Monday, November 8, 2010

The Dance of Parent and Child

The Cradle of Thought-  Chapter two

“First there is initiation on the parents part, then a phase of mutual orientation when the infant is neutral or bright faced in expression and as the mother shifts to smooth vocalizations. Then a greeting where the baby smiles and moves limbs and the mom becomes more animated. Next is play dialogue when the mother talks in brief bursts with pauses and then the baby vocalizes, then the mother responses with changes in facial expression or further talk etc then the infant looks away, neutral or sober the engagement has been broken until next time.”

There is nothing sweeter than a baby….it is funny to watch *grown ups* with serious faces approach a baby and all the sudden they are smiling and making goofy faces! An important thing in that interaction that I took for granted is the co regulation as described above! You don’t think about those intuitive processes if development is following a typical path! Once my 2nd son and then my 3rd son were diagnosed with Autism, I knew all too well not to take anything about development for granted!! Those co regulatory actions would bring me to tears ( as my kids on the spectrum started to *get it*)

The following study was done in the 70’s and is so relevant to our kids! This is the starting point to where most of our children on the spectrum fall off the typical path of development. We must start there again, in a more deliberate, step by step process. Please read about the study HERE

You can’t help but see the importance of *feedback* in an interaction. So of course it makes sense that Hobson starts at this co regulation. This skill is present in infants and is the basis of their social foundations ( like perspective taking)! Makes even more sense that any Autism treatment should start at the beginning!! Restoring a child’s trajectory path would involve actually knowing what the original path was….when you want to restore something you want to take it back to the original. I wanted my children to be defined by who they are…not by their Diagnosis! Some incredible Ah ha moments happened on the way! One important revelation was until recently ( the last 10 years) the research done with children never transferred to how to best help our children on the spectrum. It was mostly based on behavioral techniques that work in the animal kingdom and even with us ( yeah…like…. what you YOU do for a Klondike bar ?) But the difference is, WE have the social understanding and our kids on the spectrum do not. This is why behavioral techniques are simply compensations to the bigger issue at hand! Updated studies looking at development and understanding that behaviors are just a manifest of what was lacking in development. Here is one study concerning a child’s that takes a look at development…

If we are going to be diagnosing children earlier on the spectrum , this notion of giving them skills without understanding the cognitive function of the skills is just building on an incomplete foundation. Obviously the earlier we can Diagnose a child, the more it makes sense to look at their developmental trajectory.

On pages 35 and 36 of the Cradle of thought ( continuing on co Regulation)- Never is the one partner causing the other to do something. One musician does not cause the other to play a note. In the same manner neither the mother nor the infant causes the other to greet or to attend. They are mutually engaged and both participants modify their actions in accord to the feedback they receive from their partner ( intersubjectivity).

My own children used to think of me for an instrumental purpose. They wanted their needs met. They are hungry or thirsty. Everything is about them ( ever want to say to someone, its all about you huh!) well with Autism, their neurology really makes that statement true. ..Dont get me wrong, they were affectionate then, but they could never really share with me their thoughts…I always wanted to know what was going on in their head!! My Perspective or Emotion do not resonate with meaning for them!. The * Personal engagement* and their ability to take on my perspective as well as understand theirs, was crippled in our interactions!!

In Michelle Garcia Winners’ book, Thinking about you, Thinking about me, she talks about what Social skills are. “If we understand that social skills involve social adaptability and the related social interpretation of others’ thoughts and desires, we realize how essential these skills are for not only interactions, but for situations such as quietly sharing space in a classroom or when working on a job”..She continues to say that “Our students ( children with ASD) tend to believe that the interaction is taking place for their own personal enjoyment and not for the mutual enjoyment of the group….they fail to realize they are always sending some form of communication when they are in close proximity to others.”

She makes note in her book “ Dr Gutstein, author of Autism Aspergers Solving the Relationship Puzzle, does an excellent job recognizing the basic attributes that serve as precursors for social relationships.”

Kudos to Ms. Winner for being a professional who *gets* that our children’s success is more than academic knowledge. Their success depends on their ability to be effective communicators, critical thinkers, and their dynamic ability to relate to others in this social world!

For that dynamic ability-Think about our own relationships…our interactions are a bunch of *misalignments* that need to be repaired as we conversate. Talking over someone else…that thought process. We are trying to regulate our feelings and emotions. Our relationships are built on understanding this back and forth interaction and the *why* of it. Our children are no different. Our children with ASD don’t have this piece. What then happens as with human nature is we start to overcompensate for this social deficit. I know I did…for YEARS! Bombarding my children with questions….trying to get them to learn as many skills as possible thinking that somehow that will transfer.

