Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Holidays are Here! How to Thrive During this Busy Time of Year!

The Holidays are Here! How to Thrive During this Busy Time of Year!
By: Courtney Kowalczyk, M.Ed.

The snow is falling here in Michigan, and the winter season has begun to set in. Neighborhoods are buzzing with children sledding down snow covered hills, and families are busily decorating their homes. It really is “beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!”

Before we know it, school winter breaks will be here and our children will be home for a couple of weeks. With the holidays right around the corner, I thought it might be helpful to share some tips and activity ideas that will help you and your family thrive during this busy time of the year.

  • Keep a consistent schedule. During this busy time of the year, it is very easy for families to get away from their regular routine. Before you know it, the kids are eating breakfast at noon and staying up until all hours of the night. It is important for families to keep a fairly consistent schedule even through the holidays. Keeping regular bed, wake, and meal times will be important to maintain your routine.
  • Have some jolly holiday fun. There are so many fun activities that you can undertake during this holiday season. Making holiday cookies and snacks, having a red and green meal, going sledding or caroling, decorating the house, and making holiday ornaments for friends and relatives are just a few of the fun activities that you and your family can enjoy.
  • Don’t overdo it! The holidays tend to be an extremely busy and stressful time of the year. When you are looking at your calendar and scheduling activities, be sure that you are limiting them so that you are also including time for just your family.
  • Make a family new year resolution. The new year is a great time to start a new endeavor. Are there things that you would like to work toward in the new year? Keeping the house clean, sharing chores among family members, and saving as a family for a desired trip are all great things to work toward. As a family, sit down and create a family resolution for the new year. Be sure it is something reasonable to which all family members will be able to contribute.
  • Enjoy the season. Even though the holidays can be a busy and stressful time of the year, it is important for everyone to sit back, relax, and enjoy the season. Be sure to take time for yourself to get some well deserved rest and relaxation.

By following these simple suggestions, your holiday season will be merry and bright. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season, and look forward to sharing more with you in the new year!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Help for the Holiday Hmm’s

Help for the Holiday Hmm’s
By: Michelle VanderHeide, BSW

If your life is anything like mine near the holidays, it’ll probably sound a little like this: “Mom, can I get that for Christmas?” “I’ll put it on your wish list honey.” As the next commercial comes on, “Mom can I get that for Christmas?” “That does look like fun. I’ll put it on your wish list.” The television, newspapers, and billboards are inundated with advertisements for all the hot toys and gadgets for this year. As parents, aunts or uncles, and grandparents, it can be very overwhelming to know what gifts to buy that will be both fun and “educational.” Knowing what gifts will be best for our children – that they’ll enjoy – leave many of us going “hmmm.”

Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for all children:

  1. Television, movies, and video games can be nice for some relaxing times, but should be limited. I read in a recent study that the average child watches 50-60 hours of television a week! As a result, children are being negatively impacted, including increased aggression and decreased attention; plus other negative side affects such as robbing the mind of important things like reading, writing, creative play and story telling, friendship development and so much more.

  2. Board games can be a wonderful way to help children learn important lessons such as taking turns, graciously winning and losing, and team work. This is also a great way to encourage family time. One of my greatest memories as a child is sitting downstairs with my family, by the wood burner, playing the game of LIFE.

  3. Arts and Crafts are a great way to encourage creativity. It also develops fine motor skills, building of competence, and doing things for others. My children love to make things for other people and feel great about doing it!

  4. Building sets of blocks, WEDGiTS, or LEGO’s are also great gifts that encourage creativity, playing with others, or self play. There are so many things you can do with these sorts of things. Kids love to build fences for their animals, castles, or event cities with any building materials they can find.

We’ve been creating a list at Horizons of both family and consultant favorites. Here’s my top ten list for this holiday season:

  1. WEDGiTS – These have been suggested by a couple of Horizon’s families, and have very good online ratings. They are wonderful for kids of all ages: even small children can easily use them, and older children love to build with them.

  2. Ned’s Head – This is a fun and grotesque game that boys especially will love. Reach into Ned’s Head and see what you pull out! This is a great opportunity to build anticipation, and share what you’ve found. A nice variation to this game is Gassy Gus. As I was searching the Internet on these two games, I found Alfredo’s Food Fight. If your child is resistant to new foods, this may be a fun way to decrease the anxiety of food by using it to fling at “Alfredo.”

  3. Model Cars – Building a model car or other item can be a lot of fun. It’s something that you can work on together, and what a great accomplishment when its all done!

  4. Stickers – There are so many kinds of stickers these days including my favorite – foam shapes. Kids have fun creating all kinds of original pictures, or just sticking them on paper. Use them to decorate hats, identify your cup at holiday parties, or make your own Christmas cards.
  5. UNO – This is a wonderful card game for kids of all ages with several different game options available. If you already own the basic game of UNO, try UNO Attack or UNO Spin. These are nice variations to a great family game!

  6. Cranium Fort – I have enjoyed playing with this at work so much that I bought it for my kids and they love it. We have built rocket ships, cars, and forts of all different shapes and sizes. My kids enjoy coming up with their own creations, and then play in it for a very long time! We’ve had a great time pretending to take a trip to Colorado, fly to the moon, or just seeing how many different things we can build.

  7. Jenga – This is a more challenging game in which you have a tower of long flat blocks from which you take turns pulling one block out at a time, until it falls over. This is a great game to build anticipation, work as a team to see how high you can get the tower, or to work on taking turns.

  8. Doodle Dice – This is a simple yet entertaining game that is similar to Yahtzee. The rules are easy to learn, and the game is fun for the whole family.

  9. Power Balls – Create and make your own bouncing balls. This is a great activity to do with children who will feel proud that they made it! There are several options of Power Ball kits available.

  10. Digital Camera – Although not as cheap, this is a fun toy for kids. They can take the pictures, download them, and edit them. This is a wonderful way to take pictures during the holidays to capture those special moments! This also provides a great opportunity to help your child think about what they might want to remember about the holidays. Once the pictures are downloaded, you can work together to make an album.

Happy holiday shopping!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Language Processing

Language Processing
By: Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP

Over the course of the last month, I have been doing some renewed thinking on language processing. With this reflection, I have come to realize that I take processing for granted so often that I wonder just how much gets missed on a day to day basis. If we really stop and think about processing and the great deal of effort it takes, it is a wonder that we are able to have so many rapid fire exchanges.

Earlier this year, a few of us in the office tested out a processing exercise that one of my colleagues had created for some of the families with whom she works. She wanted to be sure it would work, so we were the guinea pigs. She gave one of the staff members the easy version, and I was stuck with the harder rendition of the task. Of course, the other person finished within minutes, while I took at least 15 minutes to finish mine. For me it was not a matter of if I would finish, but only when. The task took a tremendous amount of brain power, and I commented when finished that I was tired and my brain felt like it needed a rest.

Having that experience made me think about how important it is to remember that many children on the autism spectrum have language processing delays that must, in some way, make them feel just how I was feeling. The other thing I thought about was my determination and resilience to keep going, even though it was hard. How many of our children on the spectrum have this resilience when we first start remediation in the RDI process? Not many.

That is why it is so important to slow down and allow for processing time, take away as many distractions as possible, and work for a while on one mode of communication at a time.

Can children on the autism spectrum become better processors? You bet they can! I've seen it with my own eyes on numerous occasions; but it requires that the adults in the environment be aware of the need to allow time for the child to process. Once your brain gets experience in processing information so as to make sense of it, the better it gets at doing this. Just like the processing task in my example above, I was very slow at first; but once I had processed through a few of the problems, I got faster.

