How do you manage living in a dynamic world?
You can help your child manage their dynamic environment by paying attention to variability.
To attend to it, you help your child tune into their brain, recognize the variability in different ways and act with agency to manage that variability.
Watch the video below to hear Dr Steven Gutstein explain.
Kat Lee: Welcome back to ASD: A New Perspective, the podcast show where we help you understand the mind of your child, and we always encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee, and in this podcast, Dr. Gutstein talks about a basic foundation in RDI dynamic thinking, and the difference between dynamic and static. Let’s listen in.
Dr. Gutstein: So, a lot of people think there’s this continuum of dynamic on one end and static on the other, where you got this opposite… That sort of the opposite of static, and it’s not at all. On the one end, you’ve got static, but on the other end you’ve got chaotic or random. And that’s what systems theories tell us, and there are two very important ways in which dynamic situations or systems are different from their chaotic ones. So one is the variability, the variations that we encounter in a chaotic situation, they’re random, they’re completely unpredictable, but in contrast, variations we find in dynamic situations are almost always within a specific range. Now, we can’t predict which specific variation in that range we’re going to encounter at any one moment, but we can usually not always predict that whatever we do see, whatever variations we do see are gonna be within a certain range, they’re not gonna just be anywhere.
Dr. Gutstein: Now, there is an exception to that, and we’ll talk about that in terms of volatility, but not right now. [chuckle] So within a situation, think about within a situation, a chaotic situation is one where there’s things are changing, variations, and you have no idea what’s gonna happen from one to the next. Completely random in the world. Elephant turns into a donkey, I mean, there’s just no way to predict it. In a dynamic situation, while you can’t predict what’s next or what’s gonna happen, like in a conversation, you can usually predict or expect that the changes, the new topics or changes in topics or things you bring up are gonna be within a certain range. They’re not gonna be suddenly the person is gonna take out a gun and shoot you, or that something just completely unrecognizable is going to happen.
Dr. Gutstein: Now, within that range, there can be a lot of different variations, some that you’ve not really even experienced before, there can be a lot of novelty in there. Because it’s a continuum of variations, but it is within a certain range. Okay, now, that’s within a situation, the second thing is that in a chaotic situation, there’s no continuity between different instances, there’s no way to know… You go from one chaotic situation to another, there’s no way to take any information from the first situation and you can’t categorize it, you can’t bring it to the next, you can’t pull out from the first one and say, “Well, what should I expect now?” So when you feel like something is chaotic and totally random, you can’t learn anything, can you? But the difference is, is that dynamic situations possess what we call partial predictability, they always predict some degree… They always have some degree of continuity. Because there’s always… That the essence of a dynamic situation is, from a human standpoint, is that we can always recognize underlying continuity, regularity, as well as variation, dynamic variation.
Dr. Gutstein: For us, subjectively, if we can’t do that, if we can’t recognize the continuity, we’re going to feel like it’s random or chaotic. So subjectively, you can make that definition. For us, a dynamic situation is one where we can first recognise the continuity. By the way, that’s continuity within the situation, what elements are we expecting not to vary, for example, might be the intention. We’re trying to reach a goal, we’re trying to maintain something going. Okay, that may stay the same, it may not, but it may. And what we’re expecting to vary is maybe the ways we get there, [chuckle] the ways that we move within there. Between a situation, again, we recognize that there are certain elements, if we see multiple instances, we can actually categorize these dynamic situations from both the continuity that they have, the things we expect to be able to learn from several of those types of situations that we can use to help us to prepare, if we recognize, that same type of situations. We can have types based on their similarity, as long as we…
Dr. Gutstein: And we can use that information as long as we recognize there’s going to be variability between instances. In static, we do have static knowledge and static categories of knowledge, which is how we learn, we’re not expecting to be interested in the variability, the variation, in fact, we wanna see replicability. We wanna see the knowledge we take from the category we’ve developed, whether that’s building nuclear bombs or repairing a tire to be applicable each time exactly, if we follow the procedure, if we follow the method, which can be conditional, but it’s always going to be the same. So, we talk about variability within a situation and variability between. And continuity and variability within and between situations, and that’s the key when we’re talking about dynamic situations.
