Autism: A New Perspective
Autism: A New Perspective
Autism and Resistance to Change

Without variability, there’s nothing worth experiencing.

Variability is where our alive feelings come from, whether that’s excitement, surprise, curiosity, discovery, mastery or loss, rejection, hurt, failure, all of our important human experiences. 

What makes us human is the product of our orientation and our engagement with a dynamic variation. So how does this fit into a world where you are resistant to change? How can you help your child, without overwhelming or stressing them out, see the world as something to be discovered and experienced?

Dr. Steven Gutstein talks about resistance to change in individuals with autism, and how RDI® can help. 

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Kat Lee: Welcome to Autism: A New Perspective, the podcast show where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child, and we encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee and in this week’s podcast, Dr. Gutstein talks to us about a basic principle in RDI that leads to growth for your child, let’s listen in.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: And you are really working on dynamic intelligence from the very beginning, as soon as parents are ready to begin… As soon as parents are ready to begin doing their work and are ready to begin to introduce simple dynamic variants and simple dynamic environments and situations and activities to their kids. So what we start with is what we call simple dynamic and situations, or simple dynamic systems, and let me just talk about then what we mean… What I mean by dynamic ’cause a lot of people really get confused by that term and don’t know what it is. So dynamic really is somewhere in the midst, if you think about in the middle of static on the one hand and chaotic on the other, so dynamic and static are not at opposite ends, okay? Dynamic is right in the middle.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: And it’s really important to make that distinction because people really get confused, they start to think about dynamic as anything goes or any kind of changes or just do anything, basically creating randomness and chaos, and that is not what a dynamic intelligence is for, and that’s not our dynamic situation… That’s not what we’re preparing children to deal with, a world of chaos. Nobody is gonna do well with that. So it’s really important that we understand that. The variability that we encounter in chaotic situations is random, right? It’s completely unpredictable, either within a situation or between… Between what we call instances, instances by… The word instance is used, any time you form a category about an activity or event or situation, each time you encounter that, it’s a new instance, right? 

Dr. Steven Gutstein: Whereas in… When you think about a static intelligence, we expect the each instance to be replicable, in other words, you can do the same thing, you expect to see the same things happen, you can expect pretty much complete predictability, in dynamic intelligence, you learn to see that instances are partially predictable, there’s going to be enough… There’s going to be enough continuity or invariance between situations so that you can put them in a category, but you’re also gonna respect that there’s going to be new variations each time you encounter it. But anyway, that’s a really important difference, but of course, in a chaotic situation, each time you encounter it you have no idea what you’re gonna expect, right? It’s random. So, it’s not the same.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: Now, let’s talk about then… So that’s the difference between dynamic and chaotic. So dynamic situations have two things, there’s two things that are critical in them, one is variability. And variability means that certain elements or certain aspects of those situations are going to vary. May be higher and lower and slower and faster and, it’s endless, variation could be endless variation is everywhere. We live in a world of variation, don’t we? It’s everywhere, in your heart rate, in temperature, in the clouds, in the trees, leaves and the trees, in traffic, wherever you are it is variable. The key here is that we have to be able to selectively attend to that type… The variability that is significant to us or important to us at that point in time, which can change, but if we were trying to attend to all variability in the universe, it would be impossible, wouldn’t it? 