Our children on the autism spectrum can become faster as well; but only if we start giving them the opportunity to process information rather than just accepting any old answer from them, giving them the answer, or prompting all the time.

What would take a neuro-typical child 5 seconds to process might take a child on the spectrum upwards of 30-60 seconds; and then they may not even process the whole message. For others, it may take as many as 5 minutes; and for those in the extreme, it may be as long as 20 minutes. Now think about that in the context of our ever changing world, especially in the context of school.

I’m not putting down schools, as there is a ton of information that needs to be taught in a day; but would a little processing time hurt anyone? Have you ever been in a classroom when the teacher is asking questions? The scenario usually goes something like this: The teacher asks a question, and within 5-10 seconds he/she is calling on a student to answer. Now if you are a slow processor, will you ever get a chance to answer; or will your answer most often be wrong if you by some chance just randomly get called upon? Interestingly enough, it isn’t just our students on the spectrum that need more processing time. Even the children who are quick to answer may actually come up with more thoughtful answers given a little more time to think and process. I read a book about creative intelligence not that long ago claiming that processing time is directly tied to a person’s ability to respond creatively. The thing is, people who are slow processors may actually have some of the most creative answers/solutions to questions/problems if given the chance to respond.

Think about how frustrating it must be always to be several steps behind. It is no wonder that our children’s responses often don’t make sense to us or are echolalic – repeating what was said. Children on the autism spectrum quickly learn the rule that when someone asks me a question, I need to give a response whether it makes sense or not; and I need to hurry, because they aren’t going to wait. They have also learned that if they just use echolalia, people will quickly give up and stop asking questions.

There is, however, what I would call “good” echolalia - and we all do it from time to time. We all use “good” echolalia to help us process, but we might not do it out loud. You can tell the difference between “good” echolalia and meaningless echolalia. The difference is that good echolalia, is being used to help process what has just been said. You don’t have to admit it to anyone but yourself, but you know you do this. We often call this self-talk, and it is our brains way of making sense of the world. The amazing thing is that I see children with autism spectrum disorder’s processing speed increase as they begin to use this type of processing. So modeling self-talk not only helps with self awareness, but also with processing.

So how do we help our children with processing? Slow down, slow down, slow down. Give your child time to process. A good way to do this is to count to ten slowly in your head after making a comment, to give your child time to process what you have said. If they don’t respond after this, you can try a prompt. Modeling self-talk as a way of processing information is another great strategy that can assist your child in understanding how we process information. Processing is a difficult task, and it takes time and effort to improve the speed at which an individual processes information it can however, be learned and improved!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Holiday Tips (and a few great excuses) for Families

Holiday Tips (and a few great excuses) for Families
By: Nicole Beurkens, M.Ed.

The holidays can be both a joyful and stressful time for all families. This can especially be the case for families of individuals with autism or other neuro-developmental disabilities. If you’re racking your brain to come up with some excuses you can use to avoid a holiday event you dread, here are a few you can try out this year:

Top 10 Great Excuses to Use at the Holidays

  1. There is a Sponge Bob marathon on TV, and we have to be home to tape it…all 24 hours of it.

  2. The neighbors have had the flu, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to come down with it.

  3. The kids hid the car keys—both sets.

  4. Oh, was that today? I thought you said NEXT week!

  5. The dog ate the green bean casserole we were supposed to bring, and we’d hate to show up empty handed.

  6. I’ve gained a bunch of weight this year, and just won’t fit with 7 other people at a card table made for 4.

  7. We’ve all developed a rare turkey allergy—can’t even be in the same room with it!

  8. Sure, we’d be glad to come. Of course, we’ll have to bring our set of 3 new not-yet-house-trained puppies with us so they don’t get lonely.

  9. We’ll be celebrating with the other side of the family this year.

  10. We’re boycotting the holidays due to over-commercialization.

Don’t think any of those excuses will fly? Here are some real tips for reducing the hectic-ness and increasing the happiness in your holiday season:

  1. It’s okay to say “No!”

    Sometimes we feel compelled to say “yes” to every holiday invitation that comes our way. This can especially be the case with family events. You know your child’s limits and need to take those into consideration when setting up your holiday social calendar. You can say no while still being polite, and save yourself and your child a ton of grief in the process. Attend the events that are meaningful and important to you, and make other arrangements for your child if necessary. If you’re dreading it, then that’s a good sign you should gracefully opt out this year!

  2. Arrange small quiet gatherings with family and friends.

    One family I know celebrates the holidays with family extended family members in “shifts.” They invite a few over at a time in the weeks surrounding the holiday. This way they get to see everyone without overwhelming their children. They stay in their comfortable familiar environment, while family members take turns coming to visit them. No one is left out, and the experience is much more enjoyable for everyone involved.

  3. Provide gift ideas.

    If you’re worried about some of the gifts your child might receive this year, try to avoid the problem by providing family members with gift ideas. Don’t want a bunch of electronic games and toys? Make a list of games, craft supplies, books, and other things you would prefer for your kids. I also know some families who ask for gift cards that can be used toward things like therapy, therapeutic supplies, restaurants, or some of the favorite places their children like to visit.

  4. Plan ahead.

    When going to someone else’s home for the holidays, make sure you think about your children’s needs ahead of time. Bring plenty of activities, snacks, books, clothing, etc. that will help them feel comfortable and keep them occupied. It can also be helpful to find a quiet place at the location you will be visiting where you and your child can get away from the group. This way you have somewhere to go when you notice that your child is getting over-stimulated or just needs a break.

  5. Don’t be afraid to communicate your needs.

    While there will always be some people, family members included, who don’t understand the need for accommodations, most people want to be supportive. If there are things that will help make the experience more enjoyable and tolerable for your child then let others know that. This can include making requests that people not wear perfume, that others not give your child food you didn’t bring with you, or that they allow your child some time to “warm up” before trying to talk to him/her or give hugs. Think about the things you know cause your child to feel uncomfortable or react negatively, and communicate some simple things others can do to accommodate him/her.

The holidays are supposed to be a time of peace, joy, and happiness. Don’t sacrifice those things for yourself and your child by accommodating everyone else. Plan ahead, trust your instincts, and when all else fails—come up with a great excuse!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Learning to Think: Part Three - Continuing Mindfulness Throughout the Day

Learning to Think: Part Three - Continuing Mindfulness Throughout the Day
By: Courtney Kowalczyk, M.Ed.

Fall is well underway here in Michigan, and the beautiful fall colors can be seen for miles around. It is such a wonderful sight to see children, young and old, out and about enjoying the wonderful scenery. My young son has become increasingly aware of the seasons, and it has been amazing for me to watch him make discoveries about the changes in his world. During this time of change, I continue to think about the mindfulness that is so important for every child. Watching my son think, learn, and process information related to the changing seasons has brought me more joy than I could have ever imagined.

In my last article, I discussed two strategies to increase students’ mindfulness throughout the school day. It is so important for our students to be learning to think independently, and not just learning rote skills that they cannot apply. Here are a few more strategies that I would like to share with you that will help increase the mindfulness of your students.

  • Play “I Spy” with your students. Students at any age love to play games. The “I Spy” game can be adapted for any age of students. This game consists of one person visually locating an item within a room, and then providing clues to his or her peers about the item. You could spy a small plant growing on the teacher’s desk, for example, and then provide clues like “this is green” and “it continues to grow”. The audience then guesses what the person is spying, and whoever guesses correctly gets to be the “spy” next. This game provides students with opportunities to practice basic problem solving skills and information processing.