Dr. Gutstein: Now, variability is everywhere. Dynamic variability is everywhere in the world, in your heart rate, your heart rate varies, even though somebody will take your pulse and they say it’s 80 or 70, whatever, it’s really varying, that’s just an average, temperature, predicting the weather. Everywhere. Traffic patterns. But we typically ignore 99% of the variability around us. We learn to. Unless it has meaning to us at that point, significance, I should say, to that point. So when you’re having heart fluctuations and [chuckle] you start taking your pulse and looking at that variation of your pulse. So depending on that, but most of the time we need to just tune out most of the variability that’s going on.
Dr. Gutstein: And otherwise, we’re just gonna be overwhelmed with it. Now, variability, which is the essence of dynamic situations, of course, is not the same as change, people often mistake those things, they think when things change, that’s what variability is. Dynamic situations are not about change per se, they’re about variability. So let me give an example. Change, if you can define change is the movement of some element from one state or place to another, and that can also include its disappearance or appearance, it’s revision or replacement, so a clock that’s ticking down, like a timer, time running out for you to complete a test or a task is an example of something that has ongoing change, it’s ticking down…
Dr. Gutstein: But that change is not variable, it’s completely predictable. And orderly, isn’t it? It’s not a dynamic variable, is it? So dynamic variability means you’re going to see change, but it’s not going to be in some predictable sequence like that. So five seconds from now, it’s always gonna be five seconds later. So as I become more fatigued during a walk or a hike, I can predict my rate of walking speed is going to slow down, that’s not variability, is it? It’s a steady… A steady change in a direction is not the same as variability. Dynamic variability. It is variable, but it’s not dynamic variability. Now, variability, we’re gonna get into this, but variability is a function of a lot of different things, and the reason I’m gonna bring that up, are those are different things that as you’re working in RDI, you have to be very attentive to because you’re gonna be helping parents to learn how to guide their children to manage a dynamically variable work, [chuckle] to attend to it, they have to help their child tune their brain, to recognize variability in different ways and to act with agency to manage that variability.
Dr. Gutstein: And also the third and probably most important is to value it, to be excited by it, to want it, not to be afraid of it, not to just survive it, but to want it. I’ll talk about those things in a little bit. But let me go to a next piece, which is this… Okay. There are really several components to this, so the first is to managing a dynamic situation, you have to recognize first the continuity. The simplest example would be peek-a-boo, when six months, five months, six-month-old enjoy peek-a-boo is ’cause first, they recognized that there’s continuity, both within engagement, where you’re doing it repeated times, and between times, between engagements or over instances and instance just means another interaction another period of interaction, another situation. The continuity comes from what? Hiding and revealing. Initially, it’s from the parent or parental person doing it, hiding and revealing, so daddy’s gonna come, mommy’s gonna come, grandpa whatever, and they’re gonna hide and then reveal, and they don’t use those words, but that’s the sequence that gets bounded together.
Dr. Gutstein: And peek-a-boo always has that. So here’s the key of a dynamic situation, you recognize the continuity, but then as soon as you recognize it… And by the way, the second action, second is not what that infant can do ’cause they can’t do it yet, but later on, or as soon as possible, they take actions, you learn to take actions to maintain or repair or increase that continuity. Now, in an interpersonal engagement, when you think about a child in the second year of life, that means acting and communicating in a way to maintain a sufficient degree, and that’s a whole other area, what is sufficient of mutual coordination. Eventually, it’s understanding, intent interest, but initially it’s action coordination. The third component is making sure that once you recognize that continuity, once you’ve got it, you move it to the background of your attention, you no longer attend to it unless you need to fix it, repair it, and your mental resources, your attention, your thinking is directed to getting meaning and having and obtaining the feelings you expect from that dynamic variability.
Dr. Gutstein: So most of us prefer to live in a world with some degree of dynamic variability, which means some degree of unpredictability, and uncertainty, we like surprises on our birthdays and nice surprises on other days too. We’re willing to live with negative unexpected events or surprises to experience the feelings associated with the positive ones, think about sayings like variety is the spice of life, or Vive la difference. And the reason these sayings ring true for most of us, most of the time, most of the time, not all of the time, is that that dynamic variability is what makes life worth living, and there’s certainly times when we wish we could just live in a routine, stable way, eliminate all the uncertainty when we’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, but if we truly eliminated all the dynamic variability from our lives, we would rapidly become bored and depressed and probably wouldn’t see the point of life, so it’s in the dynamic…
Dr. Gutstein: It’s that ability to go from continuity, establishing it, which hopefully, we’re doing rapidly, and acting certainly in a process to maintain it if needed, maintain the continuity, but then being able to transfer, have enough resources left over, let me put it that way, to appreciate value, process, engage with the dynamic variability it’s where our most alive feelings come from whether that’s excitement, surprise, curiosity, mastery or loss, rejection, hurt, failure. All human experiences, all important human experiences are a product of our desire and our orientation towards dynamic variation. And I would submit the concept of experiencing, if you know what experience as an active process in the world where you sort of… Most of us can go through a day, myself included, a lot of the day, like a… We call it psychological zombie, we’re going through it and doing the routines and whatever.
