“Guilty” or “not Guilty” by Ashuti Menon

Why is the pain so sharp? Even when the judgement is “Not guilty, not guilty”, I can only hear the opposite in my head. “100 percent guilty, guilty without doubt.” And this voice has been there for more than a decade now. Will it ever stop?

My little boy, a very cute, bright child was extremely enthusiastic and persistent when young. If he played, he played with all his focus, and he studied with his full attention too. When he was seven years old, he won a Spell Bee competition. His opponent, envious of his success, and disappointed at having lost the first place, organized for a gang of peers to have a bashing-up party. Needless to say, my little son was at the receiving end. He came back upset, and refused to talk about it. The next day, his cousin who had seen what happened, narrated the incident to me. I became terribly distraught and wanted to take serious action. I called a meeting of all the mothers whose children were involved, told them about the incident and how it had affected my child. Many were genuinely apologetic, some pretty smug about the whole affair. That was my first realization that the world can be pretty mean to my young one.

I remember I felt quite nauseous for some time during my second pregnancy. I couldn’t hold a conversation or do anything for a while, it was so bad. On quite a few occasions, my son would come running to me and tell me that he wanted to play with me or that he wanted me to ask him some questions for his assignment. I was so sick that I had no choice but to politely turn him away. He would quietly leave without a fuss. One of those times, he got really upset, and started crying. Only then did I realize he had been feeling dejected throughout.

Once adolescence hit, he changed completely. From the bright, enthusiastic boy, he became sullen and miserable. Temper tantrums were quite common at home now. He was a very academically bright, high-functioning kid, so we never ever thought there could be anything drastically wrong. Everyone around us told us adolescence was tough for many kids, and that he would soon get past this stage. The counsellor at school also mentioned that changing cities, as well as a new baby at home, could also be possible causes for his melt-downs. We waited for things to become better, but they became worse instead. When he was fourteen years old, he was bullied in class by his partner. He asked us if we could help him, and that this boy was being very disruptive in class. Guess what we told him? “You’re old enough to handle it son. Now you should learn to fight the bully on your own.”

Fast-forward to seventeen. Covid hit, and classes went online. Soon he stopped attending classes, and went into depression. We found a note on his desk addressed to us, that confirmed our fears that he was depressed indeed. We got him assessed by a psychologist, and heard the terms, Autistic Spectrum Disorder/Aspergers Syndrome for the first time. Lots of questions were asked, and as we answered them, the dots started getting connected. Trouble tying shoe-laces, trouble making friends especially in the teens, hyper-sensitivity while brushing, extreme pickiness with food textures and tastes, an extreme rigidity with routine, vulnerability to getting bullied, and more. That explained it! But why couldn’t I connect the dots earlier? I must be really daft..or a very careless mother indeed.

Before I knew it, guilt overwhelmed me. I should have known, I was his mother after all. “But how could you”, an inner voice softly chided me. “Yeah maybe”, I replied..
But in the end, it didn’t matter whether I was guilty or not guilty. My heart had already shattered into a million pieces.


LIFESMART Tools: Continuous Explorations

Tip of the Week: Learn the Three Techniques of Continuous Explorations

This post discusses three key techniques of continuous exploration four patterns of interaction, Regulation-Challenge-Reorganization (RCR), and Just Noticeable Differences (JNDS).

Continuous explorations are activities and experiences that are not driven by goals and plans. As shown in the LIFESMART tetrahedron above, continuous explorations are one of the three core LIFESMART tools.

Parents and children spend time together doing varied activities. Parents do not focus on skill development. Rather, the focus is on sharing experiences and emotions. Movement, nonverbal communications, and declarative language (commenting/ narrating) are the tools of continuous explorations.

