Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Daddy's Girl

When Pamela was a baby, Steve bought a 1972 Triumph Spitfire and tried to restore it. We ended up selling it to my sister Pam and her husband Randy. Randy restored it, and we just bought it back from him. If you are short on time, watch the last minute: Steve hands Pamela the crackberry, and she pretends to make a phone call, while sitting in what we lovingly call the Papa Smurf Mobile.

Some people might find it odd for the parents of a twenty-year-old to be thrilled about a pretend phone call. This quote from Birth to Three Matters works for me, "We need to begin where the learner is in giving every child [or person] their right to play." Her faux phone call confirms that is a Stage 3 toddler thinker when it comes to play:
If he picks up a toy phone to make a phone call, you can pick up a toy phone or other object and do the same things. Or when your toddler picks up the toy phone, you can ask who he plans to call. As your toddler responds to your imitation and questions, continue following his lead.
If you would like to know another parent's perspective on RDI, click this clip to an online radio show.

Here are the two of them picking out dogfood for the gf/cf wonder dog:

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Two Major Milestones in One Week!

This week had two major milestones for Pamela: her twentieth birthday AND reaching Stage 3 of RDI. Stage 3 reflects the dynamic thinking of children between the ages of two and three years old. During this stage, we will be working toward short conversations about what things we did together and our different perceptions. Pamela will learn to take on the responsibility of sharing joint attention, finding out how other people feel, and trying different things for fun. She will be improving her ability to collaborate by working together better, checking our actions, reactions, and communication, and using language to smooth out coordination between us.

Right now, we are poking and probing the foundations for this objective. We are focusing on something very difficult for Pamela: constructing a coherent narrative about past events that include feeling and meaning. Like many people with autism, Pamela remembers incredible details about past events. The first twelve years of her latest autobiography filled one section (36 pages, both sides) of a five-subject notebook. She is starting to sprinkle it with feelings here and there. But, there is very little depth of feeling or meaning attached to the story of her life. Here is a typical entry:

RDI focuses on episodic memory and self-awareness as one of the five core deficits of autism: "the ability to reflect on past experiences and anticipate potential future scenarios in a productive manner. Developing an internal mental space to consider, reflect, preview, prepare, regulate, evaluate, hypothesize and dream." The hardest thing about encoding episodic memory is the emotion (the subjective) associated with the what, when, and how of the event (the objective). What is even harder for our kids is seeing the present as a continuation of the past while previewing the future!

Chat about the Future
One thing I love about how things have been flowing lately (and I give all the glory to GOD for this) and merging into one tapestry. All year long Pamela and I have been working on experience stories (a la the association method) to work on past, present, and future tense syntax. During the week, I preview future events by having her ask and/or answer questions about what might happen, either orally or in writing. Here is an example of Pamela and I talking about going to co-op the next day:

Chat about the Past
We also review past events by having her ask and/or answer questions about what happened, either orally or in writing. Up until now, my focus has been on syntax and language rather than a coherent narrative (remember, these are the baby steps required for a person with aphasia and autism). Here is an example of Pamela and I talking about what happened at co-op the previous day:

As my consultant explained to me the first lesson in our objective (guiding Pamela in recalling feelings and deriving personal meaning from her narratives of past events), I realized we have been laying the foundation for this all year long. Quickly, a plan for this fell into place. Borrowing from Charlotte Mason of tying something already learned with something new, I could cut up the typed narrative of a past event into sentence strips and show her to ask feeling questions (learned a few years back through the association method) about important facts. Then, I could tap into the idea of having a moral to the story a la Aesop and come up with a moral to her story.