Dr. Gutstein: But hopefully during the day, we’re also doing what I call actively experiencing something, and it’s defined as to me the ability to live within the dynamic variability to be aware of our feelings and thoughts associated with it, to see things that stand out, things that are memorable, even with a little M, I don’t mean a big M, memorable as the essence of a situation, and without that type of meaningful variability, experiencing as an active process that we engage in really doesn’t exist, ’cause there’s nothing worth experiencing, nothing memorable, nothing happening. And something becomes worth experiencing ’cause it is attached to feelings, and later we add some kind of commentary or annotation to that variability. And see the deal is people with autism, who don’t possess these abilities, we call dynamic intelligence, even simple, which starts in a simple level I’ve been talking about.
Dr. Gutstein: Well, so they might learn to some degree to survive in dynamic situations. So if they’re able to perceive the continuity in those situations, and as long as they can then eliminate or not attend to the variation, might push it away. They’re gonna do okay. Now, of course, when the variability is too great, or if we add complexity to the variability, the dynamic becomes more complex, then they’re not able to recognize the continuity, and then at that point, they can’t just reduce it or eliminate it. They need to avoid it or try to control it or change it, or get out of there, or withdraw from it, but what’s critical to understand is what happens with autism, is that your motivation then becomes completely different without even recognizing it, that for human beings, for typically developing persons, for people who don’t have autism, most of us, not everyone, but most of us, we live in a balance of stability and variability that we don’t want to eliminate either one. We wanna have continuity. And this is a matter of personality. When our ability to recognize it gets too low, we wanna move towards that, and then I call that stability maintaining.
Dr. Gutstein: We try to do things to reduce variability if possible, or avoid it, hide under the bed, and then if that gets too great, if we don’t have enough variability, we move to actually increase it. We do things to actually put ourselves in a situation where there’s more surprises and dynamic variability and new things, novelty, and so we are in that balance, what happens in autism is because the person with autism don’t learn how to do that balancing act, if you will. They don’t learn how to… And they don’t experience from a very early age of infancy, the desire for their dynamic variability. Their motivation becomes focused only on one end of it, which is to recognize it and get rid of the… And see the variability as noise, or to withdraw from it, avoid it, control it, do whatever they can, but not to want to put it to the forefront of their life because variability, if you have autism, dynamic variability feels like chaos. It feels like randomness, which none of us really wanna live in a world like that. There’s no pay-off to it, so if that’s how you’re feeling.
Dr. Gutstein: So how do typically developing infants do this? How do they manage simple dynamic situations? I was talking about peek-a-boo, peek-a-boo is a good example of a simple dynamic situation, initially the child is… Even infants, even in a passive role, the learning they’re doing is not through action, they’re laying there or sitting there, and if they’re sitting up and the adults do most of all the movement, although there are some things that the infant is doing with their attention, with their smile, with their face, that does influence, dramatically influence what the adult is going to be doing, but the adult is basically performing the activity. And what the infants are doing is they if they’re gonna enjoy the… You know when they’re gonna enjoy the peek-a-boo and they’re gonna want it, ’cause you can do it when they’re two months old and they’re not gonna want it, it’s gonna be either aversive or at least they’re gonna, not knowing what you’re doing, as soon as they can recognize the continuity and it’s a very simple continuity, hiding and revealing. That’s it. That’s all you gotta know. It’s on the sequence, it’s just two things connected, you’re gonna hide and then reveal, that’s the sequence.
Dr. Gutstein: So as soon as they get that, what they do is they shift their focus to the variability, the variations that the adult introduces, whether it’s a cloth or their hands. How much they hold their hands there to the point where… Or I do it faster, or I hold it, and I hold it, and I hold it. Or noises I might make along with that, or numbers are very… Cloth, where I put the cloth eventually on the child’s face and then reveal it. At some point, the infant becomes more of an active agent in this, but that’s a little bit aside from that.
