12 November, 2010

9. Mindfulness and modulation (being practiced, and not practiced, by professionals)

When I think of mindfulness and modulation, I think of floortime. When someone uses floortime, they try to engage with someone who has a disability by engaging with the things that are important to that person, like games, stims, and special interests. If the person doesn't respond to you in obvious ways, you try to get a response by acting differently, or doing something that you know will provoke a response (like picking up something they are playing with so they'll have to take it back from you). I do think reading Greenspan has been helpful for me because it gives specific examples of how to apply this philosophy, but when I hear people acting as if floortime (and its less awesome and inexplicably expensive counterpart, Son-Rise) is some kind of complicated scientific theory, I wonder how those people normally treat other people in their regular lives.

Right now I occasionally get to work with some late childhood/preteen-age kids with ASD, who don't tend to be verbal unless it's required. If I go into a room and see a bunch of kids with ASD (or a bunch of people any age with anything, actually) who are all kind of keeping to themselves and playing/looking at different things by themselves, my immediate reaction is:

1. Go stand or sit near someone but don't get super in their space
2. Maybe mumble about something or other related to what they're doing
3. Try to touch some of the things they are playing with, like if they are playing with trains, pick up a train piece they're not using and offer it to them
4. If they try to hug me or touch my hair or whatever, I try to touch their hair or tickle them or something and proceed based on whether they seem to like this
5. And so on

Once I saw two nonverbal kids with Down Syndrome playing some kind of game which consisted of standing near each other, not looking at each other, but making advances into the other's space (like sticking their arm out), then physically moving the other person's arm down. So I started sticking my arm out to see if they would let me be in the game. I don't really see how this isn't the obvious way to react in that situation.

I mean seriously, it actually makes me concerned that people think there is something weird or groundbreaking about such a basic way of relating to other people. This stuff doesn't always have some amazing effect (it definitely doesn't "cure" anything like Son-Rise claims, which is why Son-Rise is so dumb) but I have had lots of nice interactions/connections with nonverbal people who, if I was stupid enough to go up to them and ask "Hi, how are you?" and expect eye contact and a handshake, would probably strike me as not being interested in people.

It is pretty interesting, if reading other people and changing your behavior to fit them is such a basic skill for people without autism, that people need to even be told about floortime or related methods at all (and that an abnormal person like me finds it really intuitive, at least in its purest forms).

It is also interesting, although I totally admit I'm straying really far from my original "social skills don't exist" germ, to observe the lack of flexibility, compassion, or modulation in a very strict behaviorist program that discourages people with autism from stimming, having special interests, or avoiding eye contact. Especially when behaviorists will say that their clients with autism are being lazy or not paying attention, or intentionally causing trouble, when the person does things like avoiding eye contact, stimming, banging their head, screaming, etc., instead of thinking that perhaps the person is just behaving neutrally, or is even expressing that they are really upset. Many behaviorists cannot read other people's emotions very well.


  1. Stuff like this is why it strikes me as ironic that people with ASD are frequently characterized as "inflexible," as if regular people aren't.

  2. I just looked up the Son-rise program (becuase I hadn't heard of it before your post) and I was stuck by the obviousiness of the part which advised parents to encourage their children's passions and to join them in their games. I felt that what it was saying, without realizing it, was treat your child with ASD like any other child.

  3. I, too, am frequently baffled by how much trouble NT adults seem to have interacting with kids with disabilities. I'm a respite care worker, and parents are often surprised how quickly their kids decide that I'm likeable. It's because I let the kids take the lead.