I decided to pick an event that I thought worthy of spotlighting and encoding into an episodic memory. Every Wednesday, we always pick up lunch or dinner for Pamela at a drive-thru restaurants. Pamela usually chooses a different restaurant in advance, so we headed to McDonald's to order lunch last Wednesday. We drove up to the drive-thru and saw a long string of cars. My heart sank because I was already running late for a dental appointment and usually Pamela would rather wait or have a mini-meltdown because it was taking too long. I knew better than to suggest we try another restaurant at the last minute. Those of you with autistic children need no explanation! Pamela noticed the very long line too and very calmly said, "Changed my mind. I want Hardees." I thought it important to focus on how beautifully she handled a situation that would have been a crisis for her a few years ago. Here is what she typed for her past experience story:

Adding Feeling and Meaning
I cut up the story into strips and placed them in order. Then I wrote out "How did you feel about" and let her decide about which fact to ask a feeling question. She picked a fact and answered the question, while I recorded what she said in writing. We ended up selecting five facts for feeling questions, and Pamela blew me away with her ability to pinpoint accurate feelings for each situation.

Then, I explained to her how we were going to write a moral to this story and, after going back and forth we came up with this: "Changing your mind is great. You can think of something else." The follow video shows exactly how we worked on attaching feelings to facts and deriving personal meaning to picking up lunch from the drive-thru.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Birthday, Beanie-Baby Bash!

Tonight we celebrated Pamela's TWENTIETH birthday. Pamela requested Spike the Rhinoceros for Baby David and Early the Robin for Baby Alive. To make the celebration extra special, I put the thirty-seven Beanie Babies generously donated by the totally awesome grandmother of the Black Pearl Academy crew (apparently, these stuffed animals are landlubbers). I wrapped twenty-two presents: two for the babies and twenty for each birthday Pamela has had a birthday. To make it extra special, I wrote each calendar year in Roman numbers and included the two-letter abbreviation for the state in which we lived for that birthday year. Pamela LOVED it. We were curious to see if she would open the presents in order, which she did! What made the birthday extra special was her namesake Aunt Pam (whose husband is Randy).

Semi-Respectable GF/CF Cake

Birthday Girl

Daddy's Girl

Oma's Quilt for the Babies

The Gang

Fountain of Youth (No Kids, No Sun)

Southern Comfort

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Stopping and Smelling the Coffee . . .

When you are facing that marathon called autism, sometimes you need to stop and smell the coffee (I have a black thumb, so roses are out!). With all the depressing news out there, stories like the Thai fireman dressed in a Spiderman costume to rescue an autistic boy stuck in a balcony add a bounce to my step! BRILLIANT MAN! Or, what about an old story that never made front-page news: the nine-year-old boy in the U.K. whose mother passed out while driving 70 mph who managed to drive the car to safety? He even had enough wits to turn on the hazard lights. Way to go, Jonathan! This week, a just-released, follow-up study on children with the autism diagnosis in Utah twenty-years ago found that almost half have a good or better outcome ["good" defined as "a generally high level of independence at work and in daily life, requiring some extra support, and a friendship or some acquaintances"]. While they observed that "daily independence" (an area in which Pamela excels) trumps IQ when it comes to outcome, the researchers have no idea what made the difference. They need to do more research to identify what services and issues affected the social outcomes of adults diagnosed with autism. They plan to follow up the entire sample of 241 adults. We have been working very hard on helping Pamela with her anxiety, and it's a good thing! Sixty percent of the participants had anxiety and mood disorders. This article affirms that we are on the right track in working on dynamic thinking skills, which lead to greater daily independence and more fulfilling social relationships.

Sweet Moments
This week Pamela gave me some moments of joy that reveal what started to happen when we slowed down, worked on non-verbals, and spoke with declarative language a la RDI. Last Monday, she turned twenty, but we postponed her party until tonight when my sister arrives in town. That morning, I woke up before Pamela did--a rare event. When she sat next to me on the couch, I wished her happy birthday and kissed her on the hand. For the first time ever, she said, "Ew! I don't like kisses! Yuck!" Instead of feeling insulted, I was glad she expressed how she felt in an honest and clear way! That night, I held her hand and asked, "Are kisses on the hand still yucky?" She smiled and said, "No, kisses are beautiful!" So, I kissed her on the hand! Now, how sweet is that?

