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.