Tuesday, December 12, 2006

pretend play -- a young child's work

I'm making a pre-new-years resolution to get entirely caught up on our RDI back-story before Jan 1, so that I can start posting about our daily happenings (which may or may not be of interest to anyone else, but is sort of the reason I started this whole thing to begin with!). So this post is going to sort of re-combine RDI and Enki Education and then I'll switch back to talking about RDI stages and the like for a week or so, then more Enki for a week or so, then hopefully I'll be all caught up! (And will have a tall glass of something yummy to celebrate!)

But before I shift back to RDI, I wanted to talk about all that "pretend play" time in our current schedule. As most child development experts probably agree, pretend play is the developmentally appropriate "work" of the young child. For some reason school systems these days seem to like to ignore that fact, and you hear stories about recess being eliminated in Kindergartener's schedules because their academic schedules are too stringent, there's just not any time for "play". How that makes any sense at all is beyond me, but it's a fact that it's happening. And no doubt is one of the things fueling the huge Homeschooling movement in the US now. Parents just like us are saying "uh, wait a second...." and looking for more developmentally appropriate options for their kids. I can't help but think this will change the way the school systems operate eventually, and I certainly hope so for those kids whose families have no choice but to keep them in public schooling. Fortunately, we have options, and we've chosen the options that make sense for our kids and our family.

So the focus of the daily rhythm for an Enki Education family with young children is going to be making sure the kids have enough opportunity to do their "job" of pretend playing. This is where the RDI comes back into things, because a lot of kids with Autism do not do any pretend playing, and those that do most usually do it in a developmentally inappropriate manner (perseverating on the same topics or items or details that are unimportant to others in general). Via RDI, the "pretend play" time in the daily rhythms would be filled with RDI activities instead -- "play" with an adult coach who targets RDI objectives. As the child moves along the RDI stages, pretend play starts to occur as part of the natural developmental proccess. And at some point (around mastery of Stage 6, from my experience and what I've heard from others), they are able to do pretend playing in a developmentally appropriate manner. At that point (the point we are at now with Jacob), the adult phases themselves out of the "pretend play" picture and lets it develop on it's own. The adult is still present to step in and "help" if needed, but having time to do pretend play on their own or with siblings is critical to the child's natural development at that point (prior to that, leaving the child on their own is only going to encourage more atypical development).

This is also the time that you start thinking about Dyad work for your RDI-participating child. This is when you match up developmentally similar kids and work on the RDI objectives with them so that they are able to generalize all that great stuff you've worked on with real kids in real life situations. RDI families with siblings of similar ages (especially younger siblings) is going to find this pretty easy to do, as the kids will sort of take over all of the pretend play with each other and will be hitting your RDI objectives all day long, getting tons of day in and day out practice. Familes without siblings, or with siblings that are no where near the ages of the target child, are going to have to go out and find the right opportunities with other children. That might not be as hard as it sounds (I know, easy for me to say, we've got Zoo Boy, the world's best built-in dyad partner). There are lots of opportunities in most communities to find situations where there are other kids, and I always target the younger set -- Jacob is 6, but I always look for typically developing kids that are around 4 years old. These are kids that are at the same developmental level as Jacob, so it keeps a socially even playing field, and increases our chances of positive experiences. These kids are Jacob's peers, not same-aged kids, who would blow him out of the water with their social sophistication. Other preschoolers, like him. They are easily found on playgrounds while older kids are at school, at libary programs during the school day (we arrive at the library at the end of the 3-4 yr old storytime session, that way I know the play area will be full of developmentally appropriate kids), at McDonalds for lunch during school days (I avoid playgrounds and McDonalds when school is not in session, because then those areas are jam-packed with older kids.) Most community music and sports programs will allow your special needs child to particpate in their programs designed for younger kids if you ask. Yes, you have to admit to your child having a "problem", but I've found "developmentally delayed" is usually enough without having to go into a whole big Autism explanation, especially since it's pretty hard to "see" Jacob's Autism anymore. I personally would rather shout it from the rooftops and let Jacob have appropriate social interactions than keep it a secret and have him shoved in with kids he doesn't have a fighting social chance with.

And of course, you can work with your RDI Consultant to find another child in an RDI program that would be well-matched for a Dyad or play partner. You can ask on internet support groups if there's anyone in your area with same-stage kids.

The most important piece of advice I can give anybody reading this is to look to the development of typical kids to see what is appropriate for your child during Autism Remediation. Typical kids start by doing parallel play -- that's playing in proximity to other children, but not interacting with them. If your child still stresses out at being near other kids (very common during the early stages of RDI), they are not even ready for that yet. Once they can tolerate being near other kids, do some RDI play activities with your child in the vicinity of other kids. Or let them do their own play (if they will) near other kids. That's parallel play! That's developmentally appropriate! As they move through the RDI stages, they will naturally start to become interested in what other kids are doing and want to get involved with them. Make sure those kids they are exposed to are at that same point in their development -- kids that are only in the parallel play stage are going to reject social attempts, and kids that are well beyond that are going to find your child's first attempts at social approaches awkward and unnatural. But with other kids that are just starting their social awakening too, your child will be free to explore their newfound social interests and experiment along with them to see what works and what doesn't work to connect with these other little humans.


At 8:04 AM, Anonymous kyra said...

speaking of prepping for the dyad, we're so excited to see you on friday!

it's so nice that jacob has a built-in playmate. it's challenging for those of us with only children to get enough play opportunties. but even SAYING that we're looking for that is a HUGE step forward for us!


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