I can’t believe we have only one day left. I just want to move here to be in proximity of such great teachers. In the last two days we’ve gotten opportunities to go into the playroom with Ezra and receive feedback on our techniques. I for one feel like I learn best through observing others. During the Start-Up and the New Frontiers we would talk about and watch videos of the techniques applied with children. That was certainly helpful, but even more effective was to see those techniques applied by professional staff with Ezra. Autism is a spectrum and the repetitious exclusive behaviors (referred to as “isms”) manifest in as many different ways in children as do their idiosyncratic facial features. It wasn’t easy to translate the principles of joining to Ezra’s isms as his are actually quite different from most autistic children. One thing that was challenging for us was that he is so flighty with an attention span of 2 seconds. He will go from one activity to another within seconds. For example he’ll be reading a book, then get up and pull down a bear from the shelf, walk over to the toy school bus, drop the bear, push the bus back and forth, and then move on to climb on the little play structure. And all of this in 30 seconds all the while narrating the mental image reel that plays in his head. This can go on all day. When he gives us a green light (an action implying that he’s ready for interaction) then we move in and build on that activity. Through observing the staff we learned a wonderful technique of weaving his interests back into one main theme. For example, if we come in trying to teach him how to play baseball (our props being a bat and a ball) and he would be talking about “naughty uncle scar from Lion King” and he was looking at us directly, we would say something like: yes, uncle scar made some bad choices, but you know what he was really great at? Swinging a baseball bat! And this is how you do it…etc. Here’s an example of a format of working with Ezra:
- Enter room with prepared theme
- Explain the theme
- If he is isming join, if he is into it: go for it
- Wait for green light (longer looks, verbal or physical cues)
- Celebrate the green light
- Assign him a role with a physical action to help him participate in your game
- Become the show, celebrate every action
- He wonders off goes to isming after maybe 3 seconds. Starts talking about mommy and daddy, or uncle Dave
- Wait for green light
- celebrate the green light when you get it
- Build using his last motivation i.e. mommy and daddy and weave the theme back into it: you know mommy and daddy can hit a ball blind folded
We have found that to be tremendously helpful with Ezra, as it is simply impossible to get a good build when you have no direction and purpose. We learned how to do feedback properly, got verbal and video feedback on our sessions with Ezra, learned how to fill out the forms, and had a practical Q&A about our situation in the Netherlands and the volunteers.
I have to admit I had some reservations about the Son-Rise program. I thought that the whole joining thing made sense, but I didn’t truly understand it’s purpose. Part of me was also thinking: isn’t there a faster more effective way, and I know I can get to interact with me, why should I wait until he chooses to? This week I understood that what Ezra and autistic children have the most challenge with is wanting to connect with others. Through joining him with love, and enthusiasm in his world in whatever his chosen activity is, for however long he decides to do it, and refraining from trying to get him to interact, we allow him to exercise what he has the most challenge with, which is to decide for himself to want to interact. If we don’t truly join, and keep on going after the interaction, or prompting him, then we are not giving him the opportunity to chose. By refraining from prompting through questions we know he can answer, or constantly interrupting him in his activity we help him commit to really want to play with us, or not, and all the while learning that if he wants to play he needs to do to be clear. When wanting to interact with a peer, he usually walks up to them and either stands too close or too far away and shyly mumbles “want play” while his whole body and face are turned away from the peer, with only his butt pointing towards the peer. And almost every time I had to step in and speak up for him, give clear body language, clear communication. By joining him and waiting for strong green lights we help him understand what is necessary to engage a peer.
We have seen such amazing progress with Ezra during this week. It really makes a difference to have him in the playroom from 8:45 am to 6 pm. I can easily see how working with motivated people could end in his full recovery. The challenge that we’re facing is of course that we simply don’t have the man power as of yet. We have three fabulous volunteers helping us, but we really need about 6 or 8 for the maximal benefit to Ezra. We agreed in our Q&A that for the moment we really need to prioritize finding volunteers in our agenda.