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Zebras and Tigers can co-regulate too…

For the past few weeks, I may have mentioned that we’ve been working on a co-regulation goal whereby the aim is for Ellen ‘to regulate her actions to remain coordinated, while participating in a form of co-regulatory turn-taking, in which each person observes their partner’s “turn” and then responds with their own contingent, but not imitative action’.  The important thing to filter from this is for Ellen to respond to my turn with a different action and it’s actually been quite a shift to move from the familiar turn-taking task-focused activities to more free and imaginative ones.

Zebra with last week's sticker / magnet activity

Zebra with last week’s sticker / magnet activity

Picking the right activity is key and not something I’ve always managed to do!  So here are my top tips for working on co-regulation.

1. Pick an activity where there is no right or wrong action.  Cooking therefore is not a good choice, especially if you want to eat the end product ;-); instead choose painting or other craft activities where there is less rigidity on achieving a perfect outcome.  Pound shops are great places to pick up cheap crafting bits and pieces and often they have kits to make things too.  When you’ve only spent £1 on an activity it’s much easier to be relaxed about how things turn out!

2. Extend your child’s involvement by not setting everything up in advance for them – i.e if you’re painting, perhaps forget to put the brushes out, or like I did today, pretend you don’t know how to open the paint box (me not knowing how to do things is always a winner for Ellen, she seems unsurprised by my incompetence!)

3. Be prepared to go with the flow and follow your child’s lead.  Ellen had a tiger face on today so I thought she would enjoy painting an animal and so picked out one of her animal encyclopedias from the bookshelf to use as a guide.  The tiger however, did not want to paint an animal and not only did she tell me so, but she followed it up with the non-verbal communication of taking the book and putting it firmly back on the bookshelf.  I had thought that painting an animal would engage her and I suppose it did get her attention but actually coming up with her own idea (of a rainbow) was far more satisfying for both of us.

Tiger with the finished rainbow picture

Tiger with the finished rainbow picture

4. Enjoy your child’s unique imagination.  After I had painted the first stripe of the rainbow, Ellen filled her brush with orange paint but instead of painting the second stripe she instead announced that ‘tigers can only paint flowers’ and so the painting moved in a totally different (and wonderful) direction.

5. Face painting is not mandatory but in our case it helps.  Ellen loves having her face painted; she enjoys inhabiting another personality and seems to find it much more comfortable which in turn makes her a lot more verbal (some might say bossy) too.  I am very lucky to have a carer who is also an artist and her face painting is incredible, although as you can imagine the zebra was a bit of a nightmare to wash off!

6. Finally,don’t forget to video your activity sessions so that you can watch them back and see all the annoying things you think you aren’t doing but in fact you are.  I usually talk far more than I think I do and still a bit of over-compensation creeps in, but also you can spot those great moments when your child looks at you to see what you’re going to do next or engages in some experience sharing.  These moments are RDI gold 🙂

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A bit of Cranialsacral Therapy on bonfire night

Cranialsacral Therapy is one of those alternative therapies that I have embraced for the sake of my autistic child.  My normal cynical self probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere near a treatment which declares that : ‘through the simplicity of gentle listening touch, Craniosacral Therapy offers a distinctive stillness that allows your mind and body to rest deeply and begin to restore a natural balance’.

However, having read of the benefits of Cranialsacral therapy for children with Autism (this is an example: http://www.healing-arts.org/children/craniosacral.htm), I suspended my disbelief and took Ellen for the first time about five years ago.  I remember being absolutely amazed that she allowed the therapist to place her hands on her for the full hour’s appointment (she usually dislikes being touched – even by people she knows well).  Not only did Ellen seem to enjoy the session but she was keen to go every few weeks and even once requested to go on her birthday!

Ellen enjoying a therapy session

Ellen enjoying a therapy session

As Ellen struggles with expressive language I’ve never really got the the bottom of how it feels for her to have the therapy beyond that it’s ‘good’.  Today however, in the car on the drive over, Ellen was in a particularly talkative mood.  We had been discussing the plaster on my thumb for a few minutes (how I’d cut my finger, on what, where it had bled and how I mustn’t get blood on my trousers etc) and so getting rather desperate to change the subject, I questioned her a bit more on what she liked about going to ‘Janet’s’ (the name of our therapist).  To my surprise, without any further prompting she replied that it made her head feel ‘soft’.  Janet was absolutely delighted when I told her what Ellen had said.  She has two or three other autistic clients, one of whom – a young man with Aspergers – is more able to describe the benefits of the therapy and tells Janet it makes him feel calm and ‘smooth’.  Janet is convinced that a lot of people with autism have very tight membranes in their head which can cause headaches and that the cranialsacral therapy helps to ease the tension and promote relaxation.

All relaxed this afternoon, and still working on our co-regulation RDI goal, Ellen and I created a fireworks picture.  The beauty of this kind of activity is that we can take differing turns while working together; but there is no script and so anything goes.  Most of it went on the floor (to be carried off joyfully by Brian-the-puppy).  Still, it is now of no consequence that we won’t be going to a fireworks display tonight – Ellen hates the noise as they go off – we have our own gooey and glittery indoor picture to get us in the right mood.  Right….where’s the brush and dustpan…

Ellen's fireworks display

Ellen’s fireworks display