Autism. Help at school

I wrote this for Bright Eyes' teacher and aide as it seems that things are not travelling altogether smoothly at school. It's a reasonable layman's summary of the Guided Participation Relationship, which is the basis for most childhood development. 


How to help Bright Eyes the most at school

He has missed out on developing a lot of his relationship and learning skills because of his ASD. He needs to develop in these areas:

- Resilience (self-soothing, repairing communication breakdowns, coping with

- Participation (reading non-verbal cues, taking a role in a partnership, enjoying being with others)

- Emotional intelligence (connecting emotions to events, being able to predict emotional states, empathy)

- Dynamic intelligence (coping with change, enjoying variations, living in the ‘real world’ with no scripts)


The RDI program focuses on developing the Guided Participation Relationship (GPR) between adult and child that is the foundation of childhood development.


Features of the GPR

- Collaborative. Both guide and child are working together

- Meaningful goals (to both guide and child) and competent roles (for both guide and child)

- Active and participatory

- Challenge based (the child is challenged beyond their ability) but support-based (the guide supports them to the next level)

- It is a dynamic relationship, doing dynamic tasks (not just interested in rote tasks or ‘getting through the task’)


A GPR requires

- A guide and a willing apprentice

- A functioning emotional communication dialogue

- Trust between guide and child

- A guide who can use the feedback the child gives


Ways to develop a GPR

- Structuring the task for joint attention

- Adding variation – not letting it get ‘static’

- Guide is selectively responsive (responding to meaningful communication on child’s part, not just ‘noise’)

- Guide requires more responsibility of child as time goes on

- Simplify and get rid of non-essentials

- Adapt for limitations

- Remove distractions

- Do one thing at a time

- Slow down, and allow time for deliberation and reflection


Tips on dealing with refusals and the ‘angries’

A GPR requires a guide and a willing apprentice. But unfortunately Bright Eyes is frequently unwilling.

Some reasons for this are

- Too much stimulation in the surroundings. He needs quiet or less buzz.

- He feels incompetent in the task and the challenge is too much.

- He wants to keep it ‘static’ to help him feel safe.


Steps to take when you encounter the resistance.

- Slow down, and take a deep breath yourself. Adjust your own emotional state. Let go of the need to ‘do the task’ and accept that nothing may happen today. Be peaceful and calm.

- Stop talking. Sit quietly with him and wait. Don’t try to engage him with your face, as this may be adding to the ‘noise’ he is not handling.

- Move closer to him if he will accept it.

- Think about the task. Can you break it down and simplify it? What is the minimum participation you will accept? (eg. Stay in the room, sit at the computer) Go slower with it and reduce the challenge. Is the task something that he perceives as meaningful? Does he have a competent role in it? Are you doing it together?

- When he is calmer, gently restate what you are going to do together. This is an invitation. He doesn’t have to participate, but you make it clear you are not offering anything else. He can either sit quietly, or participate.

- Sit quietly with him until he participates, or until the bell goes.

- (It may take several goes at this. I spent three days sitting on my staircase when we first moved here, waiting for him to join me in my invitation to go for a walk.)


Possible steps to avoid the resistance

- Find something to do that is not classroom work if you can see he’s having an angry day (eg. Clean up the white house, run errands for the office, move equipment) If it’s the buzz of the room he’s not coping with, it may be best to get him out of there. Remember – these sorts of tasks are MORE USEFUL THAN ENGLISH AND MATHS FOR HIM, and more useful than teaching him to ‘comply’ as long as they are done with focus on the GPR.

- Write a do-list for the session together – put some tasks and some rewards on it and tick off each item when you’re done.


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