  • Rearrange the daily schedule. As teachers, we often get into a rut of doing the same thing at the same time each day. Consistent schedules are often positive elements of an effective classroom; however, the same thing day in and day out can become monotonous, static, and even boring for the students and the teachers. Providing simple variations to your classroom schedule can be an effective tool for increasing the flexibility and mindfulness of your students. For example, if you consistently have a snack before doing math, try having the snack during or after your math lesson. By providing a schedule that is fairly consistent yet flexible, you will be providing your students with opportunities to increase their abilities as well.

  • Vary the way you teach lessons. Often as teachers, we have a favorite spot of two from which we prefer to teach. These may be in front of the class, by the white board or projector, or walking amongst our students. There are, however, many different places within the classroom where you can teach from. For example, you could teach while sitting at a student’s desk, sitting in the back of the room, or sitting on the floor together as a group. By providing variations to the way you deliver instruction, you can provide students with variations and opportunities to do think independently as well as get a glimpse of what may be happening in other portions of your classroom.

By providing your students, and yourself, with some simple variations and opportunities to be mindful individuals, you will be setting the stage for a community of lifelong thinkers. I look forward to sharing more thoughts with you regarding learning and thinking in the months to come!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Sixth Month

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Sixth Month
By: Michelle VanderHeide, BSW

Development is a complex process, and truly amazing when you break it down. Each little gain that a child makes is a miracle, especially when you begin to look at the complexity of the brain. The ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) is the part of the brain used to read and understand emotions. This is one small part of the brain; but what if this part of the brain isn’t firing at the same time as the part that comprehends the words coming in with the facial expressions? A lot of meaning within communication would be missed. Research shows that the brains of children with autism do not fire as quickly as children who are developing neuro-typically. It’s not because of anything the parents have done (or not done) while raising their child with autism that caused their child to develop this neurological disorder. Instead, for whatever reason, the child’s brain is not firing as quickly as a child on a neuro-typical pathway. As a result, a child with autism can miss many of the vital points of development.

Over the past several months, I have written about observations I’ve made about my son. With each child that develops neuro-typically, you will see common goals being reached. Are these things you have noticed in each of your children as they developed? Are you or other people the most important thing in your child’s environment? Below are more things that I have observed about my son, now 6 months old:
  • You continue to become more aware of your surroundings. I can no longer lay you down in bed and simply walk out. You know whether or not I’m in the room and you scream the second I walk away. If I come back, you stop screaming once you see me and give me a huge smile, like saying “I just won!”
  • A month ago, you were just starting to roll over; but now you roll over and over and over again. You find yourself in many interesting places around the house, such as getting stuck under a blanket, under the coffee table, or you’ve rolled away from your toys and can’t seem to get back. You look to me for help, and I’m always happy to come and pull you out of the trouble you’ve gotten into.
  • I took you out for coffee with me the other day to meet a girlfriend of mine and her 8-month old son. The two of you found each other immediately, and began to communicate instantly. You’d scream, and then he’d scream back. You’d hit the table with your hand, and then he’d do the same thing. The two of you also began to fight over the same “toys” – you both seemed to like the crinkly paper best!
  • You are so interested in everything around you! You love to explore new things, and I can’t keep up with your grabby hands. I’ll be changing your diaper, and you’ll pull a blanket over your head. If you are sitting on my lap at the table, everything within reach is in your mouth or on the floor. You are also grabbing at my face, jewelry, or hair all the time. I know we are going to be in trouble when you start crawling!
  • It’s clear that you recognize people who are familiar to you. You always give daddy the biggest welcome when he comes home. You also give a scream when your sisters are coming toward you. The other day we visited grandma in the hospital, and she looked different than normal. You looked at her and studied her, but would not let her give you the hugs and kisses you normally receive. Once grandpa took you, you settled right down; but you wouldn’t take your eyes off grandma. The amount of time you study and observe things is fascinating. You did eventually warm up to her.
  • You played peek-a-boo with daddy, and laughed harder than I’ve ever seen before. Daddy started pulling the blanket off his own head, and almost immediately you were reaching for the blanket to pull it off. Daddy would make a funny face or say “boo,” and you would crack up. Then daddy put the blanket over your head, and you figured out immediately to pull it off and laugh even harder. Soon daddy would run off and hide after he put the blanket over you, and you would immediately look around to find him. Once you found him, you would laugh harder yet. We all were in tears laughing with you. I noticed later that if I walked into a different room, you would keep looking at the door waiting for me to walk back out. What an awesome and fun development!
  • You love listening to the sound of your voice. I hear you practicing all kinds of sounds now: “aaaaaa, dadadadada, phthththth” - as spit flies! You think that’s really funny!

If you find that some or all of the developmental goals that my son is making have been missed by your child, consider the RDI® approach to bring your child back to the neuro-typical pathway of development. This is a great quote to keep in mind as we forge through the journey of development, which at times can be very trying: “Forget the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey instead!” (Dove® PROMISES® Message) The RDI® journey may be hard, but the outcome won’t disappoint!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Experience Sharing Communication

Experience Sharing Communication
By: Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP

Take a moment to read this short conversation between a mother and son. As you read, think about what is being communicated. Are you able to get a picture in your head?

"Hey mom, you’ll never believe this! I saw a baby turtle in the road."
“Really, I wonder how big it was.”
“Very small, only this big (indicates the size of a half dollar with hands).”
“Wow, I’ll bet he was scared being in the middle of the road. Maybe he was lost.”
“I didn’t think about him being scared; maybe I should move him out of the road. Do you think he was trying to get to the lake?”
“I think it would be very nice if we go back down and move him out of the road. I bet he was trying to get to the lake to take a swim. It’s a hot day, and I think turtles like to swim just as much as little boys.”

Vignettes like this are very common place among parents and children. This is an example of experience sharing communication at its best. The majority of the communicating we do is for experience sharing purposes.

Now read the following conversation between a mother and her son. Do you notice a difference?

"Hi Jimmy, how was your day?"
"What did you do at school today?"
"You didn’t do anything?"
"Did you read any books or do any math?"
"What book did you read?"
"I don’t know."
"Did you go to gym today?"
"What did you do in gym?"
. . . And on and on it goes.

Does this exchange sound familiar? This dialogue is an example of imperative communication. Were this mother and son conversing? Yes. Were they communicating? No. Is the son in this vignette even really listening to what his mom is asking? He doesn’t need to put a lot of thought into his answers, especially since these are probably the same types of questions he is asked every day. He understands the format for this type of conversation: someone asks a question, I answer; another question is asked, I answer; and so on. The parent in this scenario isn’t inviting responses; rather, she is expecting them. She is looking for information, but is only receiving one and two word responses that hold little or no meaning.

Imperative communication is made up of questions and demands. In general, people use this type of communication approximately 20% of the time in their day to day interactions. Imperative communication is a necessary part of daily life, but it should not make up the majority of our communication experiences.

On the other hand, we use experience sharing communication approximately 80% of the time in our daily interactions with others. The ability to share our experiences with someone is a uniquely human characteristic. No other species has the capability of sharing thoughts and feelings. Sharing experiences allows us to communicate about not only our external world, but our internal world as well. It provides us with the opportunity to talk about our past, present, and future. Not only are we able to share our experiences, but we are able to learn about others’ experiences. We can determine what thought processes they are using, and how they may be feeling about a shared experience.

