Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pamela's Brain Waking Up OR Terrible Twos? Part III

The reason why I have had more time to blog than usual is that David, Pamela, and I all have head colds. While David and I are more resilient and can press through conjugating denominators with the sums including imaginary numbers or radicals and conjugating Latin verbs, Pamela cannot. On Monday, she bundled herself up in her red "towel robe" and spent a good part of her day in bed. And, notice that after all the excitement of opening Baby Alive's gift, she can now tolerate having Loonette and Molly by her side.

Pamela has been making wonderful strides lately and has also been seeking greater control over her dad. We are also seeing a couple of habits making me reflect on their greater meaning:
  • Pamela started this high-pitched screech on Monday (of last week), the painful day we decided to leave our church, making me wonder if my mood affected hers. The frequency of screeching has diminished since then.
  • If we do not respond to her stim or question fast enough, Pamela says in a high-pitched, whiny voice, "Answer me!" I am slowing down that moment, waiting for her to reference me, and then take action. Sometimes, I make a declarative, neutral comment: "I was thinking about what I was going to say and you did not give me enough time" or "I am sorry. I didn't hear you. What did you say?" If someone else didn't hear her, I tell the person Pamela is talking to them. If I was ignoring her stimming, I try to change the conversation.
  • When Pamela used to meltdown, they seemed "intrasubjective" because Pamela was reacting, not acting. Her emotions boiled over and spilled out, but she paid no attention to how they affected other people. One benefit of recording is mining an interaction frame by frame. I noticed in the video of the meltdown how Pamela's meltdowns are more intersubjective. Pamela covered her ear, closed her eyes, and screamed. She yelled at me for six seconds. Then, she balled her hand into a fist and pounded on her leg. Within one second, she stopped and assessed my reaction.

While many parents might be frustrated at this turn of events and regretting starting RDI, I am ECSTATIC! Kyra, another RDI mom, witnessed this same change in behavior in her son Fluffy and asked Dr. Gutstein about it. She wrote, "I was greatly relieved to hear him say Fluffy’s behavior is actually good news. Many ASD kids never go through this stage and they need it to develop true mindfulness. He says it’s the brain waking up."

Hurray, Pamela's brain is waking up! Her dynamic thinking is like that of a two-year-old after all of these years! Everything points to it: her interest in dolls and real babies, her ability to converse briefly converse with people unaided, why and how come questions, etc. That means she is hitting her "terrible twos" without all the excess baggage of limited language, potty training mastery, gross motor frustrations, bratty siblings, sibling rivalry, etc. Plus, Pamela has high level static skills we can tap into in helping her tap into this period of dysregulation, that is part of the development of every child.

I was reading Nicole Beurkens' blogpost on her typical daughter's development and dysregulation and it described Pamela's personality, "a very easy [child] – content to hang out with us and do whatever." When her daughter started mastering a new developmental milestone, she noticed her daughter getting mad about everything preventing her from fully exploiting her newfound mobility. Then, Nicole reflected that all of her boys went through this pattern of dysregulation prior to a developmental leap forward. She concluded, "Now I'm able to ride it out knowing that they all go through periods of time like this and it will end."

I cannot tell you how many parents of autistic children, especially homeschoolers who spend 24/7 with their kids, have noticed this exact same phenomenon. Many people I know completely agree with what Nicole observed because they have witnessed it time and time again:
Sometimes parents will call or email to say that their child is suddenly going through a very dysregulated time period – and when we look closer they have either just developed a new skill/way of thinking about things, or they are about to go through a developmental spurt. It seems to be the brain’s way of reorganizing itself - which can be a dysregulating process. Obviously not all dysregulation in children can be attributed to cognitive reorganization/developmental growth spurts, but it is something worth considering if you see it happening with your child. Considering it from this perspective allows us as parents to slow down and wait to see what happens without immediately worrying that our child has regressed or become permanently dysregulated. Sometimes in development we take a step back to take a few steps forward – good to remember for all kids!
Last week I received cards from friends, and they are great reminders to those of us mired in the terrible twos!


Jenny said...

This was a great post. It's good to know that sometimes a bad thing is a sign of a good thing! You explain things so well, I really appreciate your daily examples as you grow with Pamela.

I have been going through things like that lately and my daughter has actually been more cognizant than ever!

walking said...

I agree, Jennie! Dysregulation during cognitive growth is part of typical development (hello, the teen years???), so it helps me to be mindful of that when Pamela seems to be regressing in a way. Once I slowed down long enough to study the details, I realized what we are seeing is full of promise!