Dr. Steven Gutstein: We’d just be flooded by things, we’d be overwhelmed by things, we have to be able to selectively attend through context, and we learn to do that through what I call frames and to disregard… We basically, do either tune out or maybe appreciate sometimes the variability, but not to depend on it. For the invariance, not to depend on that for continuity. Anyway, so it’s everywhere. We live in a dynamically variable world, that’s the world. Now, we learn that we can treat certain moments in our lives, certain situations and activities as if that was not true. That we can ignore variability completely, and that’s where static intelligence or static situations that we can treat things like they are static situations, but there are no such things as static situations. There is variability everywhere, but sometimes we can get away with or sometimes it’s preferable to try to tune out the variability and to focus on what is replicable. Static, you learn math two plus two is four and four plus four is eight.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: It’s just endless versions when you follow… When there’s procedures you wanna do, when you wanna brush your teeth every day, you don’t wanna focus on the variability of your brushing your teeth or things like that. But on the other hand, if we get rid of all variability, there is not much reason to go on living, is there? Variability… Continuity is the background of life.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: And most of us, not almost, all of us, not only that we learned to manage the variability and dynamics in a dynamic world, but we prefer to live in a world with some degree of unpredictability and uncertainty. We like surprises on birthdays and other days, too, we’re willing to live with negative surprises or unexpected events to experience feelings associated with the positive ones. Think about sayings like, “Variety is the Spice of Life”.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: And the reason these sayings ring true, for most of the time, is that we know that variation, the dynamic qualities of our life and the world is what makes life worth living. And there’s certainly times when we’d like to live for a while in a very routine, stable manner, eliminate all uncertainty, but if we really eliminated dynamic variation from our lives, we’d become pretty bored and depressed, life would be pretty meaningful. Because variability is where our alive feelings come from, whether that’s excitement, surprise, curiosity, discovery, mastery or loss, rejection, hurt, failure, all of our important human experiences, what makes us human are the product of our orientation and our engagement with dynamic variation. And so the idea of experience itself is defined by the ability to… It’s defined by variability. If you’re gonna be aware of your feelings and thoughts associated with a situation, it means that something stands out, something’s happening, something’s different, something’s varying.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: And without variability experiencing doesn’t exist, there’s nothing worth experiencing. There’s nothing memorable, nothing happening. Something becomes worth experiencing ’cause it’s attached to some different feeling, change in our feelings, change in our perceptions. We want to live in a dynamically variable world, it’s not about… When we think about autism now, and the problem with autism, and this is really important, it’s not about learning just to handle variability… And from the very beginning, we need to focus on the idea that you building the motivation, we call it dynamic growth seeking. The motivation to want to engage with it, to be with it, it’s really important. So it’s not about surviving with it, it’s about wanting to be there, wanting to… Not wanting to get rid of it but to wanna engage with it, to see it as part of what makes life worth living. Now, variability is not the same as change, and I said this last time, but I wanna make it sure… And it’s very important to make that distinction.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: Alright, change is when you move some element from one state to another, if something changes from one state to another. It can disappear, it can appear, it can be revised, it can be replaced. But let me think… Let me tell you something, a clock… If you wind-up a clock, let’s say the old wind-up clocks, and they start ticking down, they’re changing from second to second or just a clock ticking second by second by second, it’s changing. But there is no variability, it’s completely predictable, isn’t it? Variability means you cannot predict, dynamic variability, exactly what is going to happen next, okay. But it’s not chaotic, so it’s in the middle, but it’s not just change. Five seconds from now it’s still gonna be five seconds later, isn’t it? And let me give you another example, I’m taking a hike in the mountains and my rate of walking speed, I can guarantee you as I’m climbing up, it’s gonna slow down, my rate is gonna slow down, my speed is gonna slow down, I can predict it.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: It’s a steady state in a direction, so that’s not variable, it’s just change, it’s really important to make that distinction. Because it has to do with again predictability, it has to do with the world where there is some level of you can predict to some degree, but there’s always gonna be some unpredictability, and that’s variability. So it’s a subset of change, it’s not the same as change. Dynamic situations which are going about dynamic intelligence are marked by ongoing variations that emerge out of the process of what happens in the world to you with another person, so they can’t be predicted in advance. There are multiple variables that interact in such a way that you can’t know exactly what’s gonna happen next, and part of that is your own actions that you take. Now, what keeps that from becoming chaotic is that two things, one is the concept of invariance, that even though there are variations…

Dr. Steven Gutstein: In other words, higher and lower, and faster and slower, and you can imagine infinite number of variations, there is a range of variation in dynamic situations, there’s typically, not all the time but almost all the time, we can expect that variations are gonna stay in a situation are gonna stay within a certain limit, a certain range. So when we go into the doctor’s office, we don’t expect to see a dentist, [chuckle] we don’t expect to see a plumber, we don’t expect everyone to start dancing in a chorus line. There is a range that we can expect. Now, we can turn something like that into a static situation and only focus on the invariance by the way. But there’s a big loss when we do that, as we know of people with autism when they do it. The range can be… Most of the time can be predicted but at any single point in time, that variation will be emerging out of a process, so when we’re talking about dynamic variation, we’re talking about a process. And as we’re engaging with that process, there’re gonna be variations, some of which have partly due to what we do, maybe environment, the other person. There’s a number of things that could be impacting them, and that can’t be exactly predicted, except the range can.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: Now, when we talk about variability, it’s really important to think about two types of situations. One is within a situation. There’s variance within a situation and there’s variance between instances of, like an activity or an event that we’ve put in a category, but in a dynamic category, expect there to be differences and similarities. Let me talk about within a situation. You think about the… I’m gonna use this example of Peekaboo a lot, very simple, because it’s one of the earliest ways that parents, without even realizing it, teach their children to recognize and enjoy dynamic variability. So you think about, in Peekaboo there…