The percentages listed above for experience sharing and imperative communication relate to the average person. For parents and others who live or work with children with autism spectrum disorders, those percentages tend to be reversed. It is not uncommon for parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder to have 80% of the communication with their child be imperative, and 20% be experience sharing. This generally happens because parents want to talk with their child, they want information, or they want their child to do something; and asking questions or making a demand seems to be the only way to do this. Often, parents feel that if they don’t ask the child a question, they will never know what they are thinking. It’s not just parents who communicate in this way; but other people in the child’s environment, such as school staff, do so as well. What tends to happen for children whose environment is filled with imperative communication is that they learn to talk in this way. Much of what they communicate is related to getting needs met, or sharing the same information over and over. Children in these environments learn that when someone asks a question, they need to answer; but they do not necessarily learn how to think and provide a thoughtful answer. They also tend to learn that many people ask the same types of questions, so that they can give the same response over and over without needing to think about it.

What are some ways that you can begin to change the way you communicate with children on the autism spectrum? Begin slowly, by deciding on a particular time of day that you will practice using experience sharing communication. Try to make comments about the things you are currently doing. If you find that you are having difficulty not asking questions, try just being quiet or talking about yourself. Spend some time listening to snippets of other people’s conversations in a coffee shop or mall, or even while watching TV. Think about what you hear, and how people are communicating with each other. Chances are, they will be using experience sharing communication.

While imperative communication is necessary at times, to make requests and gather information, we need to think about how much we use it. Striving to use experience sharing communication at least 80% of the time will bring about a much richer experience for everyone involved. Helping children with autism spectrum disorders begin sharing experiences, in a meaningful way, works to improve the core deficits of autism and the quality of life.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Taking Care of Ruby

By: Phillip K. and Heather

Once a week we clean Ruby’s cage. We clean her cage because we want to keep her clean and keep the smell down. Every now and then we clip her toe nails and brush her hair. Every day we check Ruby’s food and water. When she is out of food or water, we fill up her containers. From time to time we get Ruby out to play with her. Ruby enjoys when she gets treats especially carrots. I enjoy helping take care of Ruby.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Brief Description of the RDI® Program

A Brief Description of the RDI® Program
By Nicole Beurkens, M.Ed.

I often get questions from parents interested in knowing how my colleagues and I approach the treatment of autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions. I thought it would be helpful to start answering those inquiries in this format, as some of you may have similar questions. Here I will address:

What is the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)® Program?

When beginning to understand RDI®, it is helpful to set aside any previous information you have about treatment programs. My rationale for this suggestion stems from the fact that it is difficult to fit a new concept into something we have already established in our minds. RDI® is a unique and different model, and I encourage you to explore the information outside the boundaries of what you currently conceptualize as “treatment.”

The RDI® Program is based on a large body of research from the fields of human development, neurology, and neurodevelopmental disorders (including autism). Dr. Steven Gutstein and Dr. Rachelle Sheely, the founders of RDI®, have spent years studying and organizing the research literature in those areas to develop a comprehensive, research-based approach to neurodevelopmental disabilities that is based on what we know about how humans develop. By incorporating an understanding of how the brain functions, the typical sequence of development from birth through the lifespan, and the neurological and developmental problems that occur in autism and other related disabilities, they have been able to design an approach that addresses the core deficits of these disorders in ways that promote more typical pathways of development. Because it is based on the most current research in these areas, the RDI® model evolves over time as research sheds new light on our understanding of these issues. This is critical, because it means that RDI® as a treatment approach remains on the cutting edge of what we know about these disorders.

RDI® is about restoring the guided participation relationship between parent and child in order to promote the development of thinking and relating. Guided participation describes the relationship that is established between parent and child early in infancy and continues throughout childhood and adolescence. The basic essence of guided participation is that the parent is in a continual role of guiding the child to learn about and understand themselves, others, and the world around them. The child is in the role of soaking up the parental guidance, thereby learning to think, communicate, and relate to others. RDI® helps parents learn how to establish a solid guided participation relationship with their child, which is the foundation from which all future learning and development occurs. This begins with a thorough assessment of the parent-child relationship in order to determine where breakdowns are occurring in the guided participation relationship. A plan is developed to strengthen the relationship, and give parents the tools to repair breakdowns that occur.

Once the guided participation relationship is well established between parents and child, the focus turns to the child’s specific developmental deficits. RDI® utilizes a comprehensive set of developmentally sequenced objectives that represent all aspects of human development from birth through adolescence. The objectives encompass areas of development such as abstract thinking, self-awareness, communication, behavioral and emotional regulation, friendships, problem solving, collaboration, academic learning, and many others. A thorough assessment process identifies the developmental gaps for each particular child, and a plan is developed for addressing the objectives for each specific area that requires attention. This often entails going back to early developmental stages in order to address core issues that are impeding a child’s ability to function.

The RDI® approach focuses on remediation of deficits, rather than compensating for them. This means that we tackle the underlying deficits that prevent individuals from thinking, communicating, and relating in meaningful ways. [For more information on the concept of remediation, refer to this article (LINK) specifically focused on that topic.] Another way to think about this is that we are focused on developing dynamic intelligence, which includes the thought processes and abilities needed to engage with the constantly changing world in which we live. We address the obstacles to development so that they no longer create barriers for the individual and family. This stands in stark contrast to treatment approaches that focus on acquisition of rote skills, academic learning, and other areas that correlate to the strengths of people on the spectrum but fail to impact their deficits.

RDI® Program Certified Consultants are the professionals trained to guide families through the remediation process of RDI®. Consultants conduct periodic assessments to determine starting points, measure progress, and identify obstacles along the way. They also work closely with parents by providing education, strategies, and feedback as the guided participation relationship is developed and child objectives are addressed. Just as the child is in a guided participation role with parents, the parents are in a guided participation role with their consultant. The goal of the consultant is to help parents reclaim their role as the most important guide in the child’s life, and to assist them in developing the skills and mindset necessary to make the most of moments with their child throughout the day. RDI® does not comprise a specific set of activities, done in a specific place, and for a specific amount of time. It is a way of life that permeates every interaction with the child, and typically with other family members as well. Parents learn how to approach their child and provide opportunities for thinking, communicating, and relating in ways that promote optimal growth and development.

There is much more to say about RDI® as a treatment approach, but the purpose of this article is to give you a basic overview. You now have an initial framework for understanding the main elements of RDI® and the innovative approach to treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders it provides. Perhaps the most concise way to summarize RDI® is to say it is a research-based, parent led program to correct the core problems that create obstacles in the lives of individuals with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Parents interested in this approach are encouraged to contact an RDI® Program Certified Consultant to get more information and discuss specific family needs.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Autism Inspiration"

"To me, success means effectiveness in the world, that I am able to carry my
ideas and values into the world, that I am able to change it in positive ways."

--Maxine Hong Kingston, American novelist

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Learning to Think: Part Two - Mindfulness Throughout the Day

Learning to Think: Part Two - Mindfulness Throughout the Day
By: Courtney Kowalczyk, M.Ed.

School has been in session for over a month now, and students are busily working on their studies. Teachers have dug into the content of their curriculum for the year, and everyone has had time to adjust to the new routine. As a former teacher, curriculum was an integral part of my day; and working with students with special needs could be very challenging, especially when trying to pull from so many different pieces of curriculum. I did my best to look at each child’s unique needs, and best match their capabilities with the curriculum options I had available; however, I still found myself struggling with what I had. My students needed extra practice and a slower pace, which most curricula today do not allow. I also wanted to see my students learning to think and process information instead of learning static skills.

While pondering this issue about mindfulness and curricula, I found myself creating opportunities during the day for thinking and problem solving. I continued to use modified forms of curriculum with my students in order to meet their academic goals; but, I found that providing my students with opportunities to think and do problem solving made a tremendous impact in all aspects of their education and livelihood. Here are a few suggestions for adding moments of “mindfulness” to your day with students.

