Thursday, April 19, 2007

Four Fish, One Fish; Green Fish, Pink Fish

I noticed something very exciting today, and I think it might have something to do with all the referencing we are doing with Pamela. According to Solving the Relationship Puzzle (page 176), social referencing is
a critical process, beginning during the first year of life, where children learn to actively utilize the facial expressions, reactions and actions of their social partners as an essential reference point to determine their own behavior.
Referencing is more than simple eye contact: a person attends to your face, body language, and vocal intonation as well as your actions and reactions. The person learns information from your behavior to determine what their next action will be. Rather than just having a staring contest, you and the person exchange information without words.

While I understand some people with autism have difficulty with eye contact, I also have videos of Pamela referencing us in her infancy. She played "Peek-a-boo" and "Hide and Seek" games before she became autistic. Last month, she generalized referencing so quickly (within a few days) that I suspect she has had this developmental skill for a long time. We did not emphasize it because we assumed eye contact was beyond her grasp, convinced it made her uncomfortable like other autistics. Because Pamela has had to work so hard at verbal communication, I suspect that she finds the opportunity to communicate without words pleasurable. She shows no discomfort at all when we reference each other with our eyes, ears, and actions, and, if I saw any hint of discomfort, I would hesitate in expecting more than what is possible from her.

One new habit in our Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) lifestyle is referencing during speech therapy. One of the steps of the association method is to read from a script to practice articulation and visually see the color-coding of the new syntax of the week. We go back and forth: I ask the written question and she answers or vice versa. Originally, we fell into the habit of reading our script, not bothering to shift attention from the paper to each other's faces. Impatient for her turn, Pamela used to interrupt me if the answer or question was longer than expected. In fact, "Sorry for the interruption" is one of her scripts when she is anxious!

When we started RDI, I started pausing until Pamela referenced me. Only then would I take my turn in the script. If she looked back down at her page, I would pause and wait for her to reference me. To keep her interested in what I was saying, I would occasionally say the wrong thing, preferably something silly and outrageous, to see if she was simply looking or truly referencing. Last week, I said four or five whoppers in a row that she completely missed, even though I struggled to hide giggles and smirks.

This week, I noticed Pamela has stopped interrupting me! Today, I tested her patience by pausing at unexpected places (but not finishing the line until I was good and ready) or slowing down or anything to stretch out the lines. Every time, she waited until I had completely asked the full question or completed the full sentence! Not only that, she smiled and shook her head when I launched a whopper. She really is referencing both my face and words, not just staring into space and waiting for the vocal pause.

I saw an interesting development in the mystery toy today. Pamela found a tiny pink fish, instead of the green fish and rope that go with what she calls the fish trap. I have been spotlighting the meaning of each object as a clue to help her figure out what the toy is. Because she found another fish, albeit of a different color, she modified her theory to a pond or lake theme (although "Go-to-Jail" Barbie is not completely out of her mental picture). This new development piqued her interest to the point in actually staying engaged in our conversation about the meaning of the pink fish far longer than yesterday, when she was ready to bolt and get on with speech therapy.

Tomorrow, I plan to spotlight this during our puzzle time, trying to anticipate what the object will be and its color. I suspect she will think fish and either pink or a new color. I plan to put the pink flamingo in the locked box tomorrow to keep her mind on an aquatic theme.

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Niffercoo said...

Tammy, you are amazing! I am always impressed by how you can take a concept from RDI and implement it with Pamela, and it is so clear! I love reading your posts about your RDI program! :)


Mary said...

I am waiting to see what she says when she finds the pink flamingo! Your step-by-step implementation of this series of surprises is scaffolding this well for Pamela.