Friday 30 September 2011

The 'why bother' and 'the grip' part deux

To recap from my previous discussion of supporting children with autism to develop joint attention…here is where I got to:
I was wondering what was it about the pictures that motivated the child to share his experience and seek Mum’s perspective so much more than when they were doing a puzzle, playing ball or building a house.  And how could we facilitate the ‘why bother’ and ‘the grip’ of interpersonal engagement that sets the scene for the development of social communication, social understanding and flexible thinking?
This is just my take on what’s going on here and I would love it if people came back with observations and comments.  I know there are plenty of folk out there who know lots more about this than me.  Here is my twopenneth…….
To me, interesting pictures naturally lend themselves to experience-sharing.  Let’s have a look at some examples of the type of picture that is being shared:

The pictures provoke an immediate emotional reaction in whoever is looking at them – they are strange, funny, or in the case of the dolphins in the wave, quite amazing.  I think you’ll agree that seeing something strange, funny or amazing just isn’t as strange, funny or amazing as when it’s shared with someone else.  We are hard-wired for interpersonal engagement….to share experience.
Playing with a ball, building a cardboard house or doing a jigsaw puzzle (see previous post) do not lend themselves to experience-sharing in the same way.  In tapping into experience-sharing, we are tapping into ‘the grip’ and the ‘why bother’ of social interaction…..we are establishing an emotional connection.
I recently did some work with B, an 11 year old boy whose family I am working with as part of my RDI training.  My aim in this session with B was to find out what his capacity for co-regulation and joint attention was.  Parents have generously given permission for me to share this footage.  I am very grateful to them for allowing me to share it publically, because it is a great demonstration of what needs to be in place to help children with autism get ‘the grip’ (or get a firmer grip).
You will see that the quality of our interaction is quite different in each of the clips.  Both times I was putting my ‘guiding tools’ into practice: slowing the pace down; using pauses to support referencing; using declarative language and non-verbal communication to support experience-sharing, but in the second clip (Pop up Pirate) there is much more joint attention and experience-sharing going on than there is in the first clip (Jenga).  In the first clip, B is very much absorbed in building his own tower – he has lost interest/has difficulty sustaining interest in our joint activity.
This is similar to the difference we saw during our RDI Advanced Seminar training (discussed in previous post), when we tested our hypothesis about how best to promote joint attention.
Here is Jenga

Here is Pop up Pirate

In ‘Pirate’, the popping up of the pirate provides a very clear event around which to share experience (emotions relating to amusement, shock, excitement).  In ‘Jenga’, there isn’t an event of the same magnitude around which to share emotion.
Also, in ‘Pirate’, there is much more opportunity for me to build anticipation around when the Pirate is going to pop up - my ‘oooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’, facial expression, gesture, use of body position.  This building of anticipation then naturally sets the scene for more of an emotionally amplified reaction to the event of the pirate popping up.
During our Advanced RDI Training, we trainees had hypothesised that using an activity that involved an event would enable anticipation to be built with the child, which would naturally set the scene for emotion sharing around the reaction to the event.
This was skilfully put into practice by Jessica, our RDI trainer who set up the activity with lots of opportunities for building anticipation.  The ‘event’ in our activity was the launching of a stomp rocket.
When the child, C, entered the room, Jess took him into one corner.  In the other corner, the stomp rocket was hidden under a basket, and the basket was covered with a scarf.  So the stomp rocket is already covered up with two additional opportunities for discovery (and emotion-sharing), which help to build the anticipation.  In the opposite corner, Jess and C took turns in rolling a big dice which governed how many steps they were each allowed to take towards the mystery in the corner.  The turn-taking and dice rolling were also excellent opportunities for referencing and co-regulation.
When C found the rocket, there was emotion-sharing around his discovery and around the joint anticipation of launching the rocket, which happened quite quickly after the initial discovery.  A lovely sequence then followed where the pair were making up new ways to launch and catch the rocket, with lots of joint attention: initiation as well as response to joint attention from C.
In particular, I remember when C placed the rocket on Jess’ head – she immediately saw this as an opportunity to support joint attention and emotion-sharing and went with C's suggestion of trying to launch it from her head.  Jess supported C to do this in a co-regulated way……he held the rocket launcher on Jess’ head and Jess squeezed the launcher (each having an authentic role to achieve a joint goal).  This naturally occurring spontaneous elaboration on a theme presented one of the best joint attention and emotion-sharing episodes of the interaction.  I think this was because it was C’s elaboration, he was invested in their joint activity and therefore motivated to seek Jess’ emotional reaction to the event that they had created together.  Here we see internal motivation being the driving force for the interaction (the grip), rather than an external motivator (such as a reward of sweets for completing a task).
I think this also shows the difference between following the child's lead (child in control, child on own agenda) and supporting the child to introduce elaborations and variations on a theme, within a clear framework whilst working towards a joint goal (adult guide is in control, joint agenda).
Just like me and B with Pop up Pirate, here we are learning how to facilitate the ‘why bother’ and ‘the grip’ of social interaction for children with autism.

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