My son Jack perseverates on some unusual things. Spinning fans, cash registers, anything that lights up or makes a sound when you drop it. A click and a clack can mesmerize him for hours.
I learned I can respond in one of two ways: I can stop the behavior or I can seek to understand it. The outcome is dramatically different in both scenarios. Having been coached early on by the government-funded agencies that offer early intervention, I was in the first camp for several years, until my maternal instincts began to override what the “authorities” were telling me.
I couldn’t shake the pit in my stomach when Jack’s ABA teachers came to our home every day after Jack had already spent hours in school. The teachers were wonderful, caring people. It wasn’t about them. But the consensus seemed to be in school and at home that extinguishing aberrant behaviors was critical to his success.
By the time he was in third grade, it became too much for me to allow the constant corrections, day in and day out. He was only eight years old and had been working intensely for the past six years since his diagnosis. There had to be a better way. And I found one.
This new model, based on the Son-Rise Program, sought to build relationships rather than extinguish behaviors. And the really far-out, crazy difference was the suggestion to join the child in the aberrant behaviors!
That seemed outlandish but as a mother who was weary of the constant redirecting, and the nagging possibility that I was crushing my son’s spirit, I took the plunge. I began to join Jack in his behaviors and celebrate, over-the-top, any attempt on his part to look at me or connect with me.
And it worked. Not just a little, but a lot.
Jack began looking at us and sharing interactions, pointing to things and asking questions. These things happened spontaneously, without a script and no pressure.
For six years we wanted more than anything to connect with our son. But the opposite was happening. He was becoming less connected to us and his peers. There weren’t enough social stories or flashcards that could teach Jack how to genuinely desire human interaction.
It makes sense. Why would he want to interact with people that were always telling him to stop what he liked to do and do what they wanted him to do? Yes, there is an urgency to capturing our children’s attention so they can learn and survive in this world, but there are different ways to approach them.
So the great paradox was in the method that we chose. By joining Jack in his world, I began to understand why he was doing what he was doing and even more importantly, I was creating a space for Jack to feel accepted, loved and safe being who he needed to be in the moment. It’s what opened the door for human connection.
xoxo, Andrea Libutti
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