Dr. Steven Gutstein: You repeat the basic pattern over and over and over again within a situation. There’s the basic underlying invariance or continuity, is from some type of hiding and revealing, right? So that’s within the situation, there’s going to be that underlying invariance, and then within the situation, there’s going to be a lot of variability. Sometimes I may be a boo or Peekaboo or ha or I might hide my face, or I might put a cloth on my face. The goal… There’s no reason to play Peekaboo if you’re not gonna add variation, if you’re gonna do exactly the same way each time, it doesn’t make any sense. So that’s within a situation. I can expect that there’s gonna be a repetition of that pattern of hiding and revealing, very simple, simple as you can be. Now, then when I initiate Peekaboo, the next version of Peekaboo, maybe I won’t start it the same way as last time, but the infants, if you’re looking at infants, they can recognize that you’ve now initiated Peekaboo with them. There’s a similarity from the last time you started playing Peekaboo, even if you start off in a very different way, well, not very different, but a different way than you did last time, they rapidly can recognize even with the variation in your initiation, whatever, that it’s the same type of activity. We call that a frame, but we’ll talk about that in a minute.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: So there’s variability within a situation and between instances of situations. Now, I’m gonna talk about… Later, I’m gonna talk about the different frequency when you introduce variability, we can… And I’m developing a system where you can be very methodical if you wish, on the different types of variability you can introduce. Let me just give you a little introduction of that. When you think about variability, you think about things that vary within a certain level, so you think about… You can be faster, slower, okay. And again, there’s gonna be a range. Let’s say you’re varying speed of movement, very simple early way we do that. Well, one of the things is we learn in an activity is we learn to expect what we expect to vary and what we expect to have continuity from. But we also learn to expect how much variation we’re going to have. Now, that can be altered as we move along, but initially, that’s the frame, we learn to say, “Well, I’m gonna go from this level of speed to this level of speed,” that’s usually what we agree. It’s what we call a consensual frame, because now we’re talking about an interaction.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: We learn to expect that when we’re together, by the way, it’s not necessarily when you meet with somebody else, frames can be, especially with infants, are very personalized with the familiar people in their lives. So expect when you and me are together, it’s gonna be this range. When I put you up in there, it’s gonna be only to this level, where I’m not gonna do that level, but anyway, it depends on what we focus on. So, there are a lot of factors that we can alter. We can alter for instance the frequency, how often are we gonna vary something. If you think about… When we think about the word dynamic, dynamic isn’t always varying every second is it? Because when we think about it between instances between similar situations, that could be a situation, I didn’t go to my… Six months ago, I went to my dentist office and I go back six months later, and I notice some things are different, some things are varied. Well, there may have been all kinds of variability [laughter] between that, in the dentist office, but I don’t care because I haven’t been there, so the frequency for me is six months. [laughter]

