One element of RDI is building episodic memory. Autistic children often excel at procedural memory (memorizing facts, learning verbal scripts, standard responses and phrasing, etc.). Procedural memory focuses on the predictable: factual details, procedures, scripts, and formulas. Episodic memory (recalling a vacation, describing a visit, sharing a funny story that happened at the store, etc.) focuses on the intangible: big picture, meaningful details, and narrative nature of what happened. Since we are in election fever right now, think of politician reading off the teleprompter and what happens when the teleprompter breaks. Some politicians hem and haw and fumble or even come to a screeching stop. The same thing happens when something unexpected throws off our children. Others politicians with the gift of gab fly by the seat of their pants, share the gist and emotion of the canned script, and throw in a couple of ad-libs and touching moments.
Tropical storms and hurricanes are a fact of life when you live in the Carolinas (like my family) or Louisiana (like Steve's family). We do not live in an area prone to flooding. The last devastating hurricane that tore this part of South Carolina was Hugo. I decided it might be a good idea to build memories on how to prepare for the severe weather we have the potential to face this time of the year.
On Friday, I checked out the weather forecast and, except for the tornado watch, I knew Hanna would be a pussycat in our county (the highest winds predicted were 22 mph). Why not show Pamela how we stow FOD--Foreign Object Damage--Navy for stuff that can blow away in strong wind--in preparation for tropical storm winds? Not only can she help us prepare, but she can store memories of a positive outcome so that she will stay calm for a major storm that heads our way.
What may interest you in this clip is how I handled Pamela's frustration once we transitioned to the front porch. There was too much uncertainty for her and, just as we discovered recently, Pamela used her meltdown alert cue "I don't think it's a good idea." You see, my consultant thought she scripted a lot on the "good idea" phrasing too much. I spent a day analyzing Pamela's phrasing when something goes wrong and she uses a wide variety of sentences, except when her anxiety levels begin to rise. When I hear her say the "good idea" line, then I know she is getting overwhelmed. So, I made a point to try to reassure her because I now recognize her automatic response when heading into fight or flight mode.
Here is the analysis of what happened that I sent to my consultant with the video clip:
Pamela is the teller using imperative gestures. The activity is putting things away that might get wet or blown away in a tropical storm.
Pamela is comfortable thinking through a new process, figuring out the right signs, and adding words when necessary. She notices when I am unsure and gives me more direction. Switching to directing David threw her off her game, but she recovered when we switched back to me.
Pamela knows what needs to be put away in a situation we have never practiced. She figures out what to put away, where things should go, and when my arms are too full. She conveys instructions on what to pick up nonverbally--she has signals for "pick up," "pull," "open," and "close." She points me in the right direction and combines hand signals with head nods and shakes. When she used words only, I tried to do the wrong thing so she could come up with signs for me.
What did not work:
Pamela does not like getting wet and her anxiety increased when we felt sprinkles. I did not help matters because I felt rushed (David and I had more to put away that was beyond the scope of what I needed Pamela to do). I think she was unsure about the front porch which increased her anxiety. She understood we needed to move the ferns, but my lack of stature and the need to throw David into the equation frustrated her. He was not as responsive as I was. While she was at ease in the backyard, the transition to the front and all of the uncertainties rattled her enough to fall back into her "I don't think this is a very good idea" cue. The good thing is that, after we switched roles from David to me, Pamela got right back on track in directing me calmly and finished on a positive note. I always try to finish on a positive note.
Questions and comments:
How frustrating was this for her on a 1-10 scale? The back porch was a three, and the front porch was about an eight.
The neat thing is what happened the morning after Hanna whimpered. Pamela noticed the overcast skies and gentle rain and said to me, "Tropical storm freeze. Soft rain. No strong wind." (She uses the word "freeze" for "stop.") Pamela used declarative language to tell me what she observed. Then, I said to her, "I bet you are glad the storm wasn't bad." She agreed. Now she has a memory of a positive outcome from disaster preparedness upon which we can build.