some guiding from me, we finally set up our next bottle..... then the wheels fall off! Although Nick knows that he needs to pour the milk into the bottle he has forgotten the funnel. From that moment our activity gets a little bit out of hand ~ it is not moving along the way I planned.
However, all is not lost. I quickly assess the situation, adjust my expectations and mentally plan how I am going to scaffold the situation for Nick in order to help him. I stop what we are doing and say, "let's think about this". This little pause ensures that Nick is connected with me and focused on what I do next (note: if he hadn't reconnected so quickly, I would have paused for longer!). As always, after we have finished I recap on our activity.
Each time I reflect on our video footage I am always overwhelmed by what I see in front of me. This boy of mine has come so far and he continuously astounds me with his progress. It goes without saying that we have a fabulous team of people behind us and Nick's growth is also attributable to their input . However, my RDI blog posts are all about my relationship with my son, how I am learning to guide him, how his development is moving forward and how he is beginning to engage with the world around him.
It is mind blowing that we as a family can now be spontaneous and go out for lunch at an unknown restaurant, or have a morning like we did yesterday.... we decided to go for a walk at our local Botanical Gardens, however, as we were walking and chatting, it started to rain and we had to make a mad dash for the car. Quick change of plan lead us to visiting a very busy and noisy coffee shop (note: I do have the iPad on hand for occasions like this just in case the sensory overload is too much). On the way home, we decided to pop into the store to pick up some ingredients for supper. No worries, Nick came with us and he took on the role of pushing the trolley and in fact, we also had a good laugh.
So, we are standing in the queue at our local Woolies and Nick has got the giggles! Next minute he is trying to say "five" and he is holding up five fingers! He then points to the counter indicator to tell me what number teller is free! Number five! He then did the same for three!! Gorgeous boy.
Nick knows that he can look to me for guidance and reassurance. He trusts me and is very aware that I am not going to push him too far past his comfort zone. I take him to his edge of competence and then a tiny bit more. The video clips show that he is feeling comfortable with what we are doing. For sure, there a few subtle signs of when he is feeling a little bit challenged BUT we ride through it because he wants to keep going. There is no pressure on him to perform and as his feelings of competence increase so does his desire to keep trying even when the challenge is a bit overwhelming. We don't have meltdowns or hissy fits in our house, although I do admit to throwing my toys on occasion (but that is just me!).
The activities that we do together are not the reason behind our progress, they are just the props! The progress is due to our growing relationship, my guidance and Nick's increasing confidence, flexibility and personal competence.
Our journey is about two people and how we relate to each other and also learn from each other. I am parenting the RDI way and it is working.
I try not to moan too much about my life. In all honesty, it actually is a pretty good one. It's just that every now and then I get bogged down with caring for a high needs autistic teen. Don't get me wrong, I really adore my boy and I would do anything for him. But, sometimes I need a little bit of space to be me, to remember that I am my own person, not just a mum, wife and friend.
I haven't linked up with Reasons to be Cheerful for such a long time... which is a bit silly really, as this linky is always uplifting and helpful. My three reasons this week all revolve around a section of our house that I can call *mine*.
I am so chuffed to have my study. A haven to call my own. Each drawer of the desk is for my stuff. The cork board on the wall is covered with interesting info, pictures and reminders, school terms blah blah blah ~ all mine! I can cover the top of my desk with all of my rubbish and the family are not allowed to give me a hard time! I love curling up into my squashy and old fashioned flowery chair. This room belongs to me, it is all mine!
As for the view, I get to look at the sea every day. Admittedly I do need to crane my neck to get a really good gander at it, but hey, it's there and I love it.
My dog also gives me plenty of reasons to be cheerful. For sure, I have two dogs, however, this little one is my constant companion and he loves to be in the study with me, wedged between my desk and the squashy chair.
In a houseful of men, I need my own space, although they are welcome to visit anytime ~ with permission!
