Ben and his dad went on a field trip today to Eden Wind horse farm. The program was for kids age 4 and up, so this was a solo event for Ben. Spending one-on-one time with each of the children is something Mark and I have talked about implementing, but never really do. Today was a good start. And also, an excellent opportunity for our RDI goals.
Encouraging the development of Ben’s episodic memory is something we try to do as often as possible. Recalling what we did everyday with emphasis on emotions and relationship is one way we work on this. Ben usually reports at dinner the events of the day to Mark. Today, I got to be on the receiving end of the storytelling. I had to try very hard to give plenty of time and space for Ben to organize his thoughts and speak freely without me peppering him with leading questions or hurrying him to respond when I thought enough time had passed. What a great lesson for me this was! Ben had this to say about his trip–before we even looked at the photos Mark had taken.
“Mama, I rode a horse!”
“A black horse”
[responding to Mark] “His name was Chocolate.”
“I went in a trailer.”
“I was sad.”
“I wanted go in the trailer again.”
“Molly.” [“Molly?”, I ask] “Yes, Molly the horse.”
“I brushed Molly.”
“I gave Molly a carrot.” [me: “You did?”]
“Yes, I did!” [smiling at my expression] “You’re feeling surprised, Mama?”
“A grownup talks.”
“There was a grey cat.”
“I rode a horse.”
“I wanted to ride Molly.”
“I was sad. ”
“You’re feeling surprised again?” [again, reading my facial expressions]
“I got a horseshoe.”
What things I can learn by controlling my tendency to talk too much! By not having a complete context to work with, it was easier for me to withhold from “helping” Ben when he retold his experience at the farm to me. With only my facial expressions as feedback, there was far less ‘echolalia’ or repeating what I said back to me. There was great referencing while delivering his messages, and after delivery to record my expressions–even commenting on them.
One thing seemed clear, especially after writing down what was said, that we’ll need to encourage more shared memory experiences. Along with episodic memory, ASD kids also have trouble recognizing their memories can also be the memories of others. Scientists apparently refer to this development, humorously, as the “we-go” (as opposed to the ‘ego’) where there is understanding of the self as part of a bigger unit –specifically, a dyad with a parent, at first–that co-regulates and is interdependent.
So, here’s the plan of action for Team Parent:
1. Talk less, listen more
2. When we do talk, continue to use more declarative language, less imperative language (describing, not requesting)
3. Encourage ‘we-go’ development by increasing shared memory experiences and storytelling that uses “WE”
I keep hearing a line from my alma mater‘s fight song in my head lately. It often seems like a battle, if not literally than certainly in our own heads, to remediate the autism, in that a fight song is certainly appropriate. It’s a three word phrase, and it’s been used recently in a different context that also applies. Healing, hope, and battle–FORWARD, TOGETHER FORWARD.
Go Huskies! And go Us!