Handy Hint [possibly] no 3

I’d like to give credit where it’s due, but I have a nasty habit of ‘speed reading’ for whatever is the current crisis. So unfortunately I will need to track it down later. Suffice to say, that somewhere or other, I found a new route to try and achieve a couple of moderate goals. [translation = at the time they seemed impossible]

Then, the boys did not ‘play.’ They were also incapable of doing anything without prompting. An example of this would be when Senior was being tested. He was given a school worksheet to complete that was well within his capabilities, but no pencil with which to write. He sat in front of the table looking at the worksheet but did not ask for a pencil. [I don’t know if he could have asked specifically for a pencil back then, but he might have asked for help or intimated that there was a problem, even if that manifested itself in a meltdown.] Similarly, if he ever finished a task he wouldn’t initiate the next step, ‘tell’ you that he was finished, merely remain static, roll off his chair or wander off.

Had I been at home I would have prompted him, but the ‘tester’ had given me strict orders not to interfere. It made me realise, reluctantly, how I constantly intercepted, coached and tried to anticipate and forestall stumbling blocks. Instead of using those opportunities to seduce them into speech, I was making the situation worse. I had chosen the ‘meltdown free’ easy road. I stole their motivation to speak. Why should they bother when they could get what they wanted faster by other means?

In addition, choices, regardless of whether they were preferred or loathed, were a long standing obstacle. Lastly, independence, even for a few minutes was well out of reach.

So many of the recommended therapies, be that RDI, floortime or whatever, had an built in flaw, namely, the one-on-one. One of me, two of them. I did do it, but it was unsatisfactory because somebody was always left to ‘float.’ That was the nub of the difficulty. I was not able to find anything constructive to occupy anyone independently. If I spent 45 minutes with one, rolling a ball back and forth on the floor between us, engaged, with giggles, some words and prompts, I knew that somebody else was busy examining air particles in the family room.

At that time we used PECS. I made a lot of them myself because the standard ones often provoked meltdowns because they had some ‘fault.’ I bought a binder for each of them and put half a dozen stiff pages in each. [They found it difficult to turn ‘thin’ pages] I velcroed two PECS to each page. They could choose between two ‘toys/ activities’ – lacing cards [tough on the fine motor] or magnet play. I made sure that they were on different ‘tasks’ from each other to avoid meltdowns. Each page presented two choices, so I could engineer who was doing what, stagger the difficulty level / hatefulness.

The last page showed that it was snack time. They only need spend a few minutes on each page, but in theory, they would be ‘done’ after 20 minutes to half an hour. A visual timer helped with this so they could see that it wouldn’t be forever.

I can’t remember now how many months it took before we were headed in the right direction, but gradually they managed to at least attempt the tasks. As they progressed, I added little ‘conversation’ bubbles to help prompt them to make comments, both to me – ‘I’m done’ and to each other, ‘great job.’ I know how artificial it sounds, and it was [is] but imposing structure on their chaotic world helped calm them considerably. They knew that once they had done their ‘work’ they would be given time to revert to their preferred perseverances, a trade off.

I would mention in passing, that whilst I complain and moan about the frequent, explosive tantrums that they both have, it is only in the last couple of years that I’ve realized that I was the one who taught them to do this. My reaction to the meltdowns was to placate, offer solutions, fix it and fast. Every time I did this, many times an hour, I reinforced the behaviour that I was trying to eradicate. I didn’t give them options to solve the problem for themselves, such as speaking. But back to where we were.

I would try to do this every day whilst my daughter was at school. She would sometimes join us if I drifted behind schedule later in the day. I imagine that if you have a typically developing child too, that it could be adapted, they would see it as ‘play’ rather than torture. I am uncertain whether a younger child modeling the behaviour you want would be a good thing or detrimental, as family dynamics make it unpredictable, but I think it would be worth a try.

I know it won’t be a good fit for a lot of people, but for me and mine, it was great, especially for me, because I had peace of mind, knowing that we were all together doing something constructive at the same time, rather than paying the heavy, psychological price, of someone spinning their wheels elsewhere.

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