Later that afternoon, we were sitting on the rocking chairs working. Pamela lightly ran her finger on my arm in a way that made me feel jumpy. I said, "Ew! That feels weird." I looked at her and laughed, so she knew I was not upset. Then, Pamela grinned at me, said, "Bee!!!" and started to pretend to sting me. I played along with her and said in a high-pitched voice, "Ouch! I'm stung! That hurts!!!!"

Borrowing Perspective
Pamela has learned a great deal about social referencing in the past two years, something she did not do very well for the first eighteen years of her life. One RDI consultant described it in this way:
Neurotypical children are constantly borrowing their caregivers perspective to make sense of new things. They reference their caregivers to determine if a new toy, person or environment is safe or unsafe, etc. Neurotypical children make sense of the world around them through the use of this relationship.

Last night, Pamela joined David and I for our church's Wednesday night fellowship. I brought gf/cf fried rice for her and she sat with me and some friends. While we were eating, someone was announcing the quarterly birthday party for the residents of a independent-living home. The lady explained there will be cake and ice cream, but no presents. Typically, Pamela internalizes "no presents" immediately in light of her pending birthday party and overreacts with mild anxiety. Instead, her ears perked up, she looked at me, and asked, "What about presents?" Then, I explained to her, "The church is having a party for some adults. They are not getting presents. You are having your birthday party on Thursday and you WILL open presents." She said, "Good" and went back to her fried rice. By borrowing my perspective to interpret what the lady said, Pamela remained calm.

While the pastor said a short prayer to bless the food, Pamela dug into her dinner. I whispered, "Pamela," and then pointed to all of the people in the room. She realized they were praying and then I caught her attention, clasped my hands, and looked down. She clasped her hands in respect but could not resist looking around the room to watch people pray. I loved that she responded to my guiding her nonverbally and referenced what other people were doing.

After she finished eating, Pamela sat on the floor against the wall with her journal. She verbally stimmed quietly, but I did not want her to frustrate people with hearing aids. While the pastor said a rather long prayer for the people with prayer requests, missionaries, and other special needs, I quietly walked over to Pamela and sat down. This time, I did something different. I put my finger to my mouth and pointed to the other people in the room. She realized they were praying and again became quiet. She spent the rest of the time during our Bible study, filling out more pages in the nth version of her autobiography.

Coping with a MESSIER WORLD
Yesterday was a hectic day for us. We always pick up lunch or dinner for her at the drive-thru on Wednesdays. She usually chooses a different restaurant in advance, so this time, we headed to McDonald's. I was running late for a dentist appointment, and, when I saw the long string of cars, I silently worried about being REALLY late. Pamela noticed the line too and very calmly said, "Changed my mind. I want Hardees." Yippee!!!!!! No fuss, no tears, no drama!!!!!

This flexibility and resilience in the face of change has not happened in a vacuum. Lately, whenever something is different, Pamela tells us about it. Steve drove home with a loaner on Monday since his car is in the shop. We have three cars: red, black, and gray. Pamela saw the gray loaner, laughed and said, "Two gray cars! Different one." When she decides to do something different, like stay home while I shop, she announces, "Pamela stays home. Different one!" Sometimes, she walks into a room backwards and says, "I'm going backwards! Different!" With her eye for pattern, she has always noticed differences, but now she is able to embrace them, even when that means a sudden and unexpected change about something important to her.

While we are still working through her anxiety over Steve's schedule, she continues to have milder and shorter outbursts when Steve goes to work late (usually because he gets tied up in phone calls or urgent emails before he can slip out of the house). Last Tuesday, we went to co-op, arrived home at about 11:30, and spotted Steve in the driveway, starting to back out. I laughed and passed it off lightly like we caught him doing something naughty. "Look at Dad. He is so busted! He is late for work . . ." Pamela caught my silly spirit and giggled. Steve waved to her sheepishly as our cars passed each other. She smiled and waved back.

