Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Deep thoughts for a summer day!

It's a dangerous thing indeed when I begin to discuss autism remediation theory. It's also dangerous when I attempt to discuss theology. Today, I'm going to attempt to do both, which might prove to be highly embarrassing or completely hysterical, or both! But what the heck! Come along for the ride!

On Sunday, our pastor continued his sermon series titled, Armed and Dangerous. This week he was teaching about the Full Armor of God, and specifically the "breastplate of righteousness". One point he made about the righteousness of the believer is that it does not come from ourselves. He referenced Matthew 5:20 "But I warn you - unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can't enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all!" Pastor Bob went on to explain how the members of those two groups had lots of rules for doing all the "right" things. They were extremely focused on outward behaviors. But that is not where our righteousness comes from. It comes from that inner life change, which then produces the behaviors. The behaviors are absolutely meaningless without the inner life change, without Jesus!

At that point, a little light bulb went off in my head, and I heard a DING DING DING DING DING!

Autism. The most popular therapies focus on outward behaviors: eye contact, sitting still in class, good grades, articulation, etc. There are lists of behaviors that are deemed to be crucial for autistic children to learn. And that's all well and good. But it's all meaningless unless you get to the bottom of it all and work on what's inside (in this case, the brain). You can teach eye contact and rote social skills, but unless there is motivation to interact fed by positive episodic memories of interactions with others, and the development of competence in those interactions, it's meaningless.

I've been reflecting on this for a day or two, and it has been wonderful to dwell on the comparisons. The struggles I deal with in faith mirror the struggles I deal with in autism remediation. Being a good Christian? Great! Tell me what I need to do! Pray? OK, how do I do that? Is there a list? What sort of schedule do I keep? Prayer journal! I can do that! Read the Bible? Excellent! I can google all sorts of reading schedules for my Bible reading! Check that box off!! Trust in the Lord? How? Is there a list for that? No? Hmmm...

Remediate autism? I'm all over it! Read this book? Check! Watch that DVD? Sure! Slow down my pace? Hmmm, that's tricky but I think I can do it. Less language? OK! I can do that... painfully! Interact without having a "performance goal" in mind for the kids? Whoa.

What God wants is to have a real relationship with us. He doesn't care about our behaviors unless they are a reflection of our real and genuine desire to have a relationship with Him! And what we want for our children with autism is to have a real relationship with us and with others, and with God as well!


argsmommy said...

Wonderful comparison! I too hope that ultimately our focus on remediation will result in our son having a relation with God. Thanks for the reminder to keep an eternal perspective.


argsmommy said...

ooopps -- that was supposed to be "relationship" : )

Lisa said...

I love it, Jen!

The Glasers said...

I LOVE that passage in Ephesians which has helped me get through the most troubling times of my life! It gave me so much courage to do what I knew I had to do, knowing I would probably be cast aside!

Our pastor talks about that too . . . the inner life . . . God transforming our hearts.

Jenn, I am Snoopy dancing for you! This sounds like an "aha" moment and I love it!!!! I think you have the difference between being instrumental and experience sharing. Someone saw my video and asked about Pamela's flat expression. Here is what I wrote:

One thing I keep in mind is that I am not going to be instrumental . . . treating her like an instrument to be played by trying to "get something out of her". So, what I do is model for her more dynamic ways of interacting and then we have activities in which she has a chance to try out whatever I am trying to address. She laughs and giggles a lot. I think in this moment she was so intent on popping the balloon (she has tried sitting on it in the house to no avail) that she was almost hyper-focused on popping it!

An example of progress in the laughter category: yesterday, we watched the Scotsman skit in Monty Python and she laughed at all the right moments because she GOT the humor! She understands that pauses between the gag heighten your anticipation and waiting for the gag to unfold is funny. The repetition of the gag on different people in novel situations is funny. The difference is that she begins to giggle before the person morphs into a Scotsman because she can see the cues that lead up to the transformation. Before she would only laugh when it happened, but now she starts to giggle because she knows it's coming. She has a more advanced sense of humor.

When she does not react as strongly, I do not worry. If I have a headache or an unhappy stomach, I am not as joyful. Or maybe I'm thinking through something and I am distracted. NTs are not as consistent either and it would not be right for me to script her reactions. In moments leading up to this, when she was not as intense, we did have many giggle moments when I would slowly count down or pretend to pop it and then not. She laughed and giggled because I was heightening the anticipation for her. BUT, when she took responsibility for breaking the balloon, she lost some of that. Five minutes before popping it, we both were laughing as she bounced on the balloon under her bum and nothing happened. I think that was when the extreme focus went in to get her done.

The other thing I did was resist praising her immediately. I was waiting to see how she appraised the situation and, once I paused, she looked at me and said, "I did it!" Then, I commented on what she said. That was hard for me to resist!!!!!

I try to think of my role as observing and guiding, not manipulating to see a certain reaction.