Dr. Steven Gutstein: On the other hand, if you’re engaging with a child in a conjoint… In a personal activity, it’s gonna be much more frequent. It can be every few seconds, whatever, but you can manage that, you can modify, adapt the frequency, depending on what is optimal for that person. Along with the frequency, there’s a clear… Which is the number of variables, how many things are going to vary? Very simple example, physical example is how fast and slow our pace of walk, we can vary that. We can vary our physical contact, how close or our degree that we’re gonna be closer or farther from each other, or whether to be holding on to the point where we’re gonna be further away. There’s a number of things. So within that activity, there may be several variables, things that change, and we have to be careful when we first start this and we’ll talk about this a bit, that we are cognizant of that and make sure we’re not trying to… That we don’t accidentally or inadvertently start out with multiple variables. [laughter] This critical that we’re gonna do that. And similarly, there might be simultaneous things that vary.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: One of the problems of the human face is, and interacting with a human being, is your faces are varying dramatically, your voice is varying, your words are varying, my gestures are varying, so think about someone who’s face-to-face with you, and why a child with autism, when you think about making eye contact may not be a good idea face-to-face. It’s because you’re immediately forcing them to deal with a world where there’s multiple simultaneous variables. And so initially that’s why we try to… Start out with side by side, or where they can look at our face but they’re not forced to look at that, until they develop the ability to manage simultaneous, variables which is much more difficult. Now, the other thing is that there… So there’s numbers of variables, there’s how much at the same time, the frequency, there’s what I call range and diversity of variables. So, let’s look at diversity for a second. Which is how many variations are there going to be, let’s say in an engagement. So, I can say with a certain variable, we’re gonna go a little bit slower, a little bit faster, we’re gonna have three different levels. [chuckle] So, it’s not very diverse. It’s either gonna be slow, medium or fast. We introduce central states. So that’s only three.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: Now, it’s still not predictable, you might say there’s only three states, but how do I know which state is gonna happen at any moment? I might not, I don’t. If I told you that, then it would be change but no dynamic variation. First, we’re gonna do this and we’re gonna… But, even though there’s only three different states, slow, medium, fast, the variability is still pretty high because we have no way to predict which one of those is gonna happen next. So diversity means, how many variations are possible. Now, think about when we get a little more advanced with that, and we move from what I call a digital model, digital means, you have very specific, zero, one, two. But an analog model means there’s a continuum. Think about a radio dial in the old radios where you could turn the stations, and get a lot of static in between, and it was like a sort of an infinite number of variations that you could do. Well, when you’re walking together, it’s really, you can turn it into an analog of that variability, where there’s an infinite number of fasters and slowers, a little bit this… And what we wanna do eventually, is move from that digital to analog and to introduce children, to an analog world of variability where there’s little bits, where it’s more subjective and qualitative, because that’s the type of variability they’re gonna be encountering in the real world.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: They are often not gonna get either this or this or this. They’re gonna get a little bit more, a little bit less, a little bit higher, a little bit angrier, a little bit more upset, or less, and it’s gonna be in a continuum, that has potentially a large range. Now, many times we will, pick points in that range, that are important, that are significant, because it’s just too difficult. But it’s important at some point we need this. So dynamic variability, often is in what we call an analog format. It’s a continuum where you can… And that gives you a lot of degrees of freedom, doesn’t it? So rather than in a static rules and procedures where you’re directed, “You have to do it this way or this much, blah blah blah blah,” in a dynamic variability, dynamic situations, and we’ll talk about dynamic frames, there might be a potentially unlimited degree as long as you stay within a certain range. But look at that, if you stay within a certain range, there could be an infinite number of little pieces in that range, can’t there? 