This morning, I was cleaning the "office" where Pamela was watching television. I was dusting behind the television stand and accidentally turned off the power strip. I immediately told her, "Uh, oh! I turned off the switch. I'm sorry! It's okay! I just turned it back on!" Pamela was cool as can be. She turned on the television and cable box. Even when she saw the "No video input" alert flashing on the television, she looked down at the cable box and said, "Booting up!" It took a good ten minutes for the cable to reboot and Pamela spent that time calmly writing in her journal! Again, no fuss, no tears, no drama!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Grapes of Math

Last September, a fellow blogger turned me onto Greg Tang books for dynamic thinking about math, and I blogged an update on our progress in November. So far, we have slowly worked our way through the following books: Best of Times, Math Appeal, and Math for All Seasons. We are looking forward to working through the five books we have not read yet.

Right now, we are starting Grapes Of Math and I thought it high-time to share what we are doing with these deceptively simple, elementary-school-level books. Basically, you read the poem and use the clue to count items in a picture. In this counting exercise, the clue is "Never fear, I have a hunch there is a match for every bunch." When you match a bunch of seven purple grapes with three green grapes, you get ten. Five matches of ten grapes yields the answer ten.

Even though Pamela is near the end of sixth grade math, these books are valuable because she is learning to group and count items in unique ways that make them easier to count. They guide you to count dynamically! Rather than get wrapped up in the poem in a static way, we adopt various strategies for counting the items. Pamela and I take turns showing each other a new way to count. We usually do three patterns each. Today, two interesting things happened. Pamela made a mistake in mentally adding and ended up with the wrong answer: 52. Rather than telling her she was wrong, I counted and got the right answer: 50. Then, we observed our answers were different and kept trying various counting strategies. From that point on our answers were always the same: 50. Pamela surprised me in her last strategy: she counted them individually and silently! The video clip shows a typical session with the book.

Best of Times gave us a fresh look at multiplication tables. There was nothing new about x 0, x 1, and x 10, but the way the author explored other numbers was original for this old dog (you know, ME). These unique ways of multiplying captured Pamela's imagination, and I plan to apply them when we are doing mental math while we shop at our favorite grocery stores!

x 2 - Double the number by adding it to itself:
37 x 2 = 37 + 37 = 74

x 3 - Triple the number by doubling it first and adding the double to itself:
45 x 3 = (45 + 45) + 45 = 90 + 45 = 135

x 4 - Double the double of the number (and I bet you can guess times eight now):
42 x 4 = (42 + 42) + (42 + 42) = 84 + 84 = 168

x 5 - Find x 10 and cut in half:
57 x 5 = (57 x 10) / 2 = 570 / 2 = 285

Here's a dynamic newsflash, not in the book: add the double to the triple:
57 x 5 = (57 + 57) + [(57 + 57) + 57]
= 114 + (114 + 57) = 114 + 171 = 285

Aside, not in the book: why not double the double and add it to itself?
57 x 5 = (57 + 57) + (57 + 57) + 57
= (114 + 114) + 57 = 228 + 57 = 285

x 6 - Triple the double (or vice versa):
28 x 6 = [(28 + 28) + (28 + 28)] + (28 + 28)
= (56 + 56) + 56 = 112 + 56 = 168

How about try x 5 and add that to itself:
28 x 6 = [(28 x 10) / 2] + 28
= (280 / 2 ) + 28 = 140 + 28 = 168

x 7 - Add x 5 and x 2 (or figure out your own variation):
82 x 7 = [(82 x 10) / 2] + (82 + 82)
= (820 / 2) + 164 = 410 + 164 = 574

x 8 - Double the double of double of the number:
65 x 8 = [(65 + 65) + (65 + 65)] + [(65 + 65) + (65 + 65)]
= (130 + 130) + (130 + 130) = 260 + 260 = 520

x 9 - Figure out x 10 and subtract the number:
19 x 9 = 19 x 10 - 19 = 190 - 19 = 171