  • Allow your students to get the materials they need instead of doing it for them. For many teachers, it is easier to get the materials that we need before inviting our students to join us. However, asking our students to get the materials themselves gets them thinking ahead to what it is that you will be doing, and to prepare for the activity themselves. This allows for a great deal of thinking on the student’s part, which is very important. You are not only teaching them how to think but also how to plan, which is a necessary life skill that every child should have.
  • Include a “Surprise Bag” in your daily routines. I have used a “Surprise Bag” for many years now, and all of my students have enjoyed it. When undertaking this activity, you need to have a fabric bag that closes and that cannot be seen through. Each day, pick a student to help you put into the surprise bag something that no one else knows about. They can pick an item from the classroom, or take the bag home and put an item into it. Have the child stand up with you and share three clues about what is inside. You can also pass the bag around and let your students feel the item without looking into the bag. Once the clues have been shared or everyone has felt the bag, you can allow your other students to guess what is inside. This activity is a lot of fun for everyone, and fosters great cognitive thinking and problem solving skills.
  • Make mistakes intentionally in front of your students, and have them correct you. It is important for children to see adults in their lives making mistakes, and even more important to discover how adults handle mistakes. As you are teaching, feel free to make simple mistakes that you know your students will catch. When looking at the number 3, for example, you could refer to it as “the number 5” and then wait for a response. When your students correct you, it will be important for you to model how to handle the mistake. For example, you could respond by saying, “Thank you, John, for correcting me. I made a mistake, but that is okay. I am so glad I have a friend like you to help me.”

By providing my students with more opportunities to be mindful and do problem solving on their own, I saw a dramatic change in their academic skills as well as in their functional skills. It is very exciting to see children begin to think and problem solve on their own. The possibilities are endless! I look forward to sharing more about “Mindfulness in the Classroom” next month.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What Fall Means to Me

By: Matt F.

Matt was asked to draw a picture of what fall means to him. The picture below was the end result. Here is Matt explanation of the picture he drew.

“I drew the school bus because fall means going back to school. The sign is for Halloween. The cloud shaped like a fish was drawn because I like fish as pets but not to eat. Pumpkins remind me of Halloween. And the fat squirrel in the corner, the scarecrow and the wheat all remind me of fall.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Autism Inspiration"

Someone has well said: “Success is a journey, not a destination.” Happiness is to be found along the way, not at the end of the road, for then the journey is over and it is too late. Today, this hour, this minute is the day, the hour, the minute for each of us to sense the fact that life is good, with all of its trials and troubles, and perhaps more interesting because of them.
– Robert R. Updegraff

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Fifth Month

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Fifth Month
By: Michelle VanderHeide

This has been an amazing journey, and I thank all who have joined me in it! The feedback has been great, and I’m so glad to have you share this amazing adventure. This past month has proven to be a time of even more milestones in my infant son’s development. How is it that infants can grow so much in such little time?
  • You continue to grow so quickly. The thing that amazes me most about your last month of development is your ability to notice everything around you, and then grab for any and everything! What once used to be an easy trip to a restaurant now proves to be much more of a challenge. Your ability to seek something out and then grab it in an instant is amazing! My beverage, plate of food etc. must be on the other side of the table, or you are diving forward to grab it.
  • You are much more intrigued by things now, and are beginning to explore more. For instance, my earrings and grandma’s glasses are easily captured, and must be removed before holding on to you. If you do get a hold of them, they go instantly to your mouth.
  • Rolling over has become much easier, and you’ve almost reached the goal of rolling from your back to your front. Several times now, I’ve seen you roll to the side to grab something. If it weren’t for your arm getting in the way, you would have found your way over to your stomach by now. It won’t be long!
  • I thought that feeding you last month was difficult, but has it ever become more of a challenge now. Both your grandma and aunt made note of that as well when they were taking care of you and trying to give you a bottle. They both asked me, “How on earth do you feed this boy? He is so nosey!” I just simply agree, and say that I do the best I can. It’s quite a trick to hold the bottle and move it along with your constantly moving head.
  • You are beginning to pick up on social routines now. When you are holding on to something, you like to put both hands up over your head. When you do that, we say “So big!” You then smile, and put your hands back down. Seconds later those little arms are stretching up high again. I haven’t yet seen you put your arms up because we say “So big,” but that should come soon as well. Another little game you like to play is “peek-a-boo.” We are at a very early stage of it, but you think you are hilarious. When you are under a blanket and I pull it off, you look around like “Here I am world” with a glowing face, making sure that everybody is watching.
  • The mornings are much better now. When you wake up, you lay in bed and practice talking. This happens after your naps now, too. It’s so nice to be at the stage where you don’t need to eat the second you get up.
  • You have eaten your first solids. That process is so amazing to me as well. The first spoonful that went into your mouth immediately came out, as you had no idea how to use your tongue for swallowing. You pulled the funniest face, and your sisters got a big kick out of that. Now you are able to get about half the food down while the rest goes all over your bib, which you like to pick up and smear all over your face. It’s quite a messy process. You have no idea how to drink from a sippy cup yet, but we occasionally put one in front of you just to keep trying.

I continue to look at the gains my little boy is making each month, and am blown away by how quickly this stuff really develops. As an RDI® consultant, I have come to understand and cherish each one of these foundational gains in his development. Has your baby missed any of these critical steps in development? Does your child with autism lack any of these abilities? RDI® is a development-based program that evaluates these early foundations in development, and fills any missed ones through age appropriate approaches. The gains we have seen children make have been fascinating. If you see these as gaps in the development of your child(ren), I hope you come to join us as we revisit this journey through remedial development with our RDI® families.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Autism Inspiration"

We can accomplish almost anything within our ability if we but think that we can! Every great achievement in this world was carefully thought out…Think – but to a purpose. Think constructively. Think as you read. Think as you listen. Think as you travel and your eyes reveal new situations. Think as you work daily at your desk, or in the field while strolling. Think to rise and improve your place in life. There can be no advancement or success without serious thought.
– George Matthew Adams

Friday, October 3, 2008

Making Pizza

By: Phillip Kuperus & Heather

We made pizza today. It was delicious! We put cheese, pepperoni, and oil on the pizza crust, and baked it for 12 minutes. We decided to take the pizza out before the timer went off because all of the cheese had melted. I really really love pizza.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Nonverbal Communication: What's it all about?

Nonverbal Communication: What’s it all about?
By: Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP

Communication is critical to continued human development throughout our life span. It is what allows us to share thoughts, feelings, wonderings, and knowledge with others. Whether you are a verbal or nonverbal communicator, the vast majority of communication we do is through nonverbal channels.

So if nonverbal communication makes up a substantial portion of our communicative experience, what does it involve? Many of us associate facial expression and gestures with nonverbal communication, but these are not the only two types involved. There are, in fact, eight different types of nonverbal communication:
  • Facial Expression: This makes up the largest proportion of nonverbal communication. Large amounts of information can be conveyed through a smile or frown. The facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, and fear are similar across cultures throughout the world.
  • Gestures: Common gestures include pointing, waving, and using fingers to indicate number amounts.
  • Paralinguistics: This includes factors such as tone of voice, loudness, inflection, and pitch. Tone of voice can be powerful. The same sentence said in different tones can convey different messages. A strong tone of voice may indicate approval or enthusiasm, whereas the same sentence said with a hesitant tone of voice may convey disapproval or lack of interest.
  • Body Language and Posture: A person’s posture and movement can also convey a great deal of information. Arm crossing or leg-crossing conveys different meanings depending on the context and the person interpreting them. Body language is very subtle, and may not be very definitive.
  • Proxemics: This refers to personal space. The amount of space a person requires depends on each individual’s preference, but also depends on the situation and other people involved in the situation.
  • Eye Gaze: Looking, staring, and blinking are all considered types of eye gaze. Looking at another person can indicate a range of emotions including hostility, interest, or attraction.
    Haptics This refers to communicating through touch. Haptics is especially important in infancy and early childhood.
  • Appearance: Our choice of color, clothing, hairstyles, and other factors affecting our appearance are considered a means of nonverbal communication.

