This was originally posted on the saiconnections’ blog page. You can read it here.
Do you feel your child has untapped potential?
You know he’s intelligent but seems to be stuck. He gets fixated on doing tasks a certain way. You wish you could add some complexity and variety but you don’t know how.
You watch him fixing the same puzzles again and again. You wish he would try others. You have a whole stack lined up for him, but he’s hell bent on doing these few.
So you let him. At least he stays busy doing something.
He has a fixed routine. He does certain activities at the same time, everyday. He has to take the same route to school everyday. You are afraid of changing anything.
When you take him to a restaurant, he orders the same item at every visit. And it has to be served a particular way.
You are deadlocked. You want to change things for him but you don’t know how. You feel the joy has been sapped out of life.
I’d like to share Shashank’s story with you.
When I met him 10 years ago, he had fixed routines and ways of doing tasks. It was almost impossible to introduce a change any area of his life.
I remember assigning this objective for him (amongst many others): Shashank will match 25 non identical objects in an array of 8, containing similar stimuli.
This objective stayed non-mastered for a long time.
Shashank was didn’t like to join activities. He was always in avoidance mode – doing the same puzzles repeatedly made him feel safe and secure.
Last month, I saw a video of Shashank and his mother, Priya.
They sat together to assemble tiny, intricate lego pieces to make an airplane. They both looked at a visual model to assemble it. There were a hundred small pieces around! If he got stuck, he asked his mom to fix the piece, correcting her if she picked the wrong one.
Their engagement and connection was tangible. What a far cry from the teenager I knew 10 years ago.
Today, Shashank craves challenge and novelty. He tries out complex 3D puzzles. He cooks and engages in several household and sports activities. He loves to hang out with his mom.
We’ve hit the sweet spot of intrinsic motivation. How did we manage this?
The steps below elaborate on the steps Priya took to empower Shashank, which she learned through our RDI parent training program:
1. She Engaged Regularly
Initially Priya would not enter school if Shashank was around. If he saw her, he would leave whatever he was doing and run to her. Then we would have a battle at hand. In fact, he had to leave school and go home sometimes.
After enrolling in the program, Priya slowly started to engage with Shashank. They worked on pre assigned objectives through simple household activities. Slowly, things started changing.
Mothers are the best guides for their children, whether with special needs or neurotypical. When trained and empowered, they can make a world of difference.
2. She Helped Him Regulate
Regulation is means to simplify and structure an interaction, so that both people feel safe and competent.
We set up simple activities like ball play, walking to share experiences, simple board games, and cooking. Priya and Shashank had clear roles in every activity.
We slowly added to our list of activities. Shashank calmed down phenomenally. The wonderful teachers at SAI Connections also worked with Shashank on similar activities.
3. She Presumed Competence
Remember the half full/half empty glass analogy? It’s extremely relevant here.
If you feel your child doesn’t ‘know or understand’, you’ll spend all your energy in trying to teach.
But if you believe he learns a different way, then all you need to do is connect the dots for him.
Further, Priya encoded Shashank’s experiences for him by writing, taking photos and showing him pictures.
4. She Challenged Him
The more competent and comfortable Priya felt by herself, the better she challenged Shashank. The best part was Shashank enjoyed the challenges she presented. (He still does.)
Overcoming challenges made him feel competent. This fed into intrinsic motivation. He wanted to push his own limits. He became a willing participant.
5. She Stopped Thinking of it as Work
Priya is a busy banker. She spends time with Shashank after 8 in the evening.
Earlier Shashank would be fixated on going for a drive every night. Over time, he looked forward to spending time with Priya. He found it more enjoyable than stepping out for a drive!
It’s never about the quantity of time spent. It’s always about the quality of interaction.
Not only does Shashank enjoy his time with Priya, but the feeling is mutual. Priya loves spending time with her son too.
A bond of trust exists between them. The ripple effect is there for all to see.
Read about these changes in Priya’s own words.
“My son, Shashank, is an active 22-year-young man on the autism spectrum. Till a few years ago, we struggled to find avenues to reach out to him, to make him feel comfortable. Since he’s nonverbal, the task was tougher. I often would pray to God to give him at least the power of speech to help him communicate his needs to us.”
“However, it was after we started working with Shashank on the RDI Program (5 years now) that we identified the real key to breaking the barrier and connecting with him. We learned to recognize Shashank as an individual who not only understands what is spoken in his presence, but also asserts himself and makes his choices pretty clear. We now respect him for that. This respect has deepened his bond with us and he now trusts us a lot more than before.”
“Earlier, we could do just a handful of activities which he was okay with. This was because of the underlying fear that he would leave the framework, get upset or even worse, that he might have a meltdown.”
“But now, he enjoys working on various activities across the board. To name a few, he is fine doing 100+ piece puzzles and enjoys playing simple card games with us. He loves working with construction toys like Lego, and likes to sit back and relax by playing games on his iPad. Equally, he like reading, writing, typing, physical exercise and outdoor games like football, cricket and swimming. HIs sensory issues seem to be ebbing and he makes a spontaneous effort to vocalize in multiple situations.”
“We still have a long way to go but we are certainly seeing promising signs of growth in Shashank and feel blessed to have reached here.”
Priya continues to work on each of the above points on a daily basis. She has surmounted the task that seemed so formidable earlier.
Interaction with Shashank has eased out.
Whether your child is vocal or non vocal, irrespective of his age – you can achieve great results too.
Life will ease out for you and your family. You will be confident about handling your own child. Do you know what the bonus is? You’ll discover inner strengths you never knew you had.
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)