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Working on Language through Dynamic Thinking

Yesterday, I covered some minutia about our language program. In light of recent conversations about verbal behavior and manding (about which I know very little) at Autism Remediation, I thought it might help to elaborate a bit. RDI focuses on dynamic intelligence (abilities required to succeed in managing ever-changing environments, i.e., the real world). We follow a model of interaction called guided participation, a term coined by Barbara Rogoff in her book Apprenticeship in Thinking. To guide Pamela in speaking more elaborately, I seek suitable opportunities and wing it. To keep the process dynamic, I do not always frame the same situations. Today, I did not frame laundry, shopping, and driving directions. This sample of interactions is how we worked in the moment:
  • Pamela had finished eating a snack while watching television. She said, "Take the bowl." I looked around confused, and she added, "The dirty bowl."
  • We picked up lunch for Pamela and I made a comment about the apple fries. She said, "Ew! The old fries." I knew she meant fries made from potatoes, so I added, "Oh, you like potato fries! I bet those apple fries are good, too."
  • Pamela first told me she wanted to do schoolwork "in the office." I looked at her incredulously and asked, "Do you mean Dad's office in Charletson?" She smiled and playfully said, "No, the office in the house."
  • Later, she wanted to work "outside." I looked walked to the living room which is outside of the office and asked, "The living room is outside of the office." She shook her head and said, "No, in the rocking chairs." I replied, "But, I don't know which porch?" She added, "On the back porch."
  • We sat on the rocking chairs and Pamela said, "I want math." I picked up her language arts notebook, and she said, "No, the math book." Then, I grabbed Grapes Of Math, which we use for thinking dynamically about counting, even though I knew she meant her math workbook. She laughed and said, "No, the red math book!"
I am avoiding teaching language in a static, deadly dull, drilled fashion because I want to give Pamela the opportunity to think. When I say or do the wrong things, Pamela has many options: repeat what she said mindlessly, laugh and call me names, grow frustrated and lash out, cry and run to her room, or say something more specific. Because I am communicating through many channels (facial expression, gestures, voice inflection, words), she is learning to pay attention to the entire package of expression. She has to appraise the entire situation and think about an appropriate way to respond. We enter a state of mutual contingency: what she does depends upon my action, and what I do depends on her move.

The neat thing is that Pamela communications in more thoughtful ways. I would like to close with some examples of experience sharing that are guaranteed to make you smile:
  • Pamela was watching King of the Hill (her brother's favorite show) and she said completely out of the blue and totally unprompted, "I love 'King of the Hill.'" I asked, "Why?" She replied, "Because it's funny!"
  • Steve wanted to use his laptop but Pamela was having difficulty relinquishing it. She was saying, "Please stand by," very loudly and obnoxiously in a high-pitched, whiny voice. I said to her, "Pamela, that was awfully loud." Then, I heard her whisper, "Please stand by."
  • Pamela told us she was going to bed, so I puckered up and made a kissing sound. She came over and kissed me on the cheek. Then, Steve said, "Good night!" and made a kissing noise, too. She gave him a kiss on the cheek. As she walked away, Steve whistled to recapture her attention, made a kissing noise, and pointed to Pamela's younger brother. She walked over and David, who is at that goofy teen stage in life, shook her hand. Pamela leaned over and kissed him on the head. He may be over six feet tall, but he is still her baby brother!
  • She is still learning to overcome her anxiety over Steve's predictable work schedule. When we got into the car to head to church at 5:45, Pamela remarked, "Dad's work is too long." I agreed and talked about how every day is different.
  • On our way home, I decided to spotlight Steve's schedule again. We were a block from the house, I said, "I don't know if Dad is home. He didn't tell me what time he was coming home." Then, Pamela said, "Just like Definitely, Maybe." I exclaimed, "You're right. Dad is definitely coming home. He maybe home right now or he may come home later!"
  • As we drove up to the house, I heightened her anticipation by slowing the car down and speaking dramatically, "I wonder if Dad's home!" When we could finally see the driveway, Pamela laughed and I said, "Oh, no!!!!! The red car is gone." Suddenly, I noticed the car behind me also turned into our driveway and it was Steve. Then, I quickly said, "Wait! I see some lights! It's Dad!" Pamela giggled with delight and was so excited, she bolted out of the car as soon as it stopped and ran for joy!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Some Minutia about Our Language Program