When we first started our RDI journey, I concentrated heavily on changing my style of communication. I stopped being a chatterbox and instead leaned towards being non-verbal. I cut right back on giving Nick commands. I gave him loads of time to process what was happening and I also made sure that I didn't jump in there and speak and/or make decisions for him.
Nick quickly learned the importance of referencing my face and checking out my body language in order to obtain information. He understood that he could look to me for guidance and reassurance. He realised that my facial expressions could be meaningful. In fact, it was possible to take Nick to a supermarket and not be concerned if he wandered off! It was if we had a loose thread binding us together... he always checked to see that I was still in his line of sight. When I needed him, all I had to do was send him a silent signal and he would come back or wait for me to join him.
Over time I came to realise that being excessively non verbal was not enough to help guide Nick to become a more dynamically thinking kid. I found that I wasn't using enough language to spotlight what I was thinking and doing. He needed extra scaffolding in order to understand what was happening; and the way for me to provide that scaffolding was to talk! It is important to note that my style of talking revolves around using a more declarative type of language. This is in order to *invite* Nick to respond, which in turn helps him to *think* for himself. *For more info on declarative language please click on the link at the end of this blog post.
Of late, I have noticed that I am tending to waffle on a bit during our planned engagements and I haven't been giving Nick enough time to really think about his role and to plan his own response. (One of the huge advantages of taking video footage is being able to go back and reflect on what I am doing). I am not overly concerned, however, when writing up the framework for the following planned engagement, I thought it would be a great idea to make the engagement non verbal. It would be a interesting test for myself to see if cutting back my language would slow me down and get me back on track. I was also curious to see how Nick would react and if he was able to remain connected without any verbal input.
I chose to work with juicing yet again as it is a meaningful activity that Nick is comfortable with. It is also an activity that provides many opportunities to introduce a new challenge. For this engagement I planned for us to start off with some familiar patterns (i.e. taking turns to cut) and then for the challenge I decided to bring in some baby spinach and guide Nick on the cleaning and drying of it.... which he has never done before! I also planned to offer up choices so that Nick could make his own decisions about what he wanted to use/do.
Non verbal juicing ~ one
I have set up the activity and Nick is sitting on the couch paging through a book. Whilst prepping I was thinking to myself, "how am I going to get Nick's attention and invite him to join me?". I decided on the simplest option ~ I clicked my tongue. I can't tell you how delighted I was when he responded so quickly. (Well, you can see my delight from the big cheesy grin on my face!!)
This clip shows how well we are working together. Nick is referencing me for information. I am pausing on occasion in order for Nick to reconnect with me and to also offer him opportunities to communicate his own thoughts. Just watching this video clip blows my mind.... two years ago he would refuse to join me in any type of activity; and when he did eventually choose to engage with me, it was for only a few seconds!!
Anyway, I digress.....
Non verbal juicing ~ two
Admittedly I am doing most of the work in this clip, however, Nick is still with me and watching intently. Notice how Nick places his hand on mine and that he chooses to take on his own role. Yes, we are doing a chore, however, this activity is just the prop for building on moments of joint attention and co-regulation.
I wonder if you saw the *carrot pattern*. I cut off the end of the carrot and tossed it into the sink. I then handed Nick the next piece. He immediately threw it away. Hence, as I finish slicing the carrot, Nick thinks that those pieces also need to be thrown away. He is watching my facial expressions and body language, although not responding to my cues. I realise that I have to add a bit of scaffolding in order to help him out. I simply hold out my hand and Nick quickly realises what to do next. I am loving that we can repair the situation without talking! :)
Non verbal juicing ~ three
We have now moved onto cutting up an apple. I may look very relaxed and as cool as a cucumber in this clip but in reality my heart is in my mouth. Nick is not competent with using a knife, however, I really want to provide him with the *experience* of using it. I am not overly concerned with his motor planning at this particular time, as I am concentrating on our engagement not the skills within the activity. It is really fabulous to watch how we are coordinating our actions. We are both checking in with each to confirm what is going to happen next. I am thrilled when he passes me the knife to indicate that it is my turn. Before reacting, I pause and put a questioning look on my face and wait for Nick's response. The way he nods for "yes" is really delightful to see.
