Thursday, July 1, 2010

Teaching Social Skills...aka..why our swimming is working.

We took swim lessons a few times from an 'expert' that everyone in the metro area autism world goes to. She has a wait list. People drive an hour one way to see her. She had her chart out... she had her check list...she had her visuals. Didn't work. We recently started with a 20 year old in her parent's back yard pool. I received an email from a friend that said there was..'this girl who taught an autistic kid to swim.' What the heck. Let's try it. And it is working great. Why???

Because she is 20 and she is just doing what normal people DO. In autism and special needs we try to put in so many 'helps' that we end up hurting. We try to teach social skills and then practice them. There is really no need (or less of a need); although I can see why it is done. Teachers have to manage so much at one time. But I find it 'interesting' that when you just slow down and 'guide' (vs. instruct) in a developmental manner at the appropriate level (not age), a child learns. That is what is happening at swimming. And it can even be done in a large group environment (school) when people are willing to think outside the box.

The lessons are not without limits. Andrew ran out of the pool and jumped off the edge. We told him no, and he did not do it again. Interesting...he respects limits from someone who is treating him at his developmental age. He always wants to play with the pool cleaner that is in the pool. He tries to go over to it..every time so far... but each lesson fewer times and for less time. Because we nod, 'no.' Truly it reminds me of a one year old who might go back over to touch something he shouldn't. Pre- RDI, he would have looked back, seen us nod no, and kept doing it until we got mad. He would actually UP the ante to see how far he could take us. He knows now that mad gets him nowhere. (And he has taken it to extremes.) But staying in an activity brings a natural rewards... including relationship, confidence, fun...Behavioral tools really only have helped us in very specific situations with very concrete guidelines that he knows what to follow. And only a few rules at a time so that he can process them. It is all about being a guide to him and him being a willing apprentice.

Other activities that she does with him remind me of early childhood. They count 1,2,3 and bob in and out of the water, they blow bubbles. She actually sometimes looks to me like she is treating him like a 1 year old- but he is accepting it. She doesn't KNOW any better that she should have a check list....give verbal instruction...'teach.' ( case you missed that.) She instinctively knows how to guide Andrew and it is incredible to watch. Direct instruction is not helpful and done as a teaching technique can be harmful because children get to think that they do not NEED to think THEMSELVES. They do not learn to think. If she goes into teaching I hope she does not get jaded.

Just got back from the park. Andrew had a meltdown because there was graffiti. On the way to the park he was yelling out the window, "DO YOU KNOW JESUS?? ASK HIM IN YOUR HEART." But he is like Peter. Act now, think later. He would have chopped off the soldier's ear but he also would have been the first one to step out and walk on the water. He is learning to think first but at the park he wanted to know what the graffiti was about. Mom broke a commandment and said, "lollipops." (You can figure it out.) Never lie. NEVER lie to your kids. It does not work. He kept getting more upset, trying to figure it all out in his head. I won't go into the details but lies snowball. I should have just told him it was profanity. Finally we just sat there. And a friend brought over a lollipop. The WAITING and the sensory was enough. There were no behavioral tools brought out because in this instance it would have increased anxiety. All that took over half an hour I am sure. Felt like three hours. (God bless you friends who do not judge. Thank you for today.)

But I was commenting with a friend recently on how when you do RDI it can LOOK like bad behavior without consequence. He did do a 'bad behavior' today but it was outside of the graffiti incident. He hit a little girl. And there will be a consequence as outlined for him prior to the event. But the whole meltdown looked bad and had nothing to do with behavior. But by waiting it out, we left the park on descent terms. I could spotlight that, "hey we went to the park together and had a good (kind of) time."

I still enjoy moms night with my friends better than the park. Anyone wanna meat me at Starbucks tonight??


Penny said...

My daughter's skating coach is like your swim instructor. She treats my girl like a girl and not like an autistic girl. ;)

Wish I could meet you for a treat (although with double ear infections I don't really feel like doing that). Boys are out late at baseball practice. Being with grown ups would be nice, though, despite the ears.

Jennifer said...

It sounds like you have found a gifted young lady to teach your son to swim. What a jewel. It is interesting to me how time and time again the experts are "beat out" by people who just have a heart and a knack for working with special needs kids! I would love to meet you at Starbucks one day, but for now, I'm just stopping by from the Crew.

The Glasers said...

What an amazing story! I really think the key is not to find the person trained in autism, but to find those who get what guiding is. Somehow too much training can get in the way of knowing how to guide. Strange . . .

6kids said...

I love this Amy. Same thing with our swimming teacher. She is such a good guide. Far from being an expert. My best luck in Sunday School and tutoring have been with people with no experience in ASD. :-)

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