Friday, April 27, 2007

Emotion Sharing

In his RDI material, Dr. Gutstein makes a distinction between instrumental interactions and experience sharing. As I work with Pamela in an RDI fashion, the difference is finally becoming clear to me. I will try to explain what I understand as a novice in RDI.

While emotions may appear similar, the motive behind them is what makes the difference between the two. In instrumental interactions, one person sees the other person as a means to an end: the person is expecting a specific outcome and, as long as the other person accomplishes the task in question, it does not matter who the other person is. With Pamela, her instrumental interactions tend to be verbal scripting: making sure that the schedule she has in mind is still on track, verbal stimming games, etc. When my sister-in-law visited us last month, my sil picked up Pamela's verbal stimming games very quickly and, to Pamela, it mattered not who was in the stim script, as long as the player knew the right answers and the acceptable ways of introducing novelty. Pamela smiles broadly or fusses loudly depending upon how well we are following the plan she has in mind. She shows genuine excitement and beautiful smiles when we stim back and forth.

Experience sharing is different because there is no end in mind. You interact for the sake of interacting. Each experience is different for you have no script. An experience shared with one person is unique and cannot be duplicated. You cannot reference a previous experience with one person and expect another person to spring off of that. One key aspect of experience sharing begins with the letter e, and that is EMOTION. Both kinds of interactions may have emotions, but the point of one (instrumental interaction) is a specific outcome and the point of the other (experience sharing) is emotion.

One technique that the RDI folks recommend most for novice RDI families is to speak in declarative language. The basic idea is that children will be more receptive to sharing emotions unprompted when you stop bossing them around all the time with imperative language (commands) and interrogative language (questions) and start sharing your own observations in an open-ended way. (This is so much like Charlotte Mason's thoughts on masterly inactivity!) In fact, the RDI site emphasizes declarative language and indirect prompts as a key component of this program:
• Predominant use of declarative communication. Minimal use of interrogatives, directives and other forms of imperative communication.
• Creating frequent periods of "productive uncertainty" to provide the child opportunities for referencing.
• Reliance on indirect prompts whenever possible

One reason why it helps me to tape a few RDI activities every day is that I can see how I am doing in the habit of declarative language. (All too often I am dismayed by how much room I have for improvement.) Today, I was so excited during one activity in which I had hidden a toy in a dark bathroom. As we walked in the bathroom, instead of commanding, "Pamela, turn on the light", I said, "Ooo, we need some light in here." Without a pause, Pamela flipped on the light and I thanked her. It was still too dark for the camera, so I added, "I need some more light, Pamela! That's not enough light." She walked right over to the other light and flipped that switch, too! Had she opted to ignore my request, I would have turned on the lights myself and made another declarative comment like, "Oh, wow! I can see so much better with those bright lights."

Yesterday, Pamela and I shared several experiences that I think qualify as emotion sharing.

* While playing ball, she giggled and smiled for no obvious reason. She was not stimming verbally, the source of many of her beautiful smiles. I smiled back and laughed too, especially when I realized I was not part of a script.

* Sometimes during our ball games, a ball will bounce down the steps just outside our homeschool room. We sit together and hear it go thump, thump, thump down the steps. We have plenty of other balls and continue playing, but whenever that happens, we smile and make declarative comments about the lost ball.

* While we were reading Pamela's speech therapy script for articulation and syntax practice, I inserted a couple of silly words to make sure she is listening: "The moon is under the bed" or "My closet has ice cream and pickles". Yesterday, she turned the tables on me and said two things wrong and then looked at me to see if I would react! We both smiled when I caught her in the act and realized she was trying to pull a fast one one me!

* Her brother David is playing his first season of baseball. Today, Pamela sat through her second game, so this is a novel experience. At one point, a pop fly zoomed high into the air and flew behind the stands, across the road, and into a grass field near someone's house. Pamela laughed and made a comment about it being magic. Whenever balls land in unexpected places, we exchanged glances and laughed.

We are working on one RDI-like activity during the game. Whenever David's team made a run, Pamela and I high-fived each other. I am open to any and all suggestions. Another great RDI activity for us is the self-checkout line at Wal-Mart. I shift my gaze to items in the shopping cart, and Pamela references my face to figure out which one I want her to scan. She scans the item, and I bag it. On big shopping trips, we are getting many chances to communicate non-verbally.


JEMD1966 said...

One of the recent examples of emotion sharing that Timothy and I shared involved a trip to Seaside, OR. In one of the arcades in Seaside there is a small bumper cars ride. Every time Timothy would receive a particularly hard jolt he would look over at my sister and I who were watching and share a big-eyed smile. He wasn't trying to get anything from us except a shared experience. His little brother, who has many more relational "skills" than Timothy but hasn't learned as much about emotion sharing, hardly looked over at us at all. Benjamin's biggest deficit is emotional coordination, and I am looking forward to "sharing" much more with him as he grows.

Unknown said...

Wow, thanks for sharing your experiances. In the one about declaring what might have happened to the ball. I do that with Eric as well. It's easier now, as he doesn't start stimming as much as he use to. He's starting to see it matter-a-factly, which gives me a chance to talk about "what happened", and I end up usually giving him "yes, no" questions.

walking said...

Jennifer, thank you for sharing your emotion sharing story. It confirms what I see in Pamela. She is not quite at that level yet, but, with all the changes we have been seeing, I know that kind of exchange is somewhere around the bend.

Jessica, I catch myself doing the same thing of falling back into "Yes"/"No" interrogative ways of communicating. Right now, I am trying to replace that with declaring what I see and, when Pamela goes without saying much for awhile, I will say a howler on purpose like, "Dogs like to eat pumpkins" and see if she will catch it and correct me. Each time I get more and more outrageous like, "Birds live on the moon", until she catches me! When she catches me saying something silly, she almost always smiles, which is an opportunity to share a smile back and forth. She usually corrects me or shakes her head, a nonverbal form of communication she did not do two months ago! I am trying to encourage her to pay attention to Mom because you just never know what foolish thing might come out of that woman's mouth!

Willa said...

Tammy, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with RDI. My Aidan is not autistic but he has developmental delays due to a stroke and he does some of the same "stimming" and other behaviors that autistic kids do. I just found out about RDI recently and then discovered that you were discussing it on your blog. So helpful!