Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Chapter one- tools of the mind

How...and Why- The Importance of Resilience
A look at some of Chapter one in “Tools of the mind”

A sentence on Page 5 of Tools of the mind reads “Young children are able to think, attend, and remember. The problem is that their thinking, attention and memory are very reactive.”

As our typical children develop resilience in those first few years of life, their mental tools emerge and their learning takes on a more self directed feel. At the very basic core, this begins when a typical child says things like “I do it”. When in a situation. They are no longer concerned with possible failure...they want to Try it. They have the foundations of trust...trust meaning that the person they are with, is trusted as their guide (they know they would step in if need be). This guide...will give them just enough freedom to not overwhelm them. It is a beautiful cycle of development repeated all across the world (The guided participation relationship)

Of course these is just the start...but at the same time crucial to further success in what milestones follow and how each mental process builds upon one another. The absence of this resilience most definitely influences typical children in all aspects.

And this rings true for our children with Autism too. (Of course it would, as they are children too... needing/wanting the same chance) This is one of the reasons why I appreciate the work of Vygotsky and Piaget ( referenced in the book, background, etc). By linking memory, attention and social context to learning, we know that development cannot be separated from the social relationship and Social context. This fact holds the key to reaching our children on the spectrum.

On page 10, social context is explored. I was fascinated by the rest of this chapter because I thought back to when Autism was considered the result of the *refrigerator mom*. We know, that Social context molds how we think and influences how we perceive our world. Children in orphanages have been shown to have an effect on their mental processes within self regulation compared to children who were in a loving home. This basic information could lead to the conclusion that the parents must have done something to *create* the child to act the way they do (people still fall into that trap) Yes, we are all a product of our experiences... but in addition to that, there is so much more going on in the background. Thankfully as we moved more toward understanding the disorder we knew that ASD was the result of an assault on neurology and not the parents fault. Because of this injury, the child struggles in understanding the crucial piece of the intent of relationships, which typical children use as they make sense of the world. On page 11 “The idea that culture influences cognition is crucial because the Childs entire social world shapes not just what he knows but how he thinks” the relationship piece is part of the developmental and learning process. When our children stall in development, the important question is how...and why. How to help...and why paying attention to the chain of typical development.

On page 13 is the discussion of the relationship of learning and development. They are related to one another but are two separate processes. This belief is challenged by behaviorists who believe that learning and development is the same thing... (Conditioning Childs behaviors is very different then filling in their developmental milestones) This is clear as we know that accumulation of facts or skills does not make someone a good problem solver, Etc.
The point here for all children, is by skipping a child’s developmental needs, we miss the chance to help our children with making their own learning discoveries. Think back in your own life, when you learned from experience compared to someone teaching you a skill. It is a very different memory. By giving children the tools of resilience, we are beginning to set the stage that they can make discoveries related to their experience and knowledge. There is just no comparison when we just try to fill children with knowledge, hoping it generalizes to something more without addressing the developmental milestones. We will talk more about generalization in the next chapter.

I happen to believe that most children diagnosed with ASD, can socially think (more than just facts) pay attention, make use of their memories for relationships, and get back on their developmental trajectory by starting at the core... I know this to be fact as I have watched my own two children shed the obstacles associated with Autism, to become dynamic thinkers, resilient and back to their developmental path.

To do this, we must start at the beginning. That beginning is fostering resilience for our children on the spectrum. It is the same beginning for our typical children as well. To start this process, the very first thing I recommend to parents is to slow your pace down in action and communication. When our children are first diagnosed, we set into motion a plan to try and get them to do what their peers are doing. Many times interventions will try and do this with prompts and reinforces, with little regard to developmental milestones. When we stop over prompting, and we wait for a child to give have a meaningful role in even a simple interaction, we show them that we will wait for them to process what we have said. This begins to build trust and with each successful interaction (without being told what to think)...their resilience is emerging and their anxiety is lessened. Of course this is the first step with many more to follow.

I look forward to talking more about this and many other aspects of equipping our children with ASD with mental tools in the upcoming chapters.
Stay tuned!