Lab time

We spend half an hour a day doing what RDI calls 'lab time'. We go into a room with no distractions - objects, pictures or extra things Bright Eyes can fiddle with - and we engage with him, doing various activities.

In a way, the activities themselves are unimportant. What is important is the objective we're working on.

When we started out, there were two main objectives.

The first was for us, the parents, and involved broadening our communication bandwidth. Big words, but it basically means communicating in ways other than just speech.

Body language, facial expression, gasps and little noises, gestures... all of these are natural parts of communication, and are the subtle things that autistic people will often miss, as they tend to focus on spoken words only.
I try not to talk at all in our half hour together, or only say really necessary things. So I'm teaching him that we can communicate in a multitude of ways.

His main objective at the beginning was to be able to 'regulate' with me. In other words, we were working on doing things together. In whatever we did, we had to have a balance of actions - we both had to be participants with roles and responsibilities in whatever we did.

The idea is not to insist on getting the activity 'right' but to focus on the objectives instead.

The activities I started out with involved things such as:

- taking turns putting coins in the slot of a money box
- me blowing up a balloon and letting it go, and him running to retrieve it and bringing it back
- rolling or bouncing a ball between us
- playing ring a ring a rosie, or jack in the box, or other rhymes with actions where we each had a part
- playing hiding and peek-a-boo with a turn each
- playing row row your boat

A lot of the activities involve sitting at a cute little table. But we do a lot of things on the floor too. I'm doing more physical things these days - flying aeroplanes with me on my back, feet up and him balancing on my feet, or him doing headstands with support from me. I find he does better with things where we have a close 'zone of connection'.

One wonderful activity we did a few weeks ago involved me directing him with my gaze to climb onto the little table via one of two routes, then him getting to the top and looking at me, waiting for my nod to jump giggling off the table and into my arms.

Today's lab time involved:
- drawing shapes together at the table. I drew one, then he copied over it.
- I drew a face and he told me what things (eyes, ears, mouth etc) to put on it.
- rolling on the floor
- flying aeroplane balance game
- pat a cake pat a cake rhyming game

When we first started I wondered how I was going to be able to get a very non-compliant child to do the wonderful things I saw in the videos of RDI lab time. And there are still many instances where Bright Eyes goes passive and sulky and refuses to cooperate. Sometimes, but not often, we get a bit of a tantrum as well.

When this happens, I gather him up, sit him on my lap, and rock rhythmically from side to side, or front to back. He calms down pretty quickly, and will then start to take on responsibility for the rocking as well. I can feel him moving from side to side on my lap. So we are still learning regulation, doing things together, even if it is as simple an activity as that. One lab time, several months ago, I spent 20 minutes out of 30 just rocking!