We are wrapping up our current objective in which Pamela takes responsibility for keeping me on track with joint attention. I found the coolest graphic illustrating the kind of joint attention Pamela learned: like the person with no hat, she is gazing at me (the purple-hat person) to make sure I am looking in the right direction.

We focused on Pamela using more elaborate language to redirect my attention. While she writes or types in complete sentences when narrating books, real-time interactions flow so quickly that Pamela either relies on vague language ("Over there" or "Wrong way") or nonverbals. RDI emphasizes nonverbal communication in early stages because nearly all autistic children missed the opportunity to learn it early in their development (or lost that ability). Teaching a child to talk without learning to read facial expressions and body language leads to awkward interactions. They end up ensnaring people in long monologues about their favorite topics without knowing whether they are enchanting their communication partner or boring them to tears. An autism remediation post listed you-tube clips breaking down nonverbals: introduction, body (emblems, illustrators, affect displays, regulators, adaptors), face, eyes, touch (positive touch, controlling touch, playful touch, ritualistic touch, task-related touch, touch avoidance), space (territoriality), artifacts (space decoration, appearances, clothing, color, adornment, scent), and silence.

Pamela has both autism and a severe language disorder. We never had her formally diagnosed but two SLPs who know Pamela very well (my husband Steve's sister and our RDI consultant) agree that Pamela has some form of aphasia. Five years ago, Pamela's challenges with language fit the description of syntactic aphasia perfectly (I put other definitions at the end of the post),
Difficulties in using words in the correct order and/or forms for effective communication. Certain classes of words such as prepositions, conjunctions and articles may be omitted. Example, "Car man hit" for "the man hit the car." (Teaching Language Deficient Children)
RDI is not necessarily doing special activities beyond your normal day. I have been hanging laundry since last fall because our clothes smell fresher perfumed by the great outdoors and it is easier on the pocketbook. One key to framing an activity with an objective mind is how you assign roles. All week long, Pamela has been the talker and I have been the doer, as she directs my attention to line up with hers. I find these activities work for teens and are not at all babyish, even though the objective reflects the development of a two-year-old child:
  • Laundry (hanging, pull off the rack, folding, putting away)
  • Car navigator (telling me directions)
  • Shopping (making a list, getting items, putting away)
  • Cooking (getting out recipe, following recipe, cleaning up)

In the clip, I try to give Pamela many opportunities to speak specifically about where to hang the laundry in several locations (the rack, bricks, railing, and rocking chairs). We focus on prepositions and nouns in this activity. I throw in lots of variations, which does not frustrate Pamela. What we did here worked on many kinds of words and phrases dynamically and contigently without static repetitions or rote memory.

Other Forms of Aphasia
Nominal aphasia - The inability to know the appropriate names of things or to find categorical terms. For example: 1) "We went to that place (library) to check out books." 2) "Please do the door" for "open" or "close the door."

Semantic aphasia - Difficulty with word meanings. Example pen for pencil.

Pragmatic aphasia - Syntax and semantic ability may be present, but they may be used inappropriately. Example: "Your birthday is Mary 1, 1921" repeated frequently and inappropriately in time and place. Neologism are substituted for meaningful words. Example: "That man is clipping the krepies."