Dr. Steven Gutstein: Now, you wouldn’t wanna introduce that to a child initially but eventually, they’re gonna understand we want them to learn, that there is this space of variability, and they don’t have to be afraid ’cause there isn’t one, there’s an underlying continuity, underlying invariants, and then there’s only a limited range which we can then agree to expand, contract, whatever. So diversity is different. And it’s another factor. Oops, let me move along. Two more things I want to say about variability. One is volatility. Now, the way I’m defining volatility is, let’s say I’m right here, I’m walking very slowly, and then suddenly I go walk very fast. It’s a degree of change, a degree of variation, that is more difficult to handle. And I can’t predict it. So we don’t have to start out with being that volatile, but eventually that happens, people suddenly change topics of the conversation, things happen like that. Now, we’re not talking about breaking the range yet, I’m not talking about the concept of immersions, which some of you may know, which is different, I’m talking about within that range, how much of the variability is gonna be dramatically different from one variation to the next, and how much would be more gradual.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: And these are things eventually, and I’ll get this too, that you can actually use to gradually develop that child’s ability to handle and to enjoy dynamic variability by introducing these things and by recognizing, that you wanna do piece by piece rather than inadvertently introducing too much of this. Another… So, there’s two more things, one is connectivity, which is when you get into multiple variables… I’m not gonna get into this right now much, they interact in funny ways, when there’s multiple variables, and it makes things more complex, harder to predict. I’m not gonna talk about today. We can talk about complexity next time if you’re interested. Because that gets you into complexity. But today we’re talking about simple dynamic situations, which is where we start in the RDI program.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: The last piece of a dynamic situation is a little bit different than variability, it’s called emergence. And emergence is why I said we can almost always predict things are gonna be within a range because in a dynamic situation, there are going to be moments, there are gonna be times when something happens, something reaches a tipping point and often we are not even aware it’s getting there, and then there’s what we call a non-linear or a more dramatic change, that breaks the frame or breaks the range that we expected. Let’s not talk about that today, we can talk about that next time as well.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: But those are variability factors, I didn’t wanna spend a lot of time on that, but it’s important to know those things, and I’ll give you some more writing about that. Now, here’s what’s interesting. It’s interesting for parents to understand this, for you to be able to understand this, infants become masterful in their dynamic world before they learn much of anything about their static world. Alright, people say, “We’ll do RDI after we do ADA.” It’s most stupid thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Right, because if you look at first year, you look at any 10-month old, 11-month-old, they don’t know anything about procedures, they don’t know anything about scripts, [chuckle] they don’t know anything about those things, but they are continually introducing dynamic variability into their lives, they’re continually demanding novelty and variation from you. Right. And they’re becoming more… They’re not experts like adults but they’re becoming much more comfortable in a dynamic world, they already know how to function in the static world, right.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: So infants learn very earlier on, not in maybe a month or so, ’cause very newborns have a real need for continuity, I mean, there’s no invariance in their lives when you’re born, right? So they have to develop at least a little bit of things that are invariant before they get interested in variation. But what’s interesting is they start to very early start to recognize continuity in a mixed, dynamic variability. One of the first ways they do that, you can see it, is they see the continuity in the facial expressions of the parent. They learn to recognize that and react differently to different facial expressions of parents, a couple of months of age. Okay. So Dr. Allen Fogel, who you are all familiar with described, I’m gonna give you a quote of him, “A critical breakthrough for infants during their first year, is their increasing ability to perceive ongoing changes”, he used the word changes, I used variability, “in their environment while maintaining the experience of continuity as infants learn that they can successfully engage with more types of variability, it rapidly becomes the most powerful spice that motivates their dynamic growth.” look at any nine-month old, 10-month-old, 11-month-old, and they are in a continual… Unless they’re very upset, hungry, depleted, they’re in a continual quest for variability, continual drives you… It exhausts you.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: And we’ll make that contrast with future ASD infants, there is a real contrast. And even before they have much motor control, I’m talking about six month olds, they’re still directing their efforts to engage in dynamic situations that increase the potential for them to encounter novelty and variability. Right, and one way, of course, they learn to get better at this is through what we call the Early Infant games, I like to use Peekaboo and you know, we all have very many different versions of them, the infants are on our lap and we move them forward and back and pull them back and forth, and… There’s millions of versions of this, but let’s talk about Peekaboo. Peekaboo is interesting because infants get interested and motivated for it, even before they are motorically able, even before they can really do anything with their body, which is really interesting, right, so their sort of mental process of it is developing before their ability to physically engage with you in Peekaboo.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: So again, the continuity, the underlying continuity, which is critical in any dynamic situation that makes it not chaotic, is from its elements of hiding and revealing is one of the simplest invariances, no matter whether we use our hands, cloth, whatever, and so first the infant has to recognize that continuity and maybe four months of age, they can do that earlier or later, but once they do that, then they’re not interested in it anymore they don’t focus on that. And that’s the key, its once you recognize the continuity, it becomes in the background right you’re not really interested in it, what you’re interested in is the variability. So the infant’s attention is shifting to the introduction of what the parent introduces, right? Whether it’s differences in their voice, whether face or hiding or cloth or their hands, whatever, that is where the excitement is, that’s where the attention is directed, right. So that’s what’s memorable to them, the surprising variations.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: Now, initially, if you’re too surprising, [chuckle] you add too much or you’re too fast, think about all those levels of variability, too volatile, too many variations, they’re gonna turn, they’re gonna start gaze avoidance, which you’ll see. And I have a… I used to show a good version of that with Emma a little infant, where her dad at four months, and this happens, this is how you learn as a parent, at four months was introducing too fast, and she started to avoid gaze, she stopped being interested, and then that’s sort of a feedback to help you figure out what’s the optimal level, right. And then of course, as they get better, that changes, that continues to grow and they want more and more, not only can they handle more and more, they want more and more volatility, they want more variables, they want more of those aspects of it, they’re learning to deal with…

