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July 6, 2008

As we begin the RDI program, I’m working on Co-Regulation. This typically involves doing hands-on activities with the child, coaching her in a way that is directive without being didactic or authoritative. This is also called Guided Participation.

These are some guidelines for co-regulation and fostering dynamic communication:

1. Clear Roles: The parent chooses a meaningful role for the child. The child needs to know what her role is.

2. Co-Participation: You’re not instructing. You’re doing things with the child, modeling, and demonstrating. However, there is a clear guide and an apprentice.

3. Shared Attention: Direct the child’s attention, not her behavior.

3. The Goal of Co-Regulation is for the apprentice to stay coordinated and synchronized with her partner.

4. Dynamic Thinking: Through co-regulation, the guide is teaching the child how to think, about meaning, what is important/not important, and how to make decisions.

5. Communication: It provides opportunities for dialog

a. The guide uses broadband communication — using facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice as well as language. Often, the less verbal the better.

b. The guide uses mostly declarative language (making statements) rather than imperative language (requests, commands and questions)

6. Working in the Zone of Proximal Development: Teaching should be challenged based: evaluate competency and present challenges just beyond that ability, progressively requiring more responsibility.

Frankly, I struggle with this. My tendency is to shift into Git ‘Er Done mode, or get wrapped up in my own head, and not make the most of opportunities to do things collaboratively with the kids. It’s quicker to cook a meal myself or just send the kids downstairs to clean up with the admonition that “you can play a video game when you done. (That tends to put a shot of adrenaline in the process).

Yet every time I do this, it’s a missed opportunity for one of the kids to learn about life skills, problem solving, the give and take of doing things collaboratively. For a kid on the autism spectrum, these opportunities are precious.

My task this week was to start “framing” opportunities for co-regulation with Marie, making sure she has a clear role in the process (and “gets” what that role is) and to video-tape these exchanges.

This process has forced me to slow WAY down. I need to stop worrying about how long it’s going to take to finish a chore, and start noticing whether Sarah and I are in sync and staying coordinated with each other. I need to pay attention to whether she’s helping make decisions instead of my throwing out instructions.

I am becoming more aware of how often I don’t pay attention when I’m interacting with the kids. I see things on the tapes — such as gestures and body language Sarah offered that I didn’t see. I’m not sure whether this is my own Aspergian/ADD tendencies or just a hefty dose of Mama Overload. Both, I suspect.

Our first activity today was folding and sorting a boatload of laundry (you don’t even want to know how long that stuff had been piling up in the basement). I guess I’m going to be passed over for the Homemaker of the Year award again. Hah!

My first job was to offer Sarah a clear role, preferably without spelling things out to her directly. Part of RDI is giving kids plenty of space to think and make inferences about what they should do without a lot of explicit instructions. This was really simple — she and I would both fold and sort — a simultaneous parallel activity.

I set out 5 laundry baskets, folded one of my shirts and set it in one basket, then tossed her one of Trishy’s shirts. She immediately got the gist of things; she folded the shirt and put it in a basket for Trishy. Then she kept rolling. We basically did the same thing in a parallel fashion, with a few small variations (for instance, instead of both of us folding and sorting at the same time, I’d toss her things that belonged in the basket that were closer to where she was standing).

We soon ran out of baskets (I used one of the five for things that needed to be rewashed, so we needed a 6th for her dad’s clothes and a 7th for towels). I waited for her to notice we needed an extra basket. I said something like “I wonder what we could put those in.” When she didn’t respond, I got a little more directive (would you call that “scaffolding”?) and said “I wonder if there’s another basket in the hallway?” Then she went and got it.

I tried to talk less & go slower, resisting the temptation to get the chore over with quickly. I also tried to use less imperative language (questions and directives) and a little more non-verbal communication. For example, I’d occasionally point or nod instead of using words, and when she stopped sorting and folding (a little breakdown in our pattern) I didn’t say anything; I just made eye contact. It took a few minutes for her to realize I was trying to look her in the eye (she doesn’t make much eye contact), but when she did, she resumed sorting and folding. So she got the message without my using any words.

I felt good about this simple shared experience. And I ended up with a really crappy video clip. (Note to self: never film with a bright window in the background. Oh — and if it’s even possible, my butt looks even bigger in those flowered pajama bottoms :-D)

Later I helped Sarah make chocolate chip cookies. (She made the best chocolate chip cookies EVAH!) Here I ran into another challenge. I am a certified techno-idiot. 😀 We were almost finished, and I was excited about having this video to review and maybe upload for my consultant. And — lo and behold — I realized I’d never turned the &^%$)# Flip Cam on. So there you have it.

I set up roles by handing her the bag of chocolate chips “Here’s the recipe — I’ll stir.” So she measured and put in ingredients, and I stirred. She gathered ingredients that weren’t right in front of us. She skated easily though the challenge of working out the most efficient way to measure 2 & 1/4 cups of flour with a 1/3 cup and a 1/4 cup scoop.

I practiced using less words, prompting her by pointing, nodding or smiling when necessary. I also tried to use simple declarative statements instead of telling her what to do.

(trying to stir the batter with a small fork) “This fork doesn’t have a lot of muscle in it” (She immediately went to the kitchen to get a large spoon)

(holding 2 hard sticks of butter) “This needs to be soft to mix into the batter” (She asked, “Should I … put it in the microwave?” I nodded and smiled)

and so forth

That’s where I am — in a nutshell. One of my all-time favorite bloggin’ moms — Tammy at Aut-2B-Home in Carolina explains these ideas in more depth here.

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