Expressive aphasia/Expressive language disorder - The individual is limited in the ability to express ideas through spoken words or written symbols.

Receptive aphasia/Receptive language disorder - The individual has difficulty comprehending language through spoken or written symbols.

Expressive-receptive aphasia - Difficulties with both types of language skills, comprehending and expressing ideas.

Global aphasia - All language forms are seriously affected to the degree that it is impossible to use one of the preceding categories. There may be an automatic expression or two which may not be meaningful. Example: "The puthee the puthigh" as a response to any comment or question.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


In last Friday's post about fruit smoothies (recipe included), you might have thought it odd that my mother was following us around taking pictures. We had a reason. A week or so ago, a reporter from our countywide paper, who had been reading my blog, asked if she could do a human interest story about us. We live in the county seat across the street from the owner of the newspaper and are Facebook pals with some of the staff. The article appeared in today's paper ("Glasers Bring Quality of Life to Autistic Daughter") and I think Cathy Gilbert did a phenomenal job capturing the essence of RDI and how it has improved our quality of life while giving information to families in the area with autistic children.

I think autism awareness is pretty high in our county for we have an early childhood development center which had over twenty Applied Behavior Analysis therapists the last time I checked. In case anyone familiar with ABA views my blog, I am going to cover the biggest difference I see between ABA and RDI in a way that makes sense to people well-versed in ABA (which I am not). If you are unfamiliar with ABA, here's a crash course!

The basic working principle of ABA requires that the adult provides a stimulus (usually a verbal command) and provides a reinforcement (praise, toy, or piece of candy) immediately after the child makes the targeted response. Since eye contact is such a big issue for children with autism, a classic discrete trial training (DTT) session would include multiple rounds of the following interaction pattern:

Adult: "Look at me" (while holding a piece of candy at her eye).
Child: Looks at the candy and glances at the adult's eye.
Adult: "Excellent looking" and gives the child the candy immediately.

When we first started doing RDI two years ago, we worked on something broader than eye contact: Pamela discovering that she can read our facial expressions and gestures to know more about what is going on around her. I changed the way I interacted with her: (1) declarative language as opposed to imperative language, (2) making my words important by slowing down and speaking fewer words ala the "My Words are Important" and "Unexpected Sounds and Actions" exercises from the manual, and (3) trying some lifestyle activities in which I nearly cut out words and exaggerate my facial expressions as depicted in videos of RDI families you can find online. (Newsflash: The new RDI book is out and it incorporates the emphasis on lifestyle not found in the lab manual, which is no longer needed.) I framed these changes in my communication style in a wide variety of activities like baking brownies, storing salad fixings in the refrigerator, getting out her shampoo and stowing it, etc. I was so excited about Pamela's immediate change in paying attention to my face (you can see the awesome before and after video here), that I shifted to a face-reading card game that Pamela found hilarious because of all the weird contortions my face made and a complete overhaul of how I guided Pamela in our interactions.

A fellow homeschooler and RDI friend compared the interaction style to checkers. The adult and child take turns (reciprocal actions), each one basing their move on what the other person does (contingent responses). Today, we hung laundry: Pamela's role was telling me where to put the laundry and my role was to act predictably sometimes and unpredictably at other times. We worked on applying her speaking vocabulary (a struggle since she has aphasia too) real time: rack, railing, rocking chair, bricks, and multiple prepositions and positional words. Sometimes, I counted the socks with the wrong numbers and she corrected me so that we would have a shared understanding of counting systems. Sometimes, I would do something weird like put a shirt on my head or throw it at her. I would often act confused and look at her for help. We worked on using very specific language for where I ought to hang each item.

