This post was originally published on the SAIConnections blog page. You can read the original here.
This post is a continuation from the previous one about the significance of dynamic intelligence in teaching children with autism to learn by themselves. Click here to read the previous post.
I watched this beautiful mother intently as she told me about her 17 year old son.
“I was shocked with the autism diagnosis but I never gave up. I tried everything that the speech therapist and occupational therapist asked me to do. And my son improved. It was the happiest day of my life when he got into a normal school.”
“Everything is good, right?” I asked. Apparently, it wasn’t.
“Why can’t he have a decent conversation without being prompted?”
“Why does he always need prompting to give even the right answer appropriately?”
“How come he learns by rote easily but doesn’t understand concepts?”
“Why isn’t he confident?”
“Why does he get bullied at school?”
I knew how she felt, but continued to probe.
“What are you looking for? What do you want your son to achieve?”
“I want him to solve problems independently. I want him to have at least one friend. It breaks my heart to see him being bullied. He doesn’t understand when others are being sarcastic or making fun of him.”
I saw her eyes shining with unshed tears. She continued with a tremor in her voice, “I’m not getting any younger. How long will I be around to support him?”
“You’re a wonderful mother,” I said. “You did your best. You did what you were told to do. What you built is known as Static Intelligence. What you should be building though, is Dynamic Intelligence.”
She looks at me disbelievingly. “What are you talking about? I’ve never heard these terms.”
I get this question frequently.
Are you aware of static and dynamic intelligence?
Your eyes are set on your youngster being independent. You want him to be like the ‘other kids.’ You want him to understand the subtleties of language.
You know that he has potential. But somehow, neither you nor the therapist are able to tap into it.
Remember this image?
Yes, static intelligence is that shiny object that you wanted to achieve. It was easy for your child to pick the right answers in a question. The best part – it’s measurable.
Here’s the problem:
Even after building static intelligence your child does not have friends, is not flexible and cannot solve problems independently. Does he keep looking at you for approval even though his answers are right? Does he still heavily rely on prompts?
Are you looking for answers in the wrong place?
Whether your child is 6 years old or 16, whether he attends a regular school or a special education center, your answer lies in the realm of dynamic intelligence.
Dynamic intelligence is the ability to solve problems in everyday life. It is the ability to make good decisions when we don’t have the answers and need to find them.
Did you notice the difference?
Static focuses on one question and one answer to that question. It is either right or wrong.
Dynamic focuses on problem solving, thinking, flexibility, where there are several solutions to a single problem.
We need both, static and dynamic intelligence, to get through life, like the wheels of a car.
Most people with ASD do not have a problem with static thinking. In fact many of them are good with it. But all people on the Spectrum have problems with dynamic intelligence.
Dynamic thinking is subconsciously ingrained in neurotypical people. But because of different wiring, it doesn’t develop in individuals and children with autism.
Yes, each child with autism is unique, but the core deficits are the same across the condition. And they can be addressed (steadily) through dynamic intelligence. As promised in my last article, here are a few steps that you can take today to develop dynamic intelligence in your child.
1. Don’t take anything for granted
Over the years you painstakingly built up static skills like naming objects, colors, writing numbers, reading letters, words and sentences.
You thought that generalization, problem solving, flexible thinking would develop on their own alongside.
But they didn’t.
Look at parents interacting with their typical child. It’s a miracle. The interaction, generalization, understanding context and other concepts take off without ‘teaching’. This is because dynamic intelligence is in place.
The foundations for dynamic intelligence are laid between 0-2 years.
But the brain of a child with autism is wired differently. He learns differently. Dynamic intelligence does not develop naturally. It has to be systematically built. Be aware of this.
And be aware that you, the parent, can (and must) start building it in your child. Being mentally prepared is the first step.
2. Reopen your communication lines
I see something in all my assessments. It was strange earlier, but not anymore.
Children don’t look at parents naturally. But parents don’t look or connect with their children either!
I’m not blaming parents. In fact, I did this with Mohit too.
If you put in effort to maintain an interaction, but don’t get feedback, it’s natural to shut down, isn’t it?
But dynamic intelligence can only be built in a child if you reopen communication with him.
Take a deep breath and think about what communication really is. It goes beyond words and reaches deep down to the space of connection.
