It takes only a glimpse of today's world to realize that we are living in unprecedented times. We flip from answering our cell phones, to sending email to friends, to writing to-do lists at lightning speed. Our minds can barely keep up with the demands of our fast-paced world - this requires us to be able to think in a truly "dynamic" fashion.
Consider how incredible our brains are - imagine sitting on a beach, gazing at breathtaking scenery (ahhh). As you gaze at the sparkling water and sink back into your chair, you notice the soft breeze against your arms. Where does your mind go? If you're like most of us, your thoughts wander. As you look around at the people in your midst, you wonder where they live or wonder about the conversations they're having. You study their body language and facial expressions. You may begin to ponder dinner options for that evening. Perhaps someone you see reminds you of a friend and you realize that you owe her a call. Suddenly, your mind goes to your work and you realize that on Monday you have a meeting and begin mentally preparing for it - you realize that you've left your planning to the last minute and do some fast thinking about what you can juggle to free up some extra time. You root through your bag for a notebook to jot down some notes but as you search for your notebook, you see the sunscreen and remember it's time to slather more on the kids. You remember the last time you forgot the sunscreen and how awful you felt. Incredibly, all of these mental processes occur in a remarkably short period of time!
Dynamic intelligence represents the ability to mentally "stick handle" when obstacles show up - to think in shades of grey; to use our past experiences (the sunburn for example) to avoid future mishaps. Being on a beach may allow our minds to wander but this isn't always possible! Consider driving your car. Sure, you can mull things over if you're on a straight stretch of road without other cars around, but in a busy intersection it's much different! As you make a left hand turn at a busy intersection, you're able to shelve all other thoughts that may compete for your attention as your priority is avoiding a collision, pedestrians and cyclists! I think you get the picture. However, dynamic intelligence isn't just thought - but being able to use these thought processes to interact thoughtfully, collaborate and meet our own needs at the end of the day. No small feat.
So what is static intelligence? By definition, static means unchanging. Two times two will always equal four; the capital of Canada will always be Ottawa and apples and oranges will always remain in the fruit category - but don't ask me how tomatoes made it in there. Think back to your driving experience... we know that green means "go" and red means "stop." We tie our shoelaces the same way and use the phone book to look up numbers the same way. Typically, children with autism and other developmental disabilities can excel in the realm of static intelligence, yet they lack dynamic intelligence, which creates the lion's share of their frustration.
The Beginnings of "Dynamic Intelligence"
Picture a parent with a young infant. At this age, the child listens intently when mom or dad speaks - what are they saying to the child? How are they speaking? Likely, they're not reading War and Peace or telling jokes. No, they're up close, using big facial expressions, cooing and using simple sentences. They speak softly and use "sing-song-like" intonation. The child responds by cooing back, giving mom and dad the feedback that they need to stay in sync with the child. When I began to realize how magical the "dance" between parents and their children is, it hit me like a ton of bricks: We are nothing short of hard-wired to communicate to our young in exactly the fashion that they need in order to learn how to understand our nonverbal communication - long before they learn to communicate using words! When the words develop, they enhance the "emotional feedback loop" that's already there!
It's through the miraculous, ever-changing relationship between parent and child that dynamic intelligence begins - through understanding nonverbal communication then through developing resilience and eventually through learning to borrow the parent's perspective. So - our children learn the foundation of "dynamic intelligence" through parents and caregivers. Eventually, once they are able to relate to others, we teach them static skills, like brushing their teeth and using a knife and fork. It's assumed that by the time a child is school-age, they are able to function in a dynamic environment - and we all know how dynamic a kindergarten classroom is!
Can Dynamic Intelligence be "Taught?"
Unfortunately, common belief these days is that children with ASD and other developmental disabilities can only be taught "static" skills. This is NOT the case! Their brains may be wired differently, but they are more than capable of learning "thinking skills" if guided in the right manner.
RDI® Consultants are trained to coach parents to "guide" their child's cognitive, emotional and social development - to teach parents, grandparents, teachers and other significant adults to re-construct the "guided participation relationship" through which dynamic intelligence is learned. Parents break down learning to think and perceive a world full of change and complexity into small, simple components. Adults learn to slow down and amplify information feedback, so that both adults and children are more readily able to understand and adjust to one another.
Parents learn to use the activities of daily life to introduce safe, but challenging experiences for the child. Children learn to respond in more flexible, thoughtful ways to novel, increasingly unpredictable settings and problems. Trust emerges as children learn to recognize regularity and patterns, even in a continually more complex world. Eventually authentic competence emerges as they take ever-greater responsibility for tackling tasks and problems with many partners in varying settings.
Through their parents, the "cognitive apprentice" learns authentic, give and take communication, and develops the ability and desire to connect with others on many different levels.
What can you do to help your child think in a more dynamic fashion? You can start right now by slowing your rate of speech, and being aware of when you "pepper" your child with questions! Children with developmental disabilities often need extra time to process information; their mental "stick handling" isn't as well honed as others. Take a few moments each day to think about how you speak to your child, and imagine how you would feel listening to your own communication... a little extra breathing space is often good for everyone - parents included!
Thank you Sue for this excellent blog!
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