I think it is important to spotlight my reaction when Nick tried to place some apple into my mouth; and then his reaction when I tried to do the same with him. He is quite adamant that I should eat a piece of the apple and it takes a while for him to back off. He quickly retreats when I offer him a piece! What stands out for me is the scene at the end of the clip.... Nick tries again to put the apple into my mouth, however, he is quick to gauge my reaction and puts the apple back on the board. Way to go Nick.
Non verbal juicing ~ four
We have had a nice time prepping the fruit and veg (Nick's 'edge') and now we reach my planned challenge (Nick's 'plus one'). It is not a big challenge as I don't want Nick to feel incompetent and stressed. I want to add just a little step... just enough of a challenge in order to enhance our engagement and move him forward.
Initially I had planned that we would take turns putting the spinach leaves into the sieve, however, Nick ruined my plan by grabbing a handful! Oh well, moving right along..... That's the thing with real life, plans change in a flash and we need to be flexible and adapt to those changes! I then placed the sieve under the tap and watched as Nick removed the spinach and threw it in the sink. Remember the previous pattern of Nick throwing the carrots into the sink!! I was impressed that he referenced me for my reaction and he was able to repair the situation.
What stands out for me in this clip is that Nick is so relaxed and he just goes with the flow. In particular, from time code 1:04, when I over emphasis my facial expression, Nick picks up on it and he is also amused by what we are doing. His eyes light up and he has a cute grin on his face.... there really is a lovely connection between the two of us! We then move onto drying the spinach. Nick is a little hesitant (after all, we are at his 'plus one'), however, he is guided by my actions, facial expression and body language and he chooses to coordinate his actions with mine. When he makes the sign for "finished", I end the activity with a my own "finished" sign.
Choosing to be non verbal was a win and I feel that our planned engagement was very successful. Nick coped well with the challenge and he was an active partner. Taking away the talk really slowed me down and helped me to be more mindful with my guiding. I concentrated on pausing frequently to give Nick extra time. I was able to convey what we needed to do or if I needed help, by using facial expressions and body language. I was very focused on the two of us referencing each other and also mindful of the fact that we both had roles to play... even when our patterns naturally changed. I was also more aware of what Nick was communicating to me. For sure, there are areas that could be improved upon, however, I feel that this planned engagement was 'good enough'.
Would I make all planned engagements non verbal? No. I really missed being able to verbally spotlight to Nick our important moments. I also enjoy using declarative language to give Nick opportunities to think about making his own choices and/or plans. At the end of the day it is important to use different styles of communication, although it is a great idea to go non verbal on occasion to check on our progress.
I am sure you have noticed that our favorite place to hang out is in the kitchen! Even the dogs get a look in. :)
This was us three days ago.... "I threw 3 oranges to Nick in quick succession and he caught them all. He had no way of catching the 4th, so I paused. I gave him time to think. I paused long enough for him to make a plan. He looked around the kitchen, spotted the juicer and then placed the oranges next to it. He then executed a perfect catch as I hurled the 4th orange across the room! #thepowerofthepause"
Sometimes the dogs drive us crazy by pinching oranges that have been dropped onto the floor. Or, if we are not quick off the mark, a carrot may mysteriously disappear from the fridge as I rummage around for something I need. I feel that the dogs add humor to our situation AND I also love to hear Nick say "ohno" when he sees one of them being naughty!!