When my son was 8 it was apparent nothing was going to transfer and while he was *academic*smart, and could do just about any skill, he absolutely lacked the co regulation of relationships. This in turn made it difficult for him to understanding friendships, and most things about the social world.

So much of “The Cradle of thought” truly helped me to have a glimpse of the struggles that my children faced with that regulation repair!

On pages 38-39-two and three month olds were put in front of the television The screen shows the infants mother on screen looking towards the infant. The mother was facing the camera sitting in another room and she could also see the baby. Mother and baby were able to engage with each other in a very fluent manner. Then a disruption was introduced...there was a 30 second delay between events and THE two ends of the video cameras. When the baby watched the video camera she could see her mother responding to her actions 30 seconds before. This meant that the mother’s actions were not in tune with what the infant was currently expressing. This effect caused infant distress. It is not that the infant felt unattended, as the mother was attending.. but that the interactions were not intune

Reflecting on this, wow, lack of co regulation is huge with typical children! We, as parents do it so intuitively ( respond to our children) when a response is off and not in tune, like with Autism, it is a scary domino effect to the regulation.

Infants are highly tuned into people from the start. They have an active social life. It is unusual for people to be unengaged..even those who are shy. People who are shy are still thinking about the other person, etc

On pages 50 and 51, Hobson talks about the *inter* personal engagement effects…a study with different children with ASD He did his best to be relaxed and engaging to both children on the spectrum but saw through video that he was less outgoing and more hesitant with the children who did not interact.

This is so true to be our human nature….if I am talking and someone appears disinterested, the thoughts in my mind are like, alrighty, they aren’t listening and don’t care! C yaaaaa…

He ends the chapter with explaining that we all have the basic human response to express our feelings to one another… a response that is more basic in thought. If someone lacks the basic direct access to the mental life of others, how would someone arrive at an understanding that people have minds? How would their thinking be affected? There are forms of interpersonal engagement that happens before thought…Could it be that such engagement also provides the basis for thought. I say, absolutely! Every child can reach this engagement if given the *map* of their own developmental misstep…

I know for our family, Once my children mastered this engagement, their social understanding was able to be built upon a solid foundation of development…which returned them to that track…and more importantly, to me!!

I will never look at typical development as *simple* again!

How about you?



  1. Kathy! This was SO insightful! Thank you for sharing your insight and personal experience!

    After I watched the Tronick experiment, which I have heard of before as well as having seen a demonstration before, I was struck with a new way to "see" it this time!

    I often just think about the implications for the CHILD and NOT for the PARENT! But today I thought about the implications of this study when the situation is it is when raising a child with autism!

    I thought... Imagine if instead of the mother being "stillfaced" it was the child! Imagine if the mother was attempting, as the baby in the clip was, to engage the baby and the baby was non-responsive! How must that feel to a parent of that child! Now a parent is much more resilient than a baby like the one in this clip would be and they would not try away and cry. Most likely they would continue to try to engage the child! But oh how that must FEEL! Day in an day out of trying to get that connection! I can imagine that in time their attempts would turn to desperation to get *something* from the little one that they love so much!

    I can see how a parent of a child with autism would do just about anything to have this typical interactive dance with their child! Just as you said "What then happens as with human nature is we start to overcompensate for this social deficit." this really hit home! You start to think (sub-consciously), I can't get this engagement from my child but I want some thing from them!

    So this starts the cycle of questions and answer... so you can get SOMETHING from your child, as even one word or a request would be better than NOTHING!

    Then you get embedded in this vicious cycle...all the while not realizing at the same time you are moving further away from the typical development track.

    I don't blame parents of children with ASD at all! I can't imagine how I would feel if my son couldn't engage with me in this way and I could see how I would head right down that same path, if it weren't for the fact that although it's not easy, you can re-do this stage of development!

    It is so easy to take for granted typical development, but luckily if it doesn't happen as planned, there is still hope! And not only hope, but hope combined with the tools to get there!

    Chrissy Poulton

  2. ***I can see how a parent of a child with autism would do just about anything to have this typical interactive dance with their child! . . . You start to think (sub-consciously), I can't get this engagement from my child but I want some thing from them!***

    True. I think it will be important for people doing RDI and other developmentally focused programs to show that ASD children CAN learn to break the cycle. Some can indeed learn to dance once you break down the choreography into small slow steps and teach them that it's all improv.

    The trick is convincing parents that it is important because the focus is on skills to compensate. Our world is based so much on standards based thinking and keeping up with the peers that the idea is to catch up artificially than to slow down and get back on the developmental track.