Friday, March 16, 2007

Babysteps in RDI Habits

Warning: I am a neophyte at RDI. All I have are the books with great ideas from fellow bloggers, Aut-2B-Home friends, and the RDI website. So, I could be off base on some things, being such an infant in all this, but I hope to outline some of the habits we are forming.

Declarative Language - I have always made enthusiastic and supportive remarks to Pamela. I hardly ever make predictions and do self-narratives. I am trying to be more intentional in telling Pamela what I am doing, "Pamela, I'm going to take my shower now" or "I'm putting my dirty clothes in the hamper." She really does not need to know these things, but these are opportunities for face-to-face contact and shifting attention from what she is doing and back to it. I still catch myself being imperative, but I am getting better.

Last night, at dinner, Pamela suddenly stood up and left the table to walk through the house to release excitement. When she came back to the kitchen, I said, "Pamela, I am so thirsty. I sure could use a glass of water" and I looked at the faucet. She went right to the cabinet and grabbed two glasses, one for herself. The other day, I stepped on a piece of dry dog food, laughed, and said, "Look! I stepped on dog food!" I looked down, and she did, too. I am finding she knows to do things without me telling her, and my habit of prompting her is not necessary. When it is, I am trying to be more declarative about it like, after her shower, I might say, "Dirty clothes belong in the hamper." Sometimes, she gets the hint and sometimes she does not. Eventually, the clothes make it to where they belong!

Fewer and Slower Sentences - Because of the association method, I have been speaking in simpler sentences. During our conversations, I try to maintain the syntax she has already learned. This means my sentences are simpler. So, I am working on slowing down my pace and letting meaning sink in before forging ahead. My dear son will have the hardest time with this; even his peers have a hard time keeping up with his pace. Fortunately, my dear husband will have no problems. Being bilingual and dealing with different Latin American nationalities with different speech rhythms, he is adept at adjusting his communication style.

Unexpected Sounds and Actions - We have practiced this for years. RDI attempts to help autistic people adapt to changing worlds as opposed to the sameness they attempt to create to keep from becoming overwhelmed. Dr. Gutstein calls this static versus dynamic systems. From the time Pamela was little, I resisted being boxed into a routine. I would still go to the two same stores, but in a different order. I would write the schedule down in pencil because schedules might change and notify her in advance of a change. With her vocal stims, we have always modified them to broaden her vocabulary in a fun, give-and-take exchange. Right now, her favorite is, "You must be 18 or older to order." She will say, "You must be. . ." and I will say, "29 to order" or "an elephant to order" or "18 to eat lunch."

I did not realize it, but I have been spotlighting for a long time, changing my voice by raising the pitch before making an alteration in the stim or pausing for dramatic effect. From the time she was a little girl, we have a family gag of imitating Dr. Tongue's Evil House of Pancakes. "Pamela, would you care for some catsup?" and looming the bottle of catsup to and from her, imitating the faux scary music. Now, I can rest easy knowing we are not weird, we are spotlighting!

In fact, one of the reasons RDI intrigues me is that the programs features I have used for years, but with purpose and focus! RDI also fills in some of the gaps I have been missing.

I Can't See Your Words - The book Solving the Relationship Puzzle suggests this declarative language for when a child turns away while speaking. I have been saying this from time to time, and twice, Pamela has said to me, "Where are the words?" or "I can't see it" when I did not look at her face-to-face. Of course, there are plenty of times where she does not notice, but it is a start!

Non-Verbal Communication - The RDI material has made me aware of how little Pamela communicates non-verbally. She does understand gestures, but does not tune into facial communications. Several times a day, I make a concerted effort to rely primarily on non-verbal communications. When we are reading, Pamela will tell me the book she wants and I purposely give her the wrong book or a different object to encourage her to nod her head or shake her head to let me know if I am right or wrong. Nodding is very awkward for her! Or, she will ask me a question and I will purposely give her the wrong answer and courage her to respond with head movement. I have been finding activities to do around the house in which I communicate non-verbally to show her how to help: unloading the dishwasher, folding napkins and towels, putting clothes in the dryer, etc.

Framing - In a nutshell, framing is setting up activities that support your objectives. Right now, our objectives include improving the ability to shift attention, referencing our faces for information, and paying attention to non-verbal communication. When Pamela and I set up the game "Shark Attack" with rugs, she helps me lay out the rugs in the room. I try to communicate non-verbally, except for counting. I try to vary the tempo of counting and cue her when I am going to say the next number by forming the first sound with my lips (until that point I keep my face flat). She has to study my face to figure out when to count with me. During the shark attack, I rapidly shift her attention by pointing to the imaginary predator and pointing to an island of safety (rug) to which we can leap. At some point in the activity, I lose my words, and she has to figure out when I'm pointing to the shark and to the safe island. What seems like Pamela giggling her way through fun and games also targets objectives to improve her relational skills.

Scaffolding - I have "scaffolded" for years, but never knew the hundred dollar word for it. Basically, scaffolding is providing enough support to enable the child to complete a task and feel successful. You walk a fine line between providing enough support without going overboard by making it too easy. In the case of these puzzles, I picked a hundred-piece puzzle, which was too challenging. So, I did most of the puzzle in advance and put it on a white opaque plastic lid to block out the busy background of the tablecloth. I am back chaining by leaving the last twenty pieces out. I framed it by taking turns putting in pieces, intentionally placing them incorrectly to invite head shakes and nods from Pamela, working on nonverbal communication.

Lab Time - Since Monday, we have been doing two lab time sessions a day (thirty-five minutes, which I time with a kitchen timer). I have not modified the environment because Pamela is not distracted by it. Rather than going out and purchasing six to eight beanbags, I have been substituting things I find around the house: pillows (for dodging), rugs (for island hopping), chairs (for forts), cups (for hiding objects), etc. I made a sheet in Excel to keep track of what we accomplished and make notes on how I can improve the next session: better framing, better scaffolding, better pacing, etc. Pamela enjoys many of the activities, and sometimes it sounds like we are having way too much fun to call it homeschooling!

Videotaping - While I feel almost embarrassed to see myself on tape acting like a seven-year-old, I find that seeing how our lab time goes is quite instructive. We do not have a "real camcorder", but use our digital camera to film three minute segments. David, my NT teen and cameraman, films one activity per lab time. I see little moments missed when I am in the moment, thinking through my actions and reactions and monitoring how well Pamela is responding and regulating her actions.

Being the king of concrete random thinkers, David is a ball of productive uncertainty. Half of the time, he is itching to join in on all the fun. During one of the ball games Pamela and I were playing, he remarked casually, "Mom, you forgot one!" and tossed me a grape. Pamela reacted wonderfully. I said, "You want to catch the ball?" and she laughed and said, "No! Eat it!" (Questions are not imperative if the child is allowed to respond in the negative.) When Pamela is comfortable with an activity, I let David take my place. He is very imaginative and loves living in the moment, so playing games with his sister is fun for him.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. Sincerely, Diane

LAA and Family said...

It's nice to have your posts and videos to look back on Tammy. I have been reading about RDI as my time has allowed and am trying to incorporate these activities into what I do with Samuel. I'm sure I'd find the answer on here if I looked around long enough, but how long was it after you started looking at and trying RDI before you got a consultant?

walking said...

LAA, 15 months! We started seeing our consultant in May 2008. It takes me a long time to get over being an independent-minded skeptic! LOL!