I thought I would share a few (very short) video clips of a planned engagement that took place in the kitchen last week
First off, since we have already been doing a bit of baking, I decided to introduce Nick to the fine art of icing cookies. Now this is a brand new experience for my boy and believe me, he is always wary of anything new! Because this was a planned engagement, I had already put thought into the *edge plus one* concept and how I was going to approach it with Nick. I had decided on our roles (i.e. I stir, Nick stirs, I spoon, Nick spoons) and made a note to myself to be mindful of my language and to ensure that I slowed my pace to give him plenty of time to process, think and then react. I also put some limits in place. No screen or music distractions and only six cookies to work with. Having only a few cookies to ice ensured that I didn't drag the activity on for too long. I wanted the experience to be a meaningful and interactive engagement and not turn into being all 'about the task'.
I talk about my actions so that Nick is aware of what is going on. You will see that Nick moves away from me and all I need to do is pause the action and wait for him to realise that I would like him to move closer. (0:18 Nick tries to say cocoa!). I set up a nice co-regulatory pattern of us stirring the mixture. Nick has a good episodic memory of stirring, therefore is comfortable with the pattern. He is aware of his role and he can pace his actions with mine. He does have difficulty with sustaining the motion of stirring, however, I don't make an issue of it because the activity is about our interaction, not the skill of stirring! I also spotlight that what we are doing is easy... "this is easy".
We finish stirring the icing mixture and I can see that Nick is feeling competent with his role. I also feel that Nick is now at his *edge* of competence and I want to add in the challenge (the *plus one*). I talk about the cookies and we take a little smell. Before I get a chance to talk about the next step, Nick takes the cookie and places it in the mixture. He has never experienced icing cookies before so has no knowledge of what is going to happen next. To be honest, I do feel that I jumped in too quickly to scaffold the situation. I should have perhaps paused and waited to see what Nick would do next. As it is, I didn't give him a chance to *think* for himself. However, that is the beauty of capturing planned engagements on video. It is an opportunity to reflect on my guiding throughout the engagement and to celebrate the success or think of ways to improve the interaction.
I mention to Nick that I have done my cookie and he immediately goes into *finished* mode. This is definitely his *plus one* (challenge) and he is NOT feeling competent with his role. However, I don't react except to keep a positive expression on my face; and Nick decides to take his turn. I thought this was fab as Nick made his own decision to take a turn even though he was feeling a little stressed. I am happy with this particular clip, as it shows that I am taking it slow, spotlighting success and I am using declarative language to invite Nick to participate if he wants to. Nick arose to the challenge and I made sure that I didn't push him beyond his *edge plus one*.
You will notice (time code 0:17) that as I take a taste of the icing, Nick swiftly moves away from me. This is his general reaction if he thinks that he has to taste something new. I promise you that I have never tried to force feed my child! Hence the reason that we introduce new food very very slowly and don't make a big deal about it! We are now nearing the end of our planned engagement. I add a little scaffolding by pointing out to Nick that he missed a bit of the cookie. As he follows through with my suggestion, I spotlight how easy it is to ice the cookies. I then recap on our experience to highlight to Nick what we have achieved. You can see that he is attentive and nods his head every now and then to acknowledge what I have said. On occasion he looks out of the window, although all I need to to do is pause and he then reconnects with me.
To conclude ~ this is where we are at...
From my perspective I was mindful of the following;
I planned the engagement. I knew exactly what I was going to do and what I wanted to achieve.
Edge plus one ~ starting with a familiar pattern and then introducing something new that was *just a little bit* harder.
Pacing out the activity.
Pausing the action.
Giving Nick time to think for himself.
Declarative language... and not talking too much!
Spotlighting the important moments.
Giving Nick feedback about the activity at both the beginning and the end.
I thought that Nick did really well....
He referenced me for information.
Reconnected with me when I paused.
Stayed with me throughout the engagement.
Made his own choices.
Arose to the challenge of trying something new.
Aware of coordinating his actions with mine.
He was resilient, adaptable and willing to look to me for guidance.
As for the dogs..... there was one at our feet waiting to lick up any drops of icing mixture that accidentally fell to the floor! :-)