By the time most children are one year old, they are experts in nonverbal communication. They have spent the whole first year of their lives making their wants and needs known, as well as sharing their experiences through nonverbal channels. Around the time of their first birthday, they add the next layer to their dynamic communication repertoire with the verbal piece. Even with the addition of verbal communication, nonverbal expression continues to be the main mode of communication for children as they add more and more words to their vocabulary. Even after children are talking in sentences, nonverbal communication continues to add meaning and structure to the messages being sent and received.

This use and understanding of nonverbal communication becomes automatic for ‘neuro-typical’ children. It is so automatic that many of us are completely unaware that we employ facial expressions and gestures, or that we are using this information to enhance the words we are hearing from our communication partner. We continue to use this mode of communication throughout life.

Think about the word “no,” which can be interpreted in many different ways depending on the nonverbal communication that is being conveyed along with the word. If we say “noooo” with a wrinkled nose and a questioning tone or funny voice, this could convey that we are unsure or don’t really believe what we are hearing. If we hear someone say “NO!” with a loud, or harsh voice, we can interpret that they person is angry or wants an action to be terminated. If someone asks you if you would like a drink, you may answer with “no”; but your tone of voice will most likely be even with little inflection, and your face may just be neutral. In each of these examples the person was saying “no,” but there were three different meanings being conveyed. Without nonverbal communication, it would be difficult to know how to interpret the word.

Many children with autism spectrum disorders have difficulty interpreting multiple modes of communication, and because of this they often miss the nonverbal communication piece that allows accurate interpretation of what is said. In the examples provided above, most children with autism spectrum disorders would only hear the word “no” but miss the nonverbal pieces which help to interpret which “no” is being communicated. This misinterpretation can lead to frustration on the part of both the communicator and the child who is struggling to understand what is happening. At other times, the child may interpret a facial expression, tone of voice, or gesture but not hear the words that went with the nonverbal, which again results in miscommunication. These breakdowns make it difficult for the child to make sense of his/her world.

Working to improve the use and understanding of nonverbal communication is essential for a person with an autism spectrum or neurological disorder. In most cases, working to improve nonverbal communication is the best place to begin improving communication abilities. Expanding the ability to use and understand nonverbal communication provides the necessary foundation for building meaningful dynamic communication. Just as a neuro-typical infant begins by communicating nonverbally, going back and teaching this mode of communication for children who may have missed this step is the foundation for productive communication throughout life.

Teaching nonverbal communication should be done in a natural way that makes sense for each individual child. Telling a child, “look at my face,” or showing a child several pictures of people’s faces and having him/her identify the emotions he sees is not a natural way to work on nonverbal communication. Spending time doing activities with the child where the adult uses very little verbal communication, but is communicating through nonverbal channels, is an effective way to begin introducing nonverbal communication. Playing games where you have changed the rules slightly so as to use only nonverbal communication can also be a fun and more natural way of working on nonverbal communication. For example, you might play Simon Says, using a made up signal for when Simon says to do something. Playing charades can also be a fun way to work on nonverbal communication in a natural context. Take a walk with your child; but instead of saying, “hey look at that dog,” you might pause, point and vocalize, “oh” with a rising inflection to draw attention. There are many ways to work on nonverbal communication that can be explored and used to build this critical foundational piece of communication.

Monday, September 29, 2008

"Autism Inspiration"

"Even though you may want to move forward in your life, you may have one foot on the brake. In order to be free, we must learn how to let go. Release the hurt. Release the fear. Refuse to entertain your old pain. The energy it takes to hang onto the past is holding you back from a new life."
- Mary Manin Morrissey

Friday, September 26, 2008

Painting with Shaving Cream

Painting with Shaving Cream

By: Phillip and Ms. Heather

I made letters in the shaving cream. It smells good and feels goopy on my hands. I used paint brushes and my fingers to paint with. It was a lot of fun. For fun I added color to the shaving cream. My two favorite colors are green (John Deere green) and blue.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What is Remediation?

What is Remediation?
By: Nicole Beurkens, M.Ed.

The word “remediation” is very important in the work my colleagues and I do with families affected by autism and other neuro-developmental disabilities, but it is a word that is unfamiliar to many people. I thought I would take a moment this week to talk about what remediation means in general, and specifically in the realm of autism.

Let’s start with some basic dictionary definitions:
  • Remediate (verb) - To remedy a problem
  • Remedial (adjective) - Intended to correct or improve one’s skill in a specific field; therapeutic, corrective, restorative
  • Remediation (noun) - Use of remedial methods to improve skills; the act or process of correcting a deficiency
  • Dr. Steven Gutstein’s definition of remediation: Correcting a deficit to the point where it no longer constitutes and obstacle
  • My definition: Work ON something, not just around it

Whether you are a parent or professional, it is critical to understand what remediation is, and the distinction between remediation and compensation. Perhaps the most common application of this distinction is in the area of reading problems. If a child is diagnosed with a reading disability, we typically apply remediation approaches to help them learn to read. At various points we may use compensations, such as books on tape, to support them. However, our goal is to remediate, or correct, the problem that is preventing them from reading so they can become functional readers. In my professional experience, I have yet to come across a situation where adults believe that if an 8 year old child is not yet reading, that we should just compensate for that and give them books on tape to listen to for the rest of their lives. Remedial efforts are taken to get to the root of the problem and overcome the issues that are preventing successful reading.

Now take this same concept and apply it to individuals on the autism spectrum. By definition they are struggling in many areas: socialization, communication, thinking flexibly, and the list goes on depending on the person. What approach do we usually take to these deficits? By and large, we take a compensation approach. We find ways to work around these problems so that the students fit into the mold of what we do at home and in school everyday. Our main motivation becomes applying strategies that help them exhibit what we consider to be “typical” behaviors —sit appropriately in the classroom or at church, learn academic skills, play on the playground equipment, wait in line without becoming upset, greet others when we see them, etc. While we may also look for ways to support their communication and to improve their relationships with others, we do this on a very surface level without really understanding the obstacles that create those problems in the first place. And, because we don’t really understand the root issues that create these problems, we resort to compensation techniques rather than remediating the root causes.

When you look at the history of treatments in the field of autism, it has been primarily about compensation. While research on the brain and autism has continued to move forward and provide us new information, our treatment approaches have stagnated. The methods we were using 30 years ago are still the methods being used today, despite the fact that we have a whole host of new information available to us. We now have the capacity to take what we know about the disorder of autism and how it impacts brain function, and develop new techniques and approaches that move beyond compensation and actually work to remediate (correct) the primary features of the disorder. This is one of the exciting things about newer approaches such as the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)® Program, which focuses on remediating, rather than just working around, the core deficits we see in individuals with autism and other neuro-developmental disorders.