In the last round of our interaction, I held six socks and looked at Pamela for suggestions. She could clearly see the front of the rack (on the left) while I was looking at the back of the rack (on the right), which still had two empty rods. She told me, "In the back." So, I asked, "The top, middle, or bottom?" She told me, "The bottom." So, I said, "But the bottom is full." I expected her to tell me to hang them on the top or the middle. But, she surprised me with, "On the bricks." Since I often run out of room on the rack and hang clothes on the railing, rocking chairs, and brick, I agreed with her suggestion and laid the rest of the socks out on the bricks.

The following two videos show a dramatic difference between how responsive Pamela is to my nonverbal interactions. I recorded the first clip of us baking a cake when we first started rdi. The second clip of us making noodles was ten months later.

Compressed into one long soundbite, in ABA, the adult gives the child a very specific, discrete stimulus and expects a very specific, discrete response, setting up a scripted, predictable, patterned interaction. RDI has the exact opposite situation occurring: the adult gives the child a very broad, multiple channel stimulus and responds to a very broad, multiple channel action, setting up an unique, unpredictable dance.

In short, ABA focuses on a static system, while RDI focuses on a dynamic system.

Wordless Wednesday: Brownie Points for Whoever Can Identify the First Bird!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Fruit Smoothie

Yesterday, Pamela and I made fruit smoothies, gluten-free casein-free that the whole family enjoyed! Besides making and slurping down a yummy treat, we worked on joint attention (both of us looking at the same thing at the same time). To help her become more competent in sharing her perspective, Pamela must monitor how well her partner is paying attention and then use more elaborate language to redirect her partner.

First, we looked through a recipe book with kid's snacks. Pamela thoughtfully picked fruit smoothies after discarding recipes with forbidden ingredients. Yesterday, this activity did not go well because too many distractions diverted Pamela's interest, so I eased into my role of acting like a ditz. While some autism therapies focus on rapid response, RDI focuses on letting a person with autism process, appraise, and think of a reaction. At one point, I waited for forty seconds while she was thinking through something. We checked our supplies and made a shopping list. I talked more and acted obviously clueless for this clip.

We headed to the Pig (Piggly Wiggly, all you Greenbax lovers) to pick up fresh fruit and other essentials. You may notice that the photos in today's blog are crisper and framed well. My mother, who majored in photography in college, was kind enough to take pictures! I loved the shot of us at the meat counter because it captured the critical moment beautifully. Pamela is pointing to the direction where she wants me to head and I am pointing and looking in that direction. However, she is looking at me to make sure I am looking in the right place. That is what we call a critical moment in RDI and my goal is to create think space around that moment.

After we got home, Pamela and I made the fruit smoothie. I was much quieter in my inattention and basically looked the wrong way. She noticed when I did not pay attention and redirected me both nonverbally and verbally.

Pamela started her first conversation about Blu-ray DVD's with me. This could very well become a static conversation (it has that feel). Since the topic was completely new, I stayed engaged with it. I suspect I will end up having to find creative ways to stay off the Blu-ray express down the road.

My favorite moment was when the yogurt hit me in the neck. Pamela figured out what I meant when I pointed to my neck and said, "Pamela, I got been shot!" She appraised the situation and took appropriate action. However, it did not have the feel of experience sharing because it was more like Monk reacting to something out of place. She giggled, but it sounded strained to me. I probably should have slowed down and put think space around that funny moment. My mind was on the objective!

When we actually turned on the blender, Pamela became a tad hyper-focused with the grinding noise or the spinning of the smoothie. I tried to do subtle things to see how long it would take for her to realize the smoothie was finished and take action. We had a nice smell test and taste test to preview for our lesson on comparing perspectives down the road. We also transitioned to me serving her French fries and a burger.

Oh, the recipe:

1 8 oz container of vanilla soy yogurt
2 tangerines
2 1/2 cups strawberries
1 banana

Put the banana, strawberries, and yogurt in a blender. Squeeze the juice out of the tangerines and add enough water to make 1/2 cup of juice. Pour the juice in the blender. Run the blender until it looks like a smoothie! Yum!