Sunday, August 28, 2011

Autism and Collaborative Problem solving

Scenario : kid with language difficulties has been hitting, spitting and swearing at his speech therapist.

The following is a list of interventions that parents try to solve the problem

A Time out and Reflection -  if a kid perceives  TO as a consequence or punishment , reflective questions  -   how do you think your teacher feels ?  can you think of a better way to tell her how you are feeling ?   will have no impact.

The best time for kids to reflect on their behavior is when they feel unconditionally loved and have a good  connection - then they feel safe. It is important to find the right time for your discussion. Kids are generally motivated to act appropriately and adaptively. ' Kids do well if they can '  - they lack the skills to do so. The acting out –being on the looking bad spectrum happens when the demands placed on the kid outstrip his skills.

B.  calming techniques -  teaching him calming procedures ,techniques – breathing,  meditation , crouch like a tortoise – calm down then ask for help ,remember the  traffic light  red =stop, yellow = reflect and choose what to do , green = act , having something ' sensory to touch ' that distracts him, give him the language or sign language that communicates  he is stuck or frustrated and needs help  , role play etc

C .  give the kid a feelings vocabulary  -   I am angry, frustrated, upset, anxious , etc
Calming techniques and feelings vocabulary might help to stop the hitting, spitting or swearing but they still deal with the symptom and not the cause.  The cause is the unsolved problem and the lagging skills which he needs to solve that problem.

D. Out of the moment  Collaborative Problem solving -  We need to solve the outstanding problem so the kid has no longer a need to hit , spit, swear, calm himself down or express frustration appropriately. By engaging in the CPS process , the kid is indirectly acquiring skills –using hindsight  reflecting on the past, anticipation-forethought in predicting the viability of solutions, articulating concerns and solutions, taking perspectives etc  and we are solving the problem which is reliably and predictably occurring in a durable way.

D1 identifying and articulating concerns or triggers  – we can help kids by offering tentative educated guesses/hypothesis  of their concerns or unmet needs usually based on our observation or intuition.  To help with the process , we can make a list of the predictable concerns that cause him to become frustrated  -  clothing bulky or itchy, food does not taste good, peer /sibling bothering him , hungry, hot, tired, thinking someone mad at him that we both can refer to. If the kid is non-verbal or has serious difficulty in articulating concerns we can depict the kid's common, predictable triggers or concerns in pictures so he can point to the concern that is causing the problem.  Over time we can pair specific words with pictures so we become less reliant on the pictures.

D2 Teaching directly the language of concerns.  Teaching feelings vocabulary like sad, mad, frustrated is useful but it is more important for him to let us know what concerns or unmet needs  causing him to be mad, sad or frustrated.  

D3 Generic concerns – teaching '  general problem vocabulary'  that can be applied across many situations  - Something's the matter, I can't talk about it right now, I need help, I don't know what to do, I need a break , I need time to think is helpful.

D4 Taking time -  it is useful to tell kids who may have the language but still find it difficult to express their concerns to take their time and think first about what they want to say. Kids are rarely asked about their concerns and don't have them on the tip of their tongues.

Ross Greene in his CPS book for schools ' Lost at School ' talks about CPS as opposed to ABA as an more appropriate intervention for autistic kids . 

Ross Greene -

'It’s often assumed that the CPS model has no application to these autistic kids, and that well-known applied behavior analysis methodology is really the only option. I beg to differ. “Autism spectrum” doesn’t say anything about the kid’s general cognitive functioning, and unless you’re ready to throw in the towel on teaching the kid lagging skills or helping him learn to solve problems – and hopefully, you’re not – then CPS may well have a role to play. The most common obstacle is communication/linguistic skills. As described above, you’ll want to focus first on helping the kid develop the skills to communicate his concerns (often through pictures or hand signals) in a very rudimentary manner , and if your kid is unable to provide much information about his concerns, then your powers of observation and intuition will be crucial . Of course , because your powers of observation and intuition aren't infallible , you will need to continue observing and intuiting so you can recognize you have hit the nail on its head with your hypotheses about your kid's concerns. Then, if possible, you’ll want to focus (if it’s feasible) on helping the kid express these same concerns verbally. Along the way, you’ll be watching closely to see if there is some mechanism for the kid to participate in generating solutions.'

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reinforcement or Reflection?

The interventions we choose reflect our view of children.

 If children are just the sum of their behaviors, motivated by rewards and punishments it makes sense to use reinforcements and rules. But if children try to make meaning of what happens in their lives, reflection will foster not only intrinsic motivation and dynamic intelligence but also help them become ethical people. We need to help them ' construct' moral meaning, figure for themselves and each other – how one ought to act.

Problem solving requires the ' executive functions' of hindsight – to reflect on past solutions and their outcomes and forethought to predict the likely outcomes of potential solutions. This type of reflection and anticipation relies on ' episodic –personal memory. The construction of  personal meaning of an action is more important than the details of the actions themselves and this is what kids take from experiences . When kids are rewarded for compliance, the personal meaning is converted into economic norms , factual information – static intelligence. If I do this I will get.

 Rewards or even non-verbal rewards like praise may help in the short term to get compliance, but in the long term instead of reinforcing behavior, their intrinsic motivation is undermined and they loose interest. Instead of promoting ethics, dynamic intelligence, thinking and brain growth , rewards  promote the most primitive moral thinking. Brain research shows that when kids are promised rewards they use less of the area of the brain responsible for creativity and initiative.

