Friday, October 08, 2010

Alone or Together

You know you're a geek when your church asks you to be on a committee to build their first website and your RDI consultant calls you a technical genius. Really, I'm just a neophyte with a couple of slick moves. About two months ago, I was feeling really incompetent with my aging laptop. Things just wouldn't go as smoothly as they usually did and I couldn't figure out why. When I finally found one fix, another thing would go kaboom on me! One thing after another suddenly stopped working and, while Dell did a great job of making all the hardware repairs, the software gremlins were bogging me down.

Between technical glitches on the old laptop, adjusting to a Mac (generously given as an early Christmas present by my loving husband), and kicking off the school year, we took a little break from filmed RDI. We continued to live the lifestyle, but I completely lacked the time to film, edit, and upload with all the beginning of the school year stuff. Now that I can breathe, we are getting back recording and sharing with our consultant.

Pamela and I are working on joint attention, or "communication that directs another person’s attention toward an object or event of interest" (Linda Murphy). Lately, we have been filming Pamela's answers to catechism questions to present to the elders when she is ready for communion. We attend a loving church with elders who would probably see very little problem with Pamela taking communion right now. I know that she understands many things about God and I don't want to sell her short by not letting her try to learn some of the shorter catechism for children. We were talking about how bodies die and, when I said soul, Pamela responded by raising her arms up to say heaven in sign language. She is showing joint attention by listening to my words and trying to direct my attention to heaven. I wasn't looking, so we had a slight breakdown in communication.

In our RDI program, we are working the idea of together and alone:
  • Being alone and doing our own things privately.
  • Being together and doing the same thing together.
  • Being together and doing related tasks together.
  • Being together and working together, but one person does their own thing.
  • Being together and working together, but one person is multi-tasking.
  • Being together, but our minds alone.

Why is this important? Let me give you some examples!

Everyone needs down time, whether we are autistic or typical. Pamela already knows that her alone time means she is free to do her own thing (within reason). The other day we went shopping for clothes and shoes for Pamela. She shared joint attention with me beautifully until we stood in line to pay for our shoes. She was tired and recognized an appropriate moment for being alone. She walked over to some chairs and sat down.

When we are working on a task, Pamela understands that we are together whether we are doing the same thing or different, but related things. We are together when we are deciding if a pair of pants fit. We are even together when I am hanging one shirt while she is trying on another. Sometimes, it might look like one person is pulling away to be alone when we are really working together. After Pamela tried on shoes, she walked off to see how they felt. We were still very much together. It would have been quite the opposite had she strolled off to the DVD section.

Sometimes, it is okay to leave a person alone in the middle of a task. For example, when I know that Pamela working on tasks she finds easy (like drawing horizontal lines or crosshatches in math), I find something else to do: dig a hole in Mt. Laundry or "download the dishwasher" (as my sleepy husband put it). The other day when Steve called me on the phone in the middle of a math lesson, Pamela walked off after she finished her work. Smart girl! It took about four years of homeschooling for Pamela to learn how to do a task within her ability independently. She usually does not leave me in the lurch in the middle of a task, which young apprentices need to learn.

As we are probing more deeply into her understanding, we are learning more about how Pamela thinks. Pamela easily distinguishes between being together and alone for concrete, hands-on tasks. Abstract, mental tasks are harder to perceive since you cannot see what is happening in another person's brain. The two pictures below illustrate the difference. In the first, Pamela got the giggles after indulging in a mental stim and you can see the difference in our body orientation: one person is mentally checked out. In the second, we were both laughing at an inside joke of having do "Take Two" of recording work on this objective after power suddenly went out and the computer lost everything. Our face-to-face gaze shows that we are ready to share joint attention.

Pamela understands how aloneness looks physically. Now, we are going to explore it mentally by focusing on verbal self-stimulation. While there is a time and place for verbal stims (to cheer Pamela up when she is upset or to help her make a connection by using characters from her favorite cartoon The Simpsons as a bridge to similar ones in a book), they tend to isolate people in the autism spectrum. Whenever we are working on a task together and Pamela starts verbally stimming, I stop the action and spotlight what she is thinking about versus what I am thinking about to help her see that we have gone from being together to being alone.

Another way we are exploring together is the idea of multi-tasking. I had not intended to mention such a sophisticated idea, but real life forced it on us when Steve called during a math lesson. While he was talking and I was half-listening (I'm being honest here), I was communicating nonverbally with Pamela through my head movement and hand gestures. She correctly saw it as being alone and did not see it as being together, even if only half-together. This is a rabbit trail I do not intend to visit, but it's worth meandering a step or two whenever an opportunity presents itself. In fact, some think multi-tasking is downright delusional.

The following video is like looking at a mirror in the mirror. Pamela and I are watching a video of Pamela and I doing math and drawing a plan of our television room (for geography). In the first half, we talk about whether we are alone or together while I'm on the phone with Steve. In the second half, we talk about Pamela's stim about Julius Caesar, which, of course, creates massive gigglefests.

"Alone we can do so little;

together we can do so much."

Helen Keller

P.S. The new RDI book is on sale: The RDI Book: Forging New Pathways for Autism, Aspergers and PDD with the Relationship Development Intervention Program or the bright yellow one with the tree and family in silhouette. Even with the steep shipping (which you can spread out by ordering with a group of skin friends), it is still a good deal!


Prince Andrew and the Queen Mum said...
tag.. you're it

Phyllis said...

Very interesting concept you are working on. I believe that many people have some difficulty in this department. You find the new RDI book that much better?