Dr. Steven Gutstein: They’re learning to live in a dynamic world, so they want more and more of the surprises and all those aspects of variability, right. Now, there’s two things that allow typically developing infants to thrive in a dynamic world, probably more than two, but these are two, first is the formation of what I call dynamic experiential activity or event categories and memories and categories, right. That…

Dr. Steven Gutstein: If you think about the way we have organized experiences, we have infants and all of us, we have to categorize things, otherwise everything is in a discrete place in our brain, there’s no similarity, there’s nothing we can learn. We have to take things that are actually discriminately different and treat them like they’re the same, put them in the same category. And infants learn to look for typically developing a significant invariance across situations. They do that, and they’re born with that capability, early on develop it. They learn to recognize similar and different dynamic events and activities as members of the same category based on forming what scientists or psychologists call a schema or, I call it a frame but [chuckle] sort of underlying invariance that is important. So infants form what we call dynamic categories, and what I mean by dynamic, as opposed to static in a static category, they also can form static categories, but in static categories you’re basically eliminating the variability.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: What you’re remembering there… What you’re doing you’re sort of saying, every time I go here, I expect this, this, this, this. Every time I go here, I expect this, this, this, this. Or I do this, this, this, this, you’re looking only for replicability in a static category. Alright, so a formula or an algorithm, or it could be very complex that you’re gonna apply each time, that’s what you’re saving, that’s what the category is, things that you can expect to do replicable. In a dynamic category, you’re looking for an underlying continuity invariance, but you’re expecting that each iteration, each instance is gonna have some variation. So it’s different, and what that means, and the big difference is, from a dynamic category, you’re able to look at a novel situation, something that’s different and say, that’s sort of like this one. It’s not replicable, it’s not… But it sort of has some similarity there.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: So it gives you a starting point, which is why by seven months infants crave novelty, and my future ASD kids don’t crave novelty, but that’s a different issue. So the first is categories, forming dynamic categories, again maybe static as well, but let’s just talk about dynamic category. And the second, which is similar, is developing a type of knowledge, let me use the word schema, or knowledge that’s very internalized, very implicit, it’s not externally, you can’t tell if they… Obviously you aren’t going to talk about it, which we call frames, and Allen Fogel used to use that terms. You will probably read that as part of your training. And with the structure of static situations is provided by rules and procedures, and they tell us, they direct us, they designate the moves that we can and cannot make. As well as moves we must make at certain times or under certain conditions.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: So if you’re playing monopoly, you can only place houses or hotels on an owned monopoly when it’s your turn if you have the cash. However, before ending your turn, you must roll the dice [laughter] that’s monopoly. So rules and procedures give you… Allow for a very limited or non-degree of freedom, and variations that deviate from that are considered undesirable. So it’s a very important distinction, because I’m not saying… By the way when we get to autism, we’ll talk about that, that people with autism can’t handle any variability, but the motivation is that variability is undesirable. You try to eliminate it, you try to reduce it, you try to avoid it as much as possible, which means you don’t learn from it ’cause variability is where we learn so much. So you play monopoly and monopoly, you’re saying, no, no, you can’t do that. The rule says this and this, so it’s undesirable. You learn social scripts, when kids learn social scripts, that’s what they’re learning, don’t do that that.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: They’re not learning this whole range of things within the social situation that are great, in fact that make the interpersonal situation interesting. They’re learning, here’s what you can do, here’s what you can’t do, here’s when you do that, they’re learning the static structure. But you see dynamic situations… And here’s the interesting thing, in their first year of life, typically developing infants are not learning those things. Try to see if any of your typically developing infants learn about rules and procedures [laughter] a 10 month old, try, no, but they learn frames already. They can recognize. They can expect a repeating pattern or re-continuity, they can expect… They can recognize situation from one instance to another, and they get very good at that, so that’s the key right there. And of course that has to do with categories as well.