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6th-8th RDI E-Learnings: Why Guided Participation is Important

June 12, 2008

Lessons 6 & 7 — Quality of Life in ASDs/Limitations of Current Treatments

Byron Rourke wrote about Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities (NLD), characterized by a difficulty in handling novel situations. This is essentially the same thing Dr. Gutstein is discussing when he explores the difference between dynamic and static intelligence.

I was on an NLD support list with many adults with NLD. Many of them were extremely intelligent people who had done brilliantly in college and graduate school. However, they could not manage jobs in their chosen fields. They had a tremendous amount of knowledge and insight, but they could not apply what they knew in ambiguous, ever-changing “real life” situations. As a result, many of them had never moved out of their parents’ house.

Traditionally programs for people on the autism spectrum teach static skills. Study facial expressions and learn what each one means. Rehearse beginning and ending conversations. Say “please” and “thank you.” Look me in the eye. Some of these are useful skills, but they will not change a person’s life or enable her to cope with the “real world.” She needs dynamic abilities — coping with change and uncertainty and dealing with the “shades of gray” between the black and white.

High intelligence and verbal ability is not predictive of success in people on the autism spectrum. Also, autistic kids who are late talkers are no less likely to succeed than early talkers. In fact, most will learn on their own, without speech therapists, and will do as well, in the long run, as their more verbal counterparts.

Lesson 8 — Introduction to Guided Participation

Psychologists such as Barbara Rogoff have studied the way children throughout the world learn — through the guidance of their parents — the dynamic skills they need to succeed in life. The process is somewhat similar across all times and cultures. This is guided participation. “NT” folks tend to absorb this mentoring intuitively, and people “on the spectrum” need to learn it in a more slow, intentional way.

Guided Participation

I. Collaborative — You learn by doing things together rather than by being told.

II. You work on meaningful goals and authentic roles, not through games and gimmicks. The original RDI program offered sort of a cookbook of games and activities for teaching guided participation. Now they emphasize learning through things you do in “real life.” This is not a technique — we’re clarifying what we do as parents and doing it in a more mindful way.

III. Active & Participatory — You’re not looking for compliance or performance. You’re fostering dynamic thinking.

IV. Challenge Based — It has to be the right developmental time for the challenge. You’re working in the child’s zone of proximal development — skills that are a little bit beyond those he’s mastered.

V. Build Cognitive Bridges

VI. Balance Challenge and Support

A. Challenges

1. Structure Joint Attention — This is not a child led model. The parent chooses things toward which to focus the child’s attention. This is about directing attention not behavior.

2. Continual Variation — If is doesn’t change it’s static, not dynamic.

3. Being selectively responsive to the child.

4. Constructing appropriate challenges for the child.

5. Progressively having the child assume more responsibility

B. Support

1. Simplifying or eliminating non-essential parts

2. Adapting to limitations

3. Removing distractions

4. Slowing down

5. Deliberation and reflection

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