The overemphasis of compliance in teaching autistic children spotlights the challenge of putting authority and docility in its proper place. This post should resonate with any person raising or teaching children because an exuberant effort to teach the habit of obedience diminishes the habit of thinking. Mi amiga Di Maitland, a mindful mom who lives in South Africa, recently blogged an enlightening test of how well a child consciously reflects during the day. This clip from a webinar by Dr. Stephen Gutstein defines operating on a conscious level as stopping to analyze a situation when something unexpected happens. What are the parts and how do they fit together into a whole? What is the same and what is different? How does the situation relate, or not relate, to other situations?
For two days, Di decided to hang out and observe her son. She deliberately avoided making any demands upon her preverbal autistic teen. She watched him carefully to see if he was operating on a conscious level. She found that most of the time he followed through his typical routines and rituals with very little variation. Another mindful professional, Dr. James MacDonald , author of Communicating Partners, calls this a "lazy mode of operating" as mi amiga Penny in Tennessee blogged. MacDonald observed,
Out of rational fear, many of us tell the child (usually non-verbally) I WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU NO MATTER WHAT. And it can be just that unnecessary "taking care" that keeps the child in a learned helplessness, or as I prefer, a LAZY mode of operating.So, how does conscious reflecting look? A few weeks ago Steve was getting ready to leave Kansas and come to Carolina for a visit. That morning I slept in because I was able to make it through the night without waking from a coughing fit. Kansas got socked with snowy weather, so Steve skyped the following message to me: "There is a blizzard out there this morning." After I woke up and before I got on the computer, Pamela said to me, "Dad's not coming. There's too much snow."
Think of your job now as catching yourself when you are about to do for your child when he needs to do for himself...
This is operating on a conscious level for several reasons: (1) Pamela inferred something and did not simple repeat exactly what Steve wrote, (2) she knew I had not seen his message yet, and (3) she decided to tell me because she knew I did not know.
Awareness is the beginning of consciously reflecting. Acting as a result of that awareness is another.
What do authority and docility have to do with consciously reflecting? Because of behaviorism and enlightenment thinking, we in authority have overstepped our bounds by telling children what to do and what to think far more often than we ought. Even though docility is willingness to be taught, we see unthinking obedience as the hallmark of docility. Mason put the habit of obedience and the habit of thinking in their proper spheres through an indirect method. She recommended governing children ("Do as you're bid") without them being aware of their governance ("Go as you please"). But, how does this look in real life?
It is easier than you think as pointed out by a recent blog post at Guiding Families in Hawaii! Spotlight the problem, not the solution! Every time we point out the solution, we steal an opportunity for our children to think. I can understand barking out commands when you are running late, inconveniencing innocent bystanders, or preventing extreme injury, pain, etc. But, whenever possible, I try to point out the problem, not the solution.
Today, Pamela and I were working on math problems at the car dealership. We sat at a table with Pamela on my right. When we transitioned to knitting, I needed to move to her right. I could have told her to stand up and switch chairs with me. Instead, I walked around the table and moved to her right. Without thinking, she scooted her chair to the left and made space for me. Had she thought for a moment, she would have stood up and sat in the chair to her left. I told her, "But, I want to sit down!" Then, she scooted her chair and the one on the left even further left. I added, "I have no chair!" After a few rounds of this, she finally realized that she could move over to the chair on her left.
I even try to spotlight the problem and not the solution in my role as her teacher. To provide background knowledge for the book about Michael Faraday, we explored batteries and built our own lemon battery. First, we tested various size batteries with a volt meter. Then, we made a lemon battery. We tried this the other day but blew a fuse on the volt meter, so Pamela was already familiar with the difference between positive and negative terminals. She recorded what she learned in her science notebook.
As her teacher, I did not tell her exactly what to do. Pamela remembered enough from the last time to set up the circuit with the volt meter independently. However, she made many mistakes and I did not prevent her from doing so. Each time I pointed out the problem. Because she is used to operating on a conscious level, she came up with the solution.
When Pamela tested the AA battery, she reversed the probes. It was the first time she had made this mistake. I spotlighted the problem: a negative reading, which did not seem to concern her. Then I pointed to the red probe and told her that it was supposed to be positive. Immediately, she said, "Turn it around." However, she turned it around twice and got another negative reading. As soon as I pointed out the problem, she turned around her a battery correctly and got a positive reading.
With the triple A battery, she saw her mistake immediately and corrected it without any spotlighting.
In this clip, Pamela gave the lemon two negative terminals. Even though I knew she was making a mistake, I did not stop her. I wanted her to think about what having two terminals might mean. I was even willing to let her test the double negative lemon. She realized right away that it would not work and pulled out the galvanized nail before we tested the lemon for the first time.
In this clip, Pamela reversed the probes of the volt meter. I now realize I should have used alligator clips because she had a hard time keeping them steady. However, you can see that, although the voltage flitted between -0.01 to -0.08, she had no problem reading it as -0.07—a sign of her level of comfort with uncertainty. She realized that she had reversed the probes and corrected it as soon as I reported a negative number.
In this clip, we intentionally tested a lemon without terminals. She was not at all surprised that the volt meter detected no current.