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: So frames have four critical functions, but let’s just talk about a couple of them right now. First of all, when you learn framing knowledge, they tell you where to look for the continuity, where to look for the invariance, what’s gonna be invariant. So they can give you an underlying structure so that you don’t have chaos, that’s what make it dynamic. You learn that there’s gonna be continuity, and you also learn what’s the range of variability you should expect, how much variation you expect to find in this category of an activity or an event. Remember within that range, there can be a lot of acceptable options. But because they’re not rules, because they’re not governed like that, they give you much more in the way of degrees of freedom, right of action, so you can have both personally share. You can explore, you can experiment, you can innovate, you to improvise, you can expand, you can grow. They’re essential for growth.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: Now, the price… There is a price to pay for greater degrees of freedom. Usually… Then you’re gonna have to exert more mental effort to judge the degree of fit with each move you make with the conditions of the situation, right? What’s optimal? You’re not given a program to… You know, if it’s, “Do this”, if it’s, “Do this.” So there’s more mental effort, and infants aren’t very good at that [chuckle], we start to learn… That’s one of the things we learn with dynamic intelligence is that best fit. So they give you the underlying structure, so you don’t feel chaos, but they allow you that degrees of freedom, right? And they give you contextual information about what should be considered meaningful, what’s central, what’s peripheral. And again, because they’re generalized from multiple instances, multiple cases, they allow us to rapidly look… And we start to look at novel situations. One of the things that allows infants, even at seven months, to desire novelty, is their ability to rapidly see in a novel situation similarity with their prior experiences. They don’t want novelty if there’s no similarity. So we gotta be careful here when we say infants want novelty, it’s not absolute, and the research shows that. It’s novelty within some degree of recognizing there’s a frame, that some anchor to their prior experience. If you changed everything up, they’re not gonna like that, they don’t want that, nobody wants that.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: When you go to a foreign country, whether you realize it or not, the first thing you do is you look for familiarity. And you can’t enjoy the change, the differences, the variations until you do that, until you find some anchor with your prior experience. Otherwise, you feel chaotic, you feel overwhelmed. Infants learn to do that by seven months of age, but of course in a simpler version, not the degree of a foreign country, right? So that’s why we have frames, and that’s why frames are gonna be so important when you’re working with… Parents when you’re working as consultants, right? Because frames are end categories, but they’re both dynamic categories. By the way let me go back to dynamic categories because this has to do with learning.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: Often we’ll think we’ll have a great session with a child and or a parent, and we’ll think well wasn’t that wonderful, and then it doesn’t look like anything has changed or there’s not been any growth, even after this wonderful session, everybody’s confused. Well, learning is about what is stored, what changes here in the brain. [chuckle] In that category is that instance… Does that expand the category? Does it change it? Does it add a new instance to it, right? And so, unless we can see, unless we evaluate whether something has happened for that infant where it’s memorable in a way we want it to be memorable, we hope it to be memorable, we can have all kinds of things going on in behavior and there’s no value to them. It’s one of the reasons very early on, that we wanna focus on not just having an experience, but managing that experience. Open that child to represent in some way that experience, and store it in a way that is gonna be valuable for them, that is gonna lead to growth. And categories, of course, are critical for that.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: Anyway, so when parents are ready and again, when we start RDI, the first step is we have to get through acceptance, belief, commitment, we have to help them with the myths, we have to help them to understand their new role. There’s a lot of things we need to help them with before we actually introduce this, but once they’re ready, the first thing they’re gonna do with their child is they’re gonna start to activate growth-seeking, dynamic growth-seeking motivation. What we know with… What we believe in our model with future ASD infants, or children now, who you see who have been diagnosed, is that they haven’t.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: It’s not that they’re incapable of seeing dynamic variability of developing frames, of recognizing invariances, but early on in their development, in the first year, they shut that off, for whatever their vulnerabilities were, the world was too confusing, the world, the environment they were in, was too overwhelming and they were unable to continue to grow in their capacity to perceive, to recognize those invariances, to recognize the continuity between situations, within situations. And instead of wanting more and more and more of it gradually, they start to avoid it, they start to become passive, they don’t explore in a productive way, they don’t want to initiate those simple games, because those simple games whether their parents realize it or not are how we introduce dynamic variability to children, to infants. That’s what they’re for [chuckle], right? And so why do they not want to engage? Unless…

