I listen to a LOT of podcasts.  It keeps my brain entertained.  It also  prevents me from flooding Alex with language when he's trying to accomplish a job.  My ears are engaged in the podcast, my eyes are tracking Alex's progress and  my mouth is shut.  I'm available to help but not jumping in every 20 seconds to offer advice or instruction.  It keeps us both sane.

About 7 years ago I began to notice that my talking had a direct effect on Alex's progress and it wasn't positive.  Language is vital to learning, being flooded with language when your trying to learn something isn't.  Alex was diagnosed at a time when parents were told they needed to pull their kids into our reality.  Get them to make eye contact!  Use a lot of language!  Keep them engaged!  Looking back it feels brutal.  Add 20-40 hours a week of 1:1 therapy for 5-10 years  and you could see how you might get some push back from your kid.

I was listening to Science Friday's podcast Logging in to the Brain's social networkMatthew Lieberman was promoting his new book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect

Lieberman had some great takes on how the brains of people with Autism work.  He felt the concept of the 'disengaged, disinterested, loner looking to avoid social contact' was completely wrong. Lieberman felt the opposite was true.  The Autistic brain is too sensitive to stimuli, it is easily overwhelmed and the behaviors that look avoidant or anti social are actually coping mechanisms.   Much like when you're sitting in a dark theater and the sound check reel starts, it shocks you and you flinch, cover your ears and turn away.

Yes! I said to myself after hearing him make these statements.  I wasn't crazy thinking I needed to communicate selectively.  My take on Alex is that you only need to engage one system well to teach effectively.  If Alex is jumping across the kitchen and singing I can usually say in a normal tone, "When you put your laundry away we can go."  An observer might say 'there is zero chance that kid heard you' and they would be wrong.  Alex might give no signal that he heard me, and it might take a few minutes, but he will stop, do his chore and ask to leave.  I try not to 'yell through' his behaviors or  command that all his senses stop and focus on me.  My running joke is that I've become partially Autistic as I've learned about Alex.  I've noticed that when people are explaining detailed stories to me it helps me focus if I don't make eye contact.  I actually listen and comprehend much better if I'm not forced to look at a face.  I now realize that looking at peoples' faces distracts me, I start thinking about  their facial expressions which makes me think about my own facial expressions and my ability to focus on whats being said is affected.

 

Here is a selective language example.  We have set up strategies for counting money.  But at some point we have to let go and let Alex find his own way.  We pull all the way back, no language, no correction,  I would say he is miscounting the money 20-40% of the time, but because our goal is full independence we accept the mistake.  The money can always be recounted later.

My favorite part of this video is when Alex is counting the dollar bills. Jen was a bartender and she can count a stack of bills in seconds with perfect accuracy.  Jen has taught Alex how to count bills..... and he REFUSES to use her method.  Watching this, I know that Jen is slowly pulling her hair out as Alex  touches only the corner of each bill.

Jen and I are highly verbal/ social people.  It's a constant torture for us to keep our mouths shut when were shadowing Alex.  All you want to do is jump in and make it successful.  The problem is, all that gets us is resistance and dependence.  Limiting our language was the only way we could guarantee that we weren't causing the problems.  We worry about that a lot, that WE are causing the problems, that we are flooding Alex with too much input.

Listening to Matt Lieberman gave me one of those very rare, "Oh, maybe I'm not a complete F-up" moment, maybe I can call one of my crazy ideas 'correct'.  It would be nice.

 

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