Collaborative problem solving does more than ' reinforce'. It involves the kid in anticipation and reflection, fostering dynamic intelligence and learning.

 ' The ultimate goal of engaging in any kind of learning activity is to create, elaborate, or reinforce the specific synaptic connections in the learner's brain. This can only occur through creating memories that support the types of connections we wish to make. '  - The RDI – relationship development book ( autism spectrum)

In order to support personal memory , dynamic intelligence and moral development we need according to Alfie Kohn 

 to maximize the opportunities for kids to make choices, to discover and learn for themselves

to create a caring community in the classroom and family so that kids at school and within the family have the opportunity to do these things together with others.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Misbehaving with one parent

The traditional approach says that a kid's misbehavior should be found across various settings, so if they behave well at school or with one parent and not the other , the problem is behavioral – a product of poor parenting.  CPS does not see kids being ' ODD'  all the time , but rather there are certain conditions where the demands of the situation outstrip the kid's skills that trigger the ' looking bad' type of behavior. We need to identify the various situations, conditions, the lagging skills, the child's concerns and the care giver's concerns in order to teach the lagging skills and solve problems 

Here is my response to a mom whose kid misbehaves  with her  but  is alright at school or with her husband.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Let kids take their time - the power of a Pause

Collaborative problem solving  is about thinking , using hindsight, foresight, reflection, planning, problem solving etc.
 We all , and especially kids need time to think and reflect. 

Kids may also not have the words to articulate their concerns or share information about a problem that is not on the tip of their tongues. After our initial inquiry on the empathy step = gathering information about the kid's concerns  …  ' I have noticed that …...when….. , what's up  ? or asking for elaboration or clarification – ' can you tell me more ?' 

We can add   '  Please take your time , there is no hurry "

see the video clip Silence = time to think

When we talk with kids ,  they should do the speaking and we the listening , directing the conversation conversation with dialog questions. We need to be patient and give kids time to think.

When we do speak , we can ' pause ' a lot , giving kids time to take in the information , process it and even using ' consequential or sequential thinking ' to predict or suggest answers   as to what comes next.

In a blog article Carol Subramani Pause that makes all the difference

shows how using pause can promote reflection and thinking. The pause - should become part of our vocab, an essential part of conversation.

Let us all take some to time to pause, think and reflect before we respond.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Character Education - Focus on relatedness - not on good deeds

Getting a kid to say ' I am sorry ' - even if it is not sincere -is common amongst parents and teachers who want to make children accountable for their deeds and pay the price. 

In the Collaborative problem solving process –CPS , making the apology comes at the end of the process . 

First we problem solve and come up with a better plan , and help the kid change from the inside.  We give him a vision of the future , the type of person he wants to be.

Now he is in a position to deal with past and engage in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution , and making  a sincere apology with his self esteem intact. 

Accountability is more than 'saying sorry '  , it is creating a vision of oneself as a caring person and making a  commitment to the future.   see  true accountability

Joe Bower in a blog – autonomous and authentic apologies  writes

Apologizing needs to feel like empathy, not guilt and retribution…. Saying sorry is less about the person saying it and more about the person hearing it. …It is about how we can show others we care about them. 

His words are an important guide in how we engage in character education and moral development.

There is a tendency is focus on the doing of good deeds – helping others, inviting singles or who do not have family, or poor kids  to your home for dinner , giving a kid in need clothes, food, sweets etc  ,kids going to entertain a down syndrome child or doing housework for an old lady etc. 

Kids are then rewarded with stickers etc for every good deed they do.  The kids and people they help hereby  become 'objects ' that enable THEM to do the good deeds -  something that enables them to do the good deed of inviting guests or helping a person in need. Only when kids are intrinsically motivated and not collecting good deeds can they be empathic and focus on the physical and emotional-relatedness needs of other kids.

Not only have we ' converted social norms into economic norms '  - Dan Ariely , but converted people into objects. The down syndrome kid soon feels that the teen is not interested in forming a relationship or a friendship – becoming a real friend ,  the guest  feels he is serving the hosts need to ' have guests' – an object of charity rather than a real person who has a need for connection and ' relatedness'. 

 Good deeds done this way is more about the person doing it and less  about the person we are supposed to be connecting with. Relatedness goes beyond the physical interaction, it is more about an emotional connection, a feeling of being respected as an autonomous human being , understood, and cared about.

This understanding can be used to explain a strange commentary  on the words 

from Psalm 34.  ' Seek peace and pursue it '   -   seek peace but not good deeds. 

 Peace is about relationship and connection between people on an emotional level.  We should pursue peaceful relationships. When we pursue good deeds , it is more about us and less about the other person.

In a similar light 

 The biblical character Jacob (Yaakov) blessed his son Judah (Yehudah) that “……your teeth white with milk” (i.e., the land will be fertile so that it would produce an abundance of  milk). The commentary  teaches that “teeth white with milk” can be read to mean that when one shows his teeth (by smiling) to another, it is better than giving him milk; while milk nourishes the body, a smile enters the mind and body and real connection 
and relationship is made with the other person

An emotional connection affects both the physical and emotional sides of people.

Here is a message to teachers of our kids 

  It is not so important for kids how much you know but how much you care