Teaching Out of Autism

So what do you teach a child you don’t know anything about even though he/she is your child? How do you teach someone with whom you cannot communicate?  The insistence on teaching gross motor imitation is one of the best ideas brought by ABA crowd.  A child imitates therapist’s gestures accompanied by a short direction, “Do this” . This installs the idea  that another human being is a source of important cues ( information).  That it is beneficial to look for cues to another human being.  It is very important to state that the goal is not to teach child all the separate movements – touching nose, raising hands, clapping, stumping feet, but to teach imitating what the therapist does in this moment.  It is extremely important distinction.  Robert learned all the movement very quickly, and when he heard his therapist’s making a noise with his mouth (At this time, Robert heard sounds, but not words.), Robert responded with a chain of all previously practiced movements.  He was touching nose, clapping hands, patting his head, and stumping his feet.  He hoped that one of those movements should satisfy his teacher.

Yet there was something I taught Robert even before he started his discrete trails.  I taught him something I believed was easy. Well, It wasn’t!

I tried many things.  Nursery rhymes and finger-plays! Of course I tried that!   Hundred times! Thousand times! Robert liked them.  He was sitting in front of me on a table.  Face to face. He gave me his hands over and over so I could do all the right movements for the spider song and many other songs.  Yet whenever I released his hands from my grasp, his arms froze in the air.  He couldn’t finish one movement by himself.  He waited for me. And of course he didn’t repeat even one word from any of the songs.

What I finally taught Robert somewhere around his third birthday was to string beads.  The beads were large and the string was easy to operate as it resembled shoe lace.  But the teaching wasn’t easy!  Only when I started teaching hand over hand I realized how many complex steps were involved in this activity.

Picking up a bead.

Picking up the string.

Aiming the string at the hole.

Pushing it through.

Letting the string go.

Moving the bead from one hand to another.

Pulling the string from the other side of the bead.

Putting it down and starting over while not letting this one bead slip of the string.

I think I used something which resembled “Forward Chaining” I read about in Foxx’s book on “Increasing Behaviors”.

I did  all the teaching in  a few short sessions spread over one hour.  Each session was approximately 20 second long.  Out of these 20 second at least ten was spent on dealing with wiggly, escaping behaviors of my son.  Robert was sitting at the table.  I was standing behind him, bent over to prevent him from hitting my chin with his head.  Nonetheless, he managed to do just that a few times.  In every session, we worked on just one new step adding it to the previous ones. To be precise, every time, Robert was starting from the beginning and continued until a new step.  When he mastered that step, I finished stringing the bead and we started again after a break.  By the time Robert strung two beads independently, I was exhausted and  depressed.  I doubted if my efforts, my aching chin, and Robert’s clear dislike of the process were worth anything at all. What was the purpose?  To demonstrate that he can learn to do something?

Sadly, yes.  I wanted, I needed to see Robert’s learn.  Learn something.  So he did.  So what?

And then….

Some time later that day, I saw Robert sitting on the floor with a box full of wooden beads stringing them one by one until the string was at least half full!

First independent activity in his life.

First few minutes spent purposefully in an organized way.

The first few minutes I could relax.

I could give Robert a box of beads and go to the bathroom alone!


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  1. Increasing the Pace to Connect the Dots | krymarh

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