It is time to move beyond thinking about treatment as merely capitalizing on strengths, and begin thinking about how to strengthen areas of weakness. Research has shown us that autism is primarily a disorder of connectivity in the brain—with some portions over connected and others under connected. What is so exciting about this is that we know that neural connectivity can change throughout the lifespan. The human brain has an enormous capacity for developing new connections and changing the patterns of connectivity when given the right types of stimulation. This is what allows us to look at autism treatment in a new light. It cannot be merely about strengthening the areas that are already strong. Effective education and treatment must be focused on building new connections in the areas where connectivity is deficient. This is the essence of remediation.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"Autism Inspiration"

"Things don't go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you were intended to be."
--Charles "Tremendous" Jones

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Learning to Think: Part One - All Students Can Learn to be Mindful

Learning to Think: Part One - All Students Can Learn to be Mindful
By: Courtney Kowalczyk, M.Ed.

Summer is quickly coming to an end, and school has begun for many children. School buses are busily picking up students and dropping them off during the morning and evening commutes. With the beginning of a new school year, I thought it would be helpful to look into the realm of education and the way our students think and learn.

For most students in the general education population today, the focus of education is on their ability to think and use problem solving skills. We are seeing more and more schools moved towards integrated curricula that teach children math, reading, and writing skills in a more dynamic fashion. A majority of these curricula pose real world problems that students work through and solve as they learn concepts along the way. For many children, this type of curricula proves to be beneficial; for others however, it can be very challenging. For example, children who struggle with reading typically have greater difficulty using curricula formatted in this fashion, since most of it is comprised of written language that needs to be read, dissected, and understood in order to progress through the problem at hand. For these individuals, accommodations to the curricula are usually made to make it easier for the child to understand and process.

When thinking about children with more significant disabilities like cognitive impairments, neurological issues, or Autism, we typically see educators using curricula of a more static nature. These types of curricula tend to be more repetitive. I wonder though: How are these types of materials preparing children for the real world, given that these students typically have the greatest amount of difficulty in the realm of problem solving and creative thinking?

As a teacher of children with severe multiple disabilities, I found myself in an interesting predicament several years back. How was I going to prepare my students to be active participants in the community? Reading books and doing worksheets was not going to cut it. My students needed to learn how to think and be mindful of their surroundings. I decided to take a developmental approach to their learning, and to provide as many opportunities during the day for my students to think and process information. I threw out all of the extras I had plugged into our day, and gave myself and my staff the time that was needed to help our students become mindful. One of the greatest challenges that I faced was getting out of the rut of doing the same thing day in and day out. I had to do so much more thinking in order to plan activities that would allow my students the opportunity to do their own thinking as well. Here are the first few of several modifications and suggestions that I will be sharing with you over the next few months:

  • Stop asking so many questions! I found myself constantly asking my students questions like “What color is this?” I used such questions to gauge their understanding of what I was teaching; but, I found that they were responding to my static questions in their own static way. Static questions, do not offer opportunities for idea sharing or comparing and contrasting. With this knowledge in mind, think about the questions that you ask. Can you change those questions to more open-ended statements? Instead of “What color is this?”, you could say to a student “I forget the name of this color.” With a more open-ended statement like this, you will be opening the door for more dynamic dialogue and social interaction.
  • Slow down and let your students think! With the demands on today’s teachers, it is tough to consider slowing down—especially when you have so much to cover in such a short period of time. I must say, however, that they old saying is true: “Slow down to speed up”. By giving your students time to process information, you allow them to think and problem solve on their own. If they can make their own discovery about a topic area, it will be so much more meaningful to them than if they had been told what to do or how to fix the problem. All children have the ability to think and conduct problem solving on their own at their appropriate learning level; but they need to be allowed to have the time to do it, and they need to feel supported in the learning process.

By allowing my students to think about the topic we were studying and providing them more opportunities for open-ended dialogue, I found that my students were learning and thinking about so many different things in their environment. It was wonderful to discover how much of an impact I could make on the learning process of my students and their quality of life now and in the future. See what amazing things can happen when you make little changes like these!

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Autism Inspiration"

I'm hoping this quote inspires some of you to get motivated to stop doing NOTHING. Please be involved with your child and do something, but better yet would be to do the right thing.

"In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Making Salsa

By: Raul and Phillip

We put some tomatoes, peppers, green onion, white onion, and lime juice in a large bowl. Cutting up all the vegetables was a lot of fun. Afterwards, we cleaned the table so we could eat the salsa. The salsa is very good. It was a lot of fun.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Fourth Month

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Fourth Month
By: Michelle VanderHeide, BSW

It’s already been four months since our little man joined our family, and I can’t remember life without him. He has been such a joy to have in our family. When I was pregnant and thought about what it would be like, I couldn’t imagine a baby being added to our already busy lives. I look back now and wonder how it was that I found as much joy in life as I do now with another wonderful child. It kind of makes me wonder what other beautiful characteristics could be added to our family with yet another. What am I missing? I won’t go there, though; three children are plenty! Here continue my reflections for my baby boy:
  • You are so funny! You already know what gets a reaction out of us. You started coughing the other day and I responded with “Oh, you’ve got a bad cough,” in that annoying motherly voice that we adults all use with babies. You found that to be quite hilarious, so you began this silly fake cough that then made me laugh. We had some good laughs about that. The next day I was laying you down for a nap when you looked right up at me and coughed, and then gave me a big smile. You remembered that it made me laugh before, and you threw it out there again.
  • On the same note, you are now becoming quite opinionated. If you don’t like something, you let us know – this horrifying scream comes out of your mouth! It’s not a cry, but a “I’m being attacked” kind of scream. It’s usually for good reason though; like when your sisters are on the attack or when I’m trying to clean out your ears or nose. I guess I don’t blame you – I’d probably scream too.
  • At the beginning of the month, I held you up in front of a mirror and you saw me. You kicked your legs and smiled at me through the mirror. I even saw some gaze shifting as you were looking between me and my image in the mirror. You looked at yourself and didn’t know what you were looking at, so you quickly shifted your gaze back to me. Just a few weeks later I did the same thing, and you looked at me first; but when you caught yourself in the mirror you were quite impressed by the handsome little thing you were looking at, which was evident in your kicks and squeals.
  • This was a big month for strengthening motor skills. Your sense of balance and ability to hold yourself up is getting much better. You can sit with much less assistance now, but not independently. You fold in half once your start to reach for something, and get stuck in that position. I find it quite hysterical, but you aren’t so fond of it. You also rolled over from your stomach to your back for the first time. When it first happened you had a look of shock on your face, as you had no idea what just happened to you. You settled down quickly, though, as you saw the toys that were once behind you were now right above you. The next time you rolled over, there were no toys to stare at; so you cried until your oldest sister was in your face, and you realized you were fine. Then the scream returned.
  • Your reach is getting much better. You are so cute when you are focused on trying to grab something. Your lips round out and your eyes get all buggy. You are concentrating so hard on being able to reach and open those precious little fingers. When you grab on, the look on your face is priceless. You are so proud of yourself! Just achieving this goal is a reward in itself!
  • Feeding you is getting much more difficult. As you are drinking your milk, you will turn to see what is going on around you and forget that you are eating. Once you turn back, you see me, then smile. I of course have to smile back. This then turns into a game. You suck once and then smile. This is fun for about three or four times; but I eventually have to look away so you’ll eat, or we’d be there all day!
  • You love to play with your voice. You are making so many sounds, and playing with the intonations while you make your “oohs” and “ahhs”. Watching these early forms of communication already developing in you is so amazing.

