Lately I have been pondering the importance of working on dynamic communication to enable Pamela to live a fuller life than we had previously imagined. Working on nonverbal communication takes time, but lately we have seen some wonderful things!
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away (1996 at an autism conference in Westchester, New York), I heard Dr. Eric Courchesne explain his MRI research on the cerebellum, which tends to be over-developed in individuals with autism. He believed that the regions affected were responsible for shifting attention in a timely manner. Most people take less than a second or two to turn their attention one stimulus to another. He found that, even when prompted to redirect their attention, some autistic children remained fixed while others took three to five seconds or longer to make the shift. Imagine the repercussions of that when starting a converstion with a child playing with a toy, or worse a three-way conversation. You know how frustrating it is to go in and out of range of your cell phone!
Like most people, I assumed that shifting attention was a lost cause, and our only hope was compensation. When we first added remediating Pamela's weaknesses to our long-implemented vision of building upon her strengths, I was skeptical. Now, I am convinced that remediation is a sound strategy and here is my evidence for those who cannot make a decision without hard evidence. We filmed this clip in March 2007, decorating Pamela's birthday cake. The most striking thing about it is how little Pamela shifts her attention to me.
For the past three weeks, we have been working on Pamela's ability to summarize to give a gestalt, or big picture sentence (another blog to follow on that whole process). Pamela stunned us with how well she rapidly shifts attention in a variety of interaction patterns, and I have no doubt how far she has come in the past two years!
Hint: if you have aging eyes, you might want to zoom to 200%. I think I shaved off the little vision acuity I have trying to study the raw footage! Here are the patterns I observed:
* Shifts from her picture to my drawing (and vice versa)
* Shifts from her picture to my face (and vice versa)
* Right shift to think (what five year olds do when concentrating)
* Tracks paper down
* Goes from relaxing to looking at my drawing
* Looks at my drawing and shifts to me when I speak, five times in a row (watch for the slight head movement as a tip off)
I gleaned through all of the drawing exercises we did and found more gems, such as Pamela's gestures (receptive and expressive).
She is also making stride in prosody (voice inflection and tone)!