Thursday, July 16, 2009

Monitoring Other People

Pamela surprised us by taking our pictures. She framed them very nicely, I might add!

During the RDA, our consultant noticed that Pamela emotionally engages with us and others much more often now. Two things we did last year really helped Pamela reach a point where she could stay engaged: (1) we addressed her anxieties by teaching her to reference us and use self-talk to calm down and (2) we helped her move out of static, scripted conversation loops into talking about what was going on in the moment. She now seeks out information about us: what we are doing, feeling, and thinking. She is trying to figure out relationships with our neighbors by asking me questions: one neighbor has autistic twins that are David's age while other neighbors are the grandparents of one of David's friends. She saw a woman she did not know in the other neighbor's yard and asked, "Who's that?" I told her it was the young man's mother, and they are visiting from their home a few hours away.

When we walked to the car to leave for the store, we heard a neighbor call, "Hi, Tammy! Hi, Pamela!" Pamela asked me, "Who is it?" I shrugged my shoulders, and she asked, "Is it Will's grandmother?" I turned in looked in the direction of the neighbor and said, "It's Charlotte!" I waved and Pamela ran up to me and waved too. She noticed that Charlotte and her husband were getting out of their car, so she said, "Good! They're back!"

Pamela wants to join us when we chat with our neighbors. The couple next door calls to see if we want fresh corn on the cob. Pamela wants to know who called and if she can go too. She greets them and carries the bag of corn home for me. The grandparents of David's friend invites us over to sit near the garden and chat, and Pamela wants to come too because "I'm an adult." The door rings and Pamela has to know who is at the door, "Is it UPS? Is it Will?" When I offer to take David and the neighbor's grandsons to dinner, Pamela wants to join us. She sees a man in a sling at church and asks, "What happened to arm?" and says to the hairstylist with a different sort of hair color, "Purple hair!"

The lady who usually cuts Pamela's hair said to me, "Pamela looks tired." I told the beautician about Pamela's busy June and how VBS and a trip to Raleigh wore her out. The hair cutter, who loves talking to Pamela, asked, "How are you doing without cable?" Pamela said, "Good! We don't need it!" She followed up with, "I heard you did VBS. What did you do?" Pamela said, "Ripped paper," which was not the answer the Brit beautician expected and she looked confused. Pamela added, "It's over." I briefly mentioned that Pamela took down the decorations. "Oh, I see! You liked helping them clean up?" Pamela smiled and said, "Yes!"

Do you see the fundamental shift in Pamela's approach to people and conversations? Not only is she interested in knowing people better, she is more equipped to be competent in brief conversations with them!

Right now, I am juggling two objectives: giving Pamela opportunities to monitor me by being a ditz which comes naturally and spotlighting differences between her and my likes and dislikes. Lately, I have been doing things like forgetting to remove the seal from a new bottle of ketchup, making wrong turns, leaving bags at the check out, forgetting to get a shopping cart, and not going through doors when Pamela is ahead of me. Yesterday at the post office, she went through the glass doors and got in line without me. She was there for about 20 seconds before she realized I was not with her.

You can see that the beginning of the first clip that she is improving in her ability to monitor me at transition points. In the store we sometimes go our own ways and do things. I am hoping she will learn to enjoy finding me and keeping tabs on me. So, I spotlighted the joy of her finding me and that I was hiding. She smiled when I told her about hiding the second time. When Pamela got hyperfocused, she lost track of me. It helped to close the distance when she was absorbed in looking at a video.

I also look for chances to share our likes and dislikes to strengthen Pamela's concept of self versus other. In the clip below, she had an easy time with talking about beans and shopping cards. She was reading me pretty well and sharing her thoughts too. However, Pamela struggled when we were looking at the DVDs. I suspected she was thinking I was going to buy the videos I was liking (Jimmy Neutron or Horton Hears a Who), and she was really interested in Madagascar - Escape 2 Africa. We ended up buying neither because we were really just browsing. Remaining calm and neutral, stopping the action and waiting for her to reference me, and explaining the difference between looking and buying helped calm her down.


Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

I think "ripped paper" isn't the answer I'd be looking for, either. So much depends on our communication partner if we don't have those nuances down. :]

Stephanie said...

She is really blossoming! I love the way you highlighted different likes and dislikes through browsing DVDs.

Anonymous said...

Did she calm herself by saying "back to normal"? She stopped her own melt-down!

I liked that at times she knew she was being funny and she smiled! A smile on an Autistic child's face is priceless.

Kim said...

This is helpful....

May I ask how you pull the filming off, logistically? Wear a Flip camera around your neck, or...? And how do you insert the captions?

walking said...

Cynthia, since December 2008, we have working very hard to guide Pamela out of her meltdowns and model for her private speech to help her regulate herself. She is much more able to stay connected now that she has improved her ability to self-regulate!

Kim, I keep it down at chest level and do the best I can with angle, which is why you see it straying and at odd angles sometimes. I could not do this in the beginning when I started RDI because I was focused on all I had to do to guide Pamela. When it became more of an ingrained way of being, I was better able to manage filming.

I add the subtitles in Windows Movie Maker which is free on my computer!

Kim said...

OK -- that makes sense.

Also, could you expand on "modeling private speech to help her regulate herself?" It sounds like something we need....

walking said...

Kim, here's what I mean by modeling private speech: when we have "anxious moments," we think out loud to model private speech for her: "I can't find my keys . . . hmmm . . . they're not in my purse . . . where did I have them last? I'll close my eyes and think . . . sometimes, I put them in my pocket! Yep, that's where they are . . ."

"The clouds are dark. Good! We need the rain so I don't have to water the garden!!!"

"The computer sound isn't working . . . let me troubleshoot." Then I talk about all the steps I am taking while I troubleshoot.