Dr. Steven Gutstein: And unfortunately, maybe they might even train parents to play Peekaboo or games in a an invariant way, suddenly, right? If you think about how infants do condition their parents, which is what they all do. But typically developing infants condition them to optimize how much it’s gonna increase, right? Or is it in the future an autistic infant might condition their parents to not introduce variability, which is really hard to do, I don’t know if you can even do that. But to do it exactly the same way each time without even knowing it that you’re doing that, right? So what we’re gonna do is we have to introduce simple frames, activity frames to a child, a person who may be averse to that initially, may be averse to variability. From infancy on, may have been focused on what we call stability maintaining rather than dynamic growth-seeking. May never have experienced, even as an infant on, the enjoyment of dynamic growth-seeking. Which is how we thrive, how we grow, it gives them meaning to life. By the way, if you ever wonder why the suicide rate is so high for adults with autism, why the depression is over 50%, think about someone who doesn’t experience dynamic growth-seeking, right? Whose life is around stability maintaining, I mean that’s one issue, there’s other issues like feeling like you’re a failure and no self-efficacy.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: Having to… There’s a million [0:44:49.9] (inaudible), but that’s really one factor. Without a sense of growth, the potential for growth and the excitement of it, life doesn’t have much meaning. You’re just going through the motions. So that’s something to focus on, but anyway. So, when parents are ready, they begin dynamic intelligence, working on dynamic intelligence, we call simple dynamic intelligence. And we talk about managing that initial resistance, we expect with at least a good portion of the kids we see for a good reason, and parents need to understand that. They’re initially not going to wanna be excited about it. And the other thing parents have to understand is we’re not interested in them complying with it. If we do a simple back and forth, I don’t care if they… Compliance, if they just go through the motions to comply, we’ve got nothing. We have to build up intently. ‘Cause the first thing we’re working on is growth-seeking motivation. We’re not interested in skill. ‘Cause growth-seeking opens the door to everything in growth in their dynamic world, all learning.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: And if you don’t have growth-seeking motivation, first of all you’re not gonna wanna be involved in an experience-guiding relationship, and you’re not gonna grow, you’re not gonna wanna be in the dynamic world because you gotta work in a dynamic world and there’s gotta be a pay-off. The pay-off is in the variability isn’t it? It’s in the surprises, it’s in the things you learn and it’s the excitement. So there’s gonna be initial resistance in a good number, and parents are gonna learn, you’re gonna help the parents to deal with the idea that there’s a third way between following that child’s lead, whatever that means, and directing that child. Demanding performance or requiring performance. We’re not interested in that.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: What we’re interested in is creating experiences. Now experience, what I call the guiding relationship, is experience-guiding relationship, because you’re trying to guide the child to have experiences that are growth-promoting experiences. So one of the first growth-promoting experiences is the idea that I can participate with you in a simple dynamically variable activity and feel agency, and feel not that something’s being done to me, whether I’m having to do something, but that I’ve volitionally taken action that maintains this process. Remember, try to remember the process. There’s not an end point. We’re not talking about a goal. And parents have to move away from the idea that there’s, no matter what I do there’s some endpoint or some performance, it’s maintaining a process, a simple dynamic process. So, you might have noticed, one of the things we do is we might create a state of imbalance with that child where we pull to the side and there’s an imbalance and we just stay there for a while with both of us like this. And there’s a natural inclination to restore balance in human beings that way and the child will move us back, and you go that way, some variation of that and what that’s doing is the child is experiencing that they are not a victim of it.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: There’s two things. One is that it’s simple, they can understand it, we’re not introducing lots of variations, which is why we’re not talking at the same time. We’re not necessarily neutral, but we’re not giving enormous expressions. And that their child can have agency. It’s through their actions that we become balanced again. So, the variation and back to the initial state. So, there’s a lot of variations on that theme where we manage resistance, but you see how that illustrates the key issues. We introduced simple variation, and use our natural inclination for the child, for a person to want to act volitionally, so they can then experience themselves as having to act in co-regulating… Varying, co-regulating. And then we might do it again. Eventually, of course, we would let them do it within the range. Now, initially, you don’t wanna have children… You have to be careful about letting them have the variability early ’cause they don’t understand frames yet, and they might do something completely outside the frame, then you have this negative experience.

Dr. Steven Gutstein: But as quickly as possible, you wanna introduce their ability to add variation as well, but within those limits. So, we manage initial resistance, we explain to parents, we expect that, so it’s not a surprise, and we tell them why, because it’s our model of autism. It’s why the guiding relationship doesn’t form. It’s why growth seeking doesn’t become dominant. And why stability maintaining stays dominant because they never get to see that they can, never get to experience that they can function in a dynamic world with agency, with excitement, they always see it as overwhelming.

Kat Lee: And thanks for joining us for Autism: A New Perspective, the podcast show, where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child, and we encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee. See you next time.


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