Dr. Gutstein: Okay. So what happens is that the infant is enjoying this because they’re able to perceive the continuity, but also because they’re able to recognize that there’s a limit, a range of variations that they can expect, and what I was saying about infants communicating is, if you as an adult… And this will happen to almost any adult, especially dads, we’ll get too exuberant in your variations or too inconsistent, or too elaborate, you’ll see the infant turn away from the game, if it’s really much, they’ll be in distress, but they’ll communicate to you to stay within a certain range, they won’t communicate “Do this, this, this,” they won’t try to control it and get a specific response because that would ruin it for them, wouldn’t it? But you’ll unconsciously, and they’re not aware of it either, they’ll train you, they’ll condition you to stay within a certain range, which as they get older, you’ll see, you’ll keep trying and you’ll see that range will expand and expand and expand.
Dr. Gutstein: So the frame is established, we could say consensually, it’s established by both in this case, in peek-a-boo both the person doing the action and the person receiving it through communication, they’re actually establishing what we call a consensual frame. And it’s a messy process, it’s not a simple process, you learn from trial and error, you learn from feedback, and it keeps… By the way, the frame keeps expanding, it keeps extending. What I mean by extending is you can use different materials, you can use your hands, you can use a cloth, you can hide behind the sofa and pop up. You can extend it, you can extend the number of the types of variations. You can also extend the range, the frequency, the impact of them, the loudness of them, whatever. You can do that, you can do it in different settings, different people, so it extends, it expands too. It becomes a role that children can take on as well.
Dr. Gutstein: So it expands, this frame. And children learn as the frame expands, as the frame extends, it expands, and they also learn that you can reframe it, which we’ll talk about later. So gradually not through just peek-a-boo, but through early infant games and through other things like that. What are they learning to do? They’re learning to, first of all, recognize where the continuity is, through increasing variability, and they’re learning that they as agents can take part in it first, by maintaining the continuity, and second, by adding the variability, it becomes a co-variability. They learned that they can do that in a simple dynamic situation, so all we’re talking about here is simple dynamic situations. So I want you to understand that variation, those are not changes per se, they’re dynamic variability. And they always have to do with those things. Now, so what I’m saying is that infants learn and continue to learn what I call framing.
Dr. Gutstein: Framing is in frames, frames are different than static knowledge, which has to do with procedures, scripts, conditional relationships, if this then this. And they start to learn and their brain starts to get attuned to frames, even during the first year of life. In fact, probably more so than they do sequences and procedures. They don’t know the word, frame, But they start learning about dynamic frames. So frames give you… What do they learn? Is that once they get knowledge that that frame provides you the continuity, there’s gonna be hiding and revealing, and it also tells you about the variability. Those are the range of variation to expect. It tells you the amount of agency, amount of control you have in that process. It tells you, later on, the intention of it, what we’re trying to do consensually, whether that’s just play, have fun, work, maintain a process together, keeping the ball in the air. It becomes more abstract. The intent becomes more complex, obviously, it can be more than one intention, so it tells you about the continuity, which could be the intention.
Dr. Gutstein: Initially, it could be, again, this very simple sequence that keeps recurring, but those can get out of the way after a while. Those are not important after a while. And it tells you… So where to look for that, and later on you learn how to maintain it, the frame tells you what your role in managing, maintaining that continuity, but it also tells you about the variability, what the range is gonna be, usually. What to expect, so you’re not completely at loss. It tells you about the variations that have already been, what are familiar ones. It may tell you about how to begin and how to end a process, but remember framing knowledge is not about an object, it’s about a process, and that’s the different static knowledge… Is not a better process, it might be about a sequence or a procedure, but it’s not about a continuous process that changes, evolves dynamically, varies. So again, what infants learn and you can see peek-a-boo as the example is that, while as long as they can maintain that continuity, variability is where the action is, and they become motivated for novelty, even incongruity for new things, for variations.
Dr. Gutstein: They don’t want to repeat the same things. By 12 months, you try to repeat the same stuff you’ve been doing, they’re gonna lose interest like that. And they become themselves interested as agents and learning to master that situations with that type of variability. Especially in interpersonal situations and becoming more active agents in those things. And when we talk about the memories or the knowledge that develops, you can see that static knowledge and dynamic knowledge is gonna be extremely different in terms of what we gonna be keeping.
Kat Lee: Thanks for joining us. For ASD: A New Perspective, a podcast show where we help you understand the mind of your child, and we always encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee, see you next time.