Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Stepped in what?

Intersubjectivity is a word I am learning about in our autism remediation therapy, RDI(r). Well, there is a good chance I "learned about it" when I was in college minoring in child psychology, but since my school years were spent in a pump and dump effort to pass tests and get good grades, I don't actually remember much about it! How sad.

Basically speaking, intersubjectivity refers to how individuals share an experience together. They each have their own perspective, each individual recognizes that the other might have a different perspective, and they work together to have develop a shared perspective of the experience. It sounds complicated, doesn't it? But then you have to realize that intersubjectivity is something that develops in infants and toddlers. There are 5 levels, and the first 4 are developed in NT children by the age of 3!!

But somewhere, somehow, it doesn't happen in autistic children. And not just the low-functioning ones. My own Reece, who will be 8 soon, is completely lacking in this area. She has incredible language - her vocabulary shocks many people. She has a tendency to pick up and use "fancy" words. She is fairly on target academically, except in math. And she is very social. She loves to talk to people, play with girls her age, and be involved in whatever is going on around her.

But then it breaks down. She misunderstands. She overreacts. She melts down. It isn't pretty. And as she has become older, it has begun to ostracize her from the other children. We purposely have her participate in few group social activities, based on the recommendations in RDI and based on her developmental level. Reece is unwilling to be placed with much younger children (where she would fit better developmentally). So the activities we have her in are fewer than we might otherwise do with a NT child. Social activities are hard for her because of the pace and the sensory overload, and this huge issue of intersubjectivity. And kids are not very forgiving. I can't say I blame them for staying away from her because she is so unpredictably volatile (not in a harming to others way, but who wants to have someone potentially freak out at you). But as a mother, it is heartbreaking that your beautiful and sweet child has nobody at church that wants to sit by her, or who wants to talk to her. And then it's nearly as heartbreaking to realize that she's too stressed out to realize it or care.

To help her get back on track and develop interubjectivity, I'm being more mindful of sharing my own intersubjectivity with her. This means that I do a lot of "thinking" outloud. I'm not really good at this yet, but it's a work in progress. In the RDI(r) program, parents complete "parent objectives" first before they ever start working on child objectives. This is because there is so much for parents to learn how to change in themselves. But as the parent changes, it starts to help the child, which is so cool!

Last night, we had to take Riley to dance class and wait for her. Reece came because baseball season has begun for Austin and Coach Daddy. But it was a good night to be there, because Riley takes this class with the older sister of a girl from Reece's class. And this also just happens to be the girl that Reece forgave a few weeks ago. They are now "BFFs" (Best Friends Forever), as Reece says. The girls, and the other girl's younger brother, played in the gym at the dance studio. They played musical chairs, red light-green light, hide and seek. The games changed quickly and it all flowed so nicely.

Then it was time to go home, and the other family had to leave in a hurry because they hadn't eaten supper yet. Transitions are hard for Reece, and she was teetering on the edge of a meltdown. She didn't want to stop playing, and she was begging for "one more round". But it was impossible as the other family really needed to leave. I had my head on, which is unusual in situations like that where I tend to get embarrassed and just want her to stop the behavior. I said, "Bs family hasn't eaten supper yet. They are hungry and need to leave." That didn't help... she was still begging because SHE wanted to keep playing. I looked around and mentioned, "B is getting her shoes on, and her mom is helping her with her coat. It looks like her mom is really ready to go home now." Reece insisted again that she wanted to play, PLEASE, one more time. We started walking toward the door. I noticed that B was staring at Reece by this point. I added, "I know it's hard when you want to keep playing. But this time, it looks like everyone is ready to go. And you had so much fun. It would be a shame to say goodbye on a bad note."

I'm not exactly sure what changed, but something clicked, and Reece calmly took her jacket from me and put it on, and then went to walk out to the parking lot with B. They cheerfully said their goodbyes, hugged each other, and it all ended nicely. Good memories to encode for the next time! :)

Who knows if I handled that in an exactly RDI(r) manner, but I do know that I allowed more space and processing time for Reece to think, and hopefully learn more about the cues she can take from what's going on around her. Now, I could have just forced her jacket on her, grabbed her by the hand all full of embarrassment for my big kid acting that way, and left in a hurry... causing her to be even more upset. But she wouldn't have learned a thing, except that mom gets mad when she gets upset.

But this way, we both learned something useful.


poohder said...

So GREAT Jenn. Isn't it great when we are actually able to stay calm and not worry about others think long enough to DO the things we learn? I know how great it feels, especially when it works LOL! What a great AHA moment for you both.
Really, Really awesome. Rhonda

Chef Penny said...

Great job Reece and mom!! It is really hard to give them enough time to process and make the decision themselves. I must remind myself of that all the time! Don't forget to spotlight it for her so she remembers how great it ended next time! You did good!!!!!

The Glasers said...

I love that story! What a wonderful discovery for both of you!!!!

Kathy said...

Very Cool Jenn!! What a great discovery!!! Self talk takes some time to get used too!! lol


Kathy said...

Oh and loved how you described how it clicked for Reese!! She was able to transfer your perspective, as her own!! Awesome!

Lisa said...

I love reading how you integrate what you are learning about RDI into the everyday situations you face.

The Last Six Brain Cells said...

Thank you Jenn!! My daughter's ten--Reece and "D" sound similar on MANY levels, especially the rough transitions.....I'm so glad to see that Reece COULD transfer to YOUR perspective. My daughter is no where NEAR being able to buy into anyone else's "agenda" (even when it's presented like you did, which I do try to do as often as I can). So is this why we're dealing with raging meltdowns almost every day? The inability for us to share intersubjectivity? Is this why my daughter's view of an event or a conversation is often not related to what really was said?? Thanks for the GREAT post explaining all this!!