So go beyond words. Be close to your child without expecting a response. Share something with your child. Enjoy an icecream or relish a gulab jamun together.
Don’t ask, “what’s this?” or “what are you eating?” Just be in the zone of sharing together. Share your emotions – through gestures and facial expressions – without pressure. Your child will look at you to share his experience.
Eye gaze is the first step to meaningful communication. Would you gaze into the eyes of someone who keeps instructing you every few seconds? Your child feels the same. Emotional sharing and communication is the first step to meaningful eye gaze.
3. Build togetherness
In typical development, Dynamic intelligence takes off in the first couple years of the child’s life. Watch how a 2 year old typically developing child integrates a parent in her play activity, shares emotions, observes every little thing around her and studies new situations.
Unfortunately, children on the autism spectrum miss out on this.
Your child may display hyperactivity, not be interested in what you say, and not give you eye contact. It’s disheartening.
But you have a second chance. That chance is now.
Here is how you can reestablish the connection with your child:
Hold your child’s hand and walk with him. This works brilliantly for young children. While walking together, use a chant to regulate your child – “Walk, walk, walk, tap.” When you say “tap”, make him touch the wall. Here is a video to shed light on it better.
Establish the pattern by walking back and forth several times. You will ‘feel’ it once the pattern is established. Your child will take the lead and initiative. Then introduce a slight difference in the pattern. Walk in a different direction, or stop walking while holding his hand. Don’t say or do anything. Just look at him. Your child will perceive the change slowly and gaze in your eyes. Any activity you conduct after this will be completed in half the time it usually takes.
Alternatively, try simple back and forth games, drumming, and other frameworks.
For elder children – adolescents, teenagers and even young adults – try ball activities like the ones in the video below. Notice how no words, only gestures, are being used to communicate what I want. Words are used along with emotions to make the young adult understand the context of what they mean.
You must be thinking, what will happen with simple ‘walking’ or ‘ball play’ activities?
These are not just activities, dear friend. They are processes. They silently create different neural pathways in your child’s mind, enabling him to accept and adjust to divergent situations.
Your child will develop competence. Over time, you will see your child tackling problems – rather than running from them. You will see a resilient and confident child.
Let me say this again. It doesn’t matter what age you start at – YOU, the parent ARE the guide and architect of your child’s development.
4. Be Consistent
Like in all areas of live, consistency and persistence hold the key. Many parents ask me if they can continue with the existing therapies. Yes, you can. Please continue with what you’re doing.
In addition, practice these activities for 30 minutes daily. Do them consistently for 21 days.
Again, don’t get carried away by the activity. It’s much more than teaching a child to walk, drum or play ball. It’s what the activity does for the brain.
The ‘emotional bond’ missing between your child and you will develop. In my experience, the success rate of these activities are one hundred percent.
It happened between Mohit and me, when he was 17! You have time.
About 10 years ago, at a parent training program, I listed the static skills that children needed. The list ran into pages. I told the parents sitting there, “I know it looks like a daunting task to think that we have to teach every single skill. But I’m ready to do this every single day of my life. I’ll do it forever if it teaches my child to be independent.”
Little did I know that my own words would come back to haunt me.
The truth is that you and I cannot do this forever.As your child grows older, you grow older too. You will burn out and feel low on energy soon.
Working on dynamic intelligence is like a gear system. You do not have to work on every visible skill. You work on the foundations and several invisible aspects fall into place by themselves.
I have witnessed language develop naturally, without being taught! I have seen students be motivated by themselves and solve problems in uncertain situations, without any help.
My dear friend, imagine yourself swimming with the tide rather than against it. Imagine yourself smiling because your child is independent. Take a deep breath and feel the relief. Yes, that feeling is what you can experience.
I am not holding out a false problem. I say this because I have seen this work in the lives of families that I work with.
When you held your new born child in your arms for the first time, you promised to give him the best life possible. It’s time to revive that promise. Because your child heard you, and is waiting for you to fulfill it. You may not believe me, but he waits. Don’t make him wait too long.
Work on these tips and go after your dreams and your child’s dreams too. All the best, dear friend.
Kamini Lakhani is a, RDI® program consultant and the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI® Center). She has over 19 years of experience working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and currently serves as the director of our RDI® Professional Training Center in Mumbai. She is the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI® Center)