Archive for August, 2013

Visuals matter

Visuals matter

My new favorite cartoon.

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Be the bridge -part 2

Scaffolding is an educational principle where the teacher provides the minimal amount of support to help a child learn a new concept. Enough support so that the child stays engaged and doesn’t give up, but not so much that the teacher takes away the child’s feeling of ownership (“I did it”). If the teacher steps back too far, a learning opportunity is jeopardized, because the child feels overly challenged and underprepared.
Bridging social interactions is very much the same concept. Stepping in with too great of a presence takes opportunity to gain valuable social skills away from the child. Stepping away too much potentially disrupts the likelihood that the interaction will get off the ground at all.

Here’s a silly example drawing:


T has a toy car. J sees the toy and begins to approach. It is known that T responds to unknown approaches with the following behaviors – puts his head down with no verbal response, ignores the child and walks away, becomes exceedingly protective of his things and alienates/scares new child off.
Knowing these likely responses, your bridge has to be more involved in the introductory interaction. Get up and do a play-by-play – “T. I think the boy is really interested in you and your cool toy car. I bet he’d love it if you showed him how it works”. Or, “hey J (other kid). I’m Anthony, T’s dad. It looks like your about the same age as T. Do you like toy cars also? T, what kind of car are you playing with?”.
Often this brief interception is a chance for modeling (live action) an initial interaction in front of your child and bridging the insurmountable gap between “hey” and play. What I regularly see following my interjection is that the conversation or the play takes off…”I have that car…mines the fastest…you want to race?”. Now suddenly we have an extended social interaction that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred without the bridge.

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It is our belief as parents and practitioners, because we’ve all been taught this, to let the kids “make their own way…do it on their own…learn from their mistakes”. I agree with this principle in many contexts (like resolving conflict), but not when it is at the cost of a valuable social opportunity.
I mention this because lately I’ve been working with many young children who struggle with the initial interaction with peers (ex: playing with a new friend at the park). I’ve noticed that these children unanimously want to engage (on some level), but just don’t know how. Many can even tell me things like, “I don’t know what to say”. This very thing happened today when a child walked up to my client in the library play area, clearly wanting an invitation to join our play. My immediate therapist response is to teach skills, role play similar/potential interactions for the future, cartoon/storyboard where things went south, etc.
However, lately I’ve found myself instinctively being the bridge between my client and the approaching child. I’ve noticed myself scaffolding, much like a preschool teacher on the first day of class – Getting up close and center to new interactions, potential budding friendships or likely conflict. A social liaison of sorts.
In this process, I’ve seen that my immediate presence and just a minimal amount of mediating and reassuring words, can be the difference between a successful engagement and a social shut down (or worse). This has made me rethink the global application of the concept of “stepping back”. Especially in the case of children who struggle so deeply with social interaction and friendship building.
To be clear, I’m still a strong proponent of letting kids do as much as possible on their own (the basis of the scaffolding principle). However, I urge you not to shy away from being the initial BRIDGE for your child in social interactions. In fact, I ask you to step in more.

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Boys Club – 1 month in.

-“This is one of my favorite places to be” – Boys Club participant.

Boys Club is a Saturday Group I started July 1st to bring boys with exceptional needs/brains together for the purpose of forging friendship and feeling part of a peer community. We have 5 awesome members. One month has past and I find myself wanting to reflect on what I believe it has meant to them and what I know it has meant to me thus far. In the picture you can see three boys (the other two are hiding under the cushions).

When I sat down to write about Boys Club, this is what came out:

Fun. Loose. Very Silly.”Potty” humor.Laughing. Talking. Taking Breaks (“Where’s my mom?”). Burying. Burrowing. Trusting that saying “No” or “I don’t want to” is accepted and respected. Engaging. Struggling to Share. Sharing. Turn-taking. “I’m bored”. “Why can’t this be longer?”. Voting. Bumping into each other. Cramming bodies into tiny spaces. Building. Dealing with it. Saying hello. Saying goodbye. Just leaving and saying nothing at all. Thanks. No thanks. Fact checking.”That’s not pre-historic”.

What I know for sure is that I love it! It is my professional dream realized.
A big thanks to all my members and their families for allowing this group to get started.


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I find that when parents speak to new teachers/care providers about their child, they often begin talking like clinicians (clinicalese) – “he has a hard time self-regulating/perspective taking/has an under-developed theory of mind…she struggles with executive functioning tasks…he becomes inflexible and rigid in thinking…she has sensory processing struggles”.
What I find much MORE MEANINGFUL is when parents speak like parents and dig into their deep well of experiences/actual examples – “She needs her toys to be in straight lines or else she freaks out”… “When playing outside with peers, he has a hard time giving them a turn (especially with his things). He could really use help working on this”…”Before the fire alarm goes off, you might want to warn him and give him headphones…he absolutely hates loud noises”… “Don’t touch him on his shoulders…he’s really sensitive there. Try a light wrist squeeze to get his attention”.

Actual examples are not stuck in theory and do not require the listener to access a book; they are immediately resonating images/messages that are concrete and accessible.

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