Isn’t it amazing how much develops in an infant in one short month? The best part about having infant development at home is that I can take the early objectives in the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI®) program and see how perfectly they fit into infant development. What seem like such small achievements are so critical to human development. Can you imagine speech without the use of intonations? It would be boring. Can you imagine communication without the feedback of facial expressions? It would be meaningless. Through RDI®, we start with such foundational objectives so that kids who missed this the first time can have a second chance at developing these critical components of development. I had a family describe these foundational objectives to me this way: “I tell people that my son is a building, and that there are several gaps in the building that are missing. If we don’t do something now, as the building continues to get taller it will become even more unsteady. We need to go back and fill in the gaps so he can have a solid foundation.” This is a great way to look at it, and a wonderful way to summarize the RDI® program.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Autism Inspiration

With the school year just starting I came across this quote and thought it was appropriate for not only our kids with autism but a lot of kids in general. It can be both applicable in the school setting and in what we do with children at home.

“If a child cannot learn in the way we teach … we must teach in a way the child can learn.”

Friday, September 5, 2008

Tomatoes to Pasta Sauce

By: Raul and Phillip

This week good and moldy tomatoes were found in the garden. The moldy tomatoes were thrown away in the garbage. The good tomatoes were washed and put in a bowl. We made pasta sauce with the good tomatoes to put on our pasta. Yum!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Communication is Dynamic

Communication is Dynamic

By: Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP

Communication is a dynamic process. It goes way beyond the words we say. Many people interchange the words communication, language, and speech; but these terms are not synonymous. Speech refers to the actual words or sounds that are coming from your mouth. Language is the grammar, meaning and ability to use the words you have. When people talk about language, they are referring to both verbal and non-verbal language. Communication encompasses both language and speech, but it is more than that. It is the ability to share thoughts and experiences in a meaningful way while taking in, processing, and responding to the person you are talking with.

When you stop to think about all the elements of communication, it is a wonder that we don’t have more miscommunication. It is such a multi-level skill! The ability to hear the words someone else is saying is only one small part of dynamic communication that involves the ability to read facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, and body posture at the same time as listening to what the person has to say. Once you’ve taken in all of this information, then you need to process it and decide how to respond.
Communication is a broadband process made up of many single band processes. Speech, language, and each different type of non-verbal language are the single bands that make up the broadband process of communication. If a person has difficulty processing any one of these bands, pieces of communication will be lost and will be difficult to interpret correctly and respond appropriately to the message being sent. The ability to take in and simultaneously process these multiple modes of communication is an automatic process for most of us. It happens rapidly and without thought. Often times we do not even need to hear all of what is being said before we have begun to formulate our response! When we lose focus or are unable to process a particular band of communication, this can lead to breakdowns and misinterpretations. Think about how easy it is to misinterpret what is being communicated when you are talking on the telephone or reading an e-mail. It becomes increasingly difficult to process accurately the message being sent as you take away pieces of the broadband experience that is known as dynamic communication. When talking on the phone, you have lost the ability to gather information from your speaking partner’s facial expressions, gestures, and body language. You are still able to hear the words they are saying, as well as use cues from their tone of voice and loudness to aid in processing the information being presented; but it can be a challenge. This becomes even more difficult with e-mail. You are unable to use any of the non-verbal cues that are crucial for accurate interpretation of messages. How often do you read an e-mail and begin thinking about it in one way, only to find out that isn’t how the sender intended the message at all. This can be a very frustrating experience.

I compare the communication abilities of children with autism spectrum disorders to the process of trying to communicate through e-mail. You can be fairly successful at this form of communication when you know someone well, which is also true when communicating with people with autism spectrum disorders. When you are unfamiliar with the person on the other end of the e-mail, it is easier to have miscommunication unless you are talking about factual information or have the same frame of reference. Children with autism spectrum disorders have difficulty in processing and using broadband communication. As a matter of fact, this difficulty is one of the core deficits of autism: known as experience sharing communication. While they can be very effective at talking about special interest areas or presenting factual information, they often miss the social aspect of communicating. They have not learned the process by which we share our experiences in a dynamic back and forth exchange; this is the essence of experience sharing communication. Often times, they miss the non-verbal cues that let us know when our listener is not understanding or no longer interested. Children on the autism spectrum have difficulty in interpreting more than one mode of communication at a time. They are single band processors. This means that if they are hearing the words you are saying, they are not able simultaneously to read facial expressions and gestures, or interpret the tone of your voice. Without the ability to process multiple bands of communication, it becomes increasingly hard to respond in a meaningful way.

Helping children on the autism spectrum to begin using experience sharing communication and become broadband communication processors must be a top priority in treatment. This is one of the ways that the Relationship Development Intervention® Program works to remediate this core deficit of autism. Improving the ability to communicate meaningfully is a necessary component of improving a person’s quality of life.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Building Competence

The topic of competency has come up several times with many different families over the past few weeks. This has made me pause to think more about how it is we build competency in children. Feelings of incompetency manifest themselves in many different ways depending on the person, but in general there is some telling sign that a person is not feeling competent.

Building moments of competency is a key to success for children and families working on remediating autism through RDI®. Over the past few weeks I have seen this lack of competency show up as passivity, frustration, refusal, and even meltdown. After exploring the root of what is causing the child to feel incompetent it tends to come down to the adults needing to slow down, scaffold, reduce the amount of talking and establish regulation. For some children building competence can begin by finding something that they are good at and having them teach the adult. This allows the adult to spotlight all the moments of competence. Sometimes starting with nice easy activities and really spotlighting the child’s ability to stay regulated or accomplish small pieces of the task can really boost their feelings of competence. This might be something like taking a walk with your child and spotlighting for them the ability to stay with you during the walk. It might be carrying a basket of laundry together and spotlighting along the way how strong he is or how much it helps to have two people carrying the basket. By spotlighting all of the little ways your child is competent you are building a bank of moments that he can draw on in the future.

Finding ways to spotlight moments of competence can sometimes seem difficult, but if you start thinking about competence as being anything your child does well (even smiling at you can be spotlighted) it may not be so hard. I encourage you to find a few small moments each day to spotlight your child’s competence.

Talk to you soon,

Friday, August 8, 2008

Busy Work

What a busy week of work around here - our Collaborate & Create group put together some flower boxes that turned out great and they also cleaned up some yard debris from a storm earlier this summer! I had my office assistants visit me again and our Summer CAMPS group had a theme of Pirates of the Great Seas!

Clean Up Work

Office Assistants Hard At Work

Making Flower Boxes

Friday, August 1, 2008

More Summer Fun!

What a Busy Week! Our theme this week was Let's Experiment - well I don't have any pictures of the kids doing their experiments - I do know they were busy being scientists all week and had a lot of fun. Here are some other pictures though of our kids having fun.

This past spring some of our kids planted a garden, and we picked our first yieldings of produce this week!
Also, we've had the privilege of having the Horizons Cafe open up this summer. I finally got some pictures of some of the staff hard at work preparing our lunch. We sure do enjoy the days that the Cafe is open for lunch - it's delicious and the staff is excellent!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The annual conference

Greetings from the annual conference. Nicole, Courtney and I spent our first day at the annual conference hearing an update from Dr. Gutstein, a great presentation from two of our colleagues and presenting two sessions.

We have also had fun meeting up with some of our old pals and meeting some new ones. We miss Michelle being here with us this year, but know she'll be back with us next year.

We were able to enjoy a nice dinner and a do a little retail therapy this evening as well.

Of course our great minds are hard at work on new product and program ideas as well (which tends to happen when you get a few of us alone in a room together for longer periods of time). Keep checking the website for the launch of some of these new items.

We are enjoying our time, but will be glad to be home in a few days.

Talk to you soon,

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Adventures in the Great Outdoors

Here are some pictures from the Great Outdoors week from Summer CAMPS...

And our time outside...