We chose the term continuous explorations to convey the idea of small, ongoing explorations that build on what the parent and child know how to do. By using familiar skills, these explorations minimize stress and increase engagement. Daily explorations with small changes increase the ease with which the parent and child participate in shared experiences. Continuous explorations gradually reinforce and evolve existing skills. Babies and young children explorations routinely engage in such small explorations. For example, a baby who is learning to crawl or grasp objects will repeatedly use these emerging skills in exploration.

Implementing continuous explorations and experience sharing with autistic children can be challenging. Autistic children have communication challenges and experience sharing between parent and child is often disrupted. In addition, autistic children may seek structure and predictability and resist change and novelty. A key goal of continuous exploration is to gradually increase the child’s capacity for handling novelty and change. Experience-sharing communication, handling novelty and change, and nonverbal communications, and declarative language are elements that I learned to include through my Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) experience. I coined the term continuous exploration because I wanted a term to distinguish experiences that did not have a specific agenda and were not skills-focused. In other words, parents are not trying to teach specific skills and expecting certain levels of performance during continuous exploration.

Four Patterns of Interactions

The four simple patterns of interaction discussed in this article provide a starting point for implementing continuous exploration.

Read the article Building the Foundation and Pillars for Success in Academics by Kamini Lakhani here. According to Kamini Lakhani, parents can work on their child’s emotional regulation by working on these 4 patterns of interactions.

a. Assembly line (sender receiver pattern)

b. Reciprocal (the parent and child take turns to repeat the same role)

c. Simultaneous (the parent and child have the same role that they perform it together at the same time)

d. Contingent (the parent and child have different roles and their roles are dependent on the other)

Regulation, Challenge, Reorganization

The four patterns of activities discussed below are based on RCR (Regulation, Challenge, Reorganization) is one of the most valuable parenting concepts that I learned from Relationship Development Intervention (RDI). The parent sets up a pattern of interaction with competent roles for parent and child. The key is to set up a predictable pattern the child can recognize so that the child is regulated in the activity. Once the child is familiar with the pattern, introduce variations or challenges. Add the variations gradually to enable the child to accept the variations and reorganize the initial pattern of interaction. Practice the basic pattern for many days before introducing variations. This article describes four simple patterns of interactions that parents can use to implement RCR in daily life activities.

2. Watch a video of the sender/ receiver pattern of interactions and get started with your 100-day project!

3. Listen to the explanation of Just Noticeable Differences (JND) on Dr. Sheely’s podcast:

Key Point from Podcast

According to Dr. Sheely, “competence is built off of a series of these just noticeable differences that are then punctuated with the challenge, and the challenge is something that is not just noticeable difference, but something that challenges you to use your mind, because you don’t know what to do.

My thoughts

JNDs prepare you for dealing with challenges. RCR with JNDs is a technique for systematic training for engaging variability and builds capacity for handling larger changes over time. Since autistic children often resist change (see Dr. Gutstein’s podcast on Variability), RCR and JND are tools for parents to integrate predictability and variability in experiences. JND is a way to introduce novelty with low stress.

After diagnosis, parents are focused on challenges such as speech delays, sensori-motor issues etc. RDI changed our trajectory. We started focusing on variability and dynamic thinking as the foundation. Integrating predictability and variation in experiences sets the stage for practicing communication.

RCR Examples

  • After shopping, put things from bags into cupboards and/or the refrigerator. The child picks up and hands the item and the parent puts it away.
  • Child picks up and gives an item of clothing to the parent. Parent hangs it up.
  • Parent and child walk together. Initially, follow the same route at the same time of day. Slowly, introduce variations. The parent stops suddenly. The parent starts walking forward or backward. The child notices these variations and responds to them. For example, when the parent stops, the child stops.
  • The Parent and child roll a ball together. Each person has their own ball.
  • The parent and child paint on a large sheet of paper. Each person chooses one color and paints somewhere on the paper.
  • Practice the patterns of interactions with games like crocodile dentist and Twister.

When the child is doing well in the interaction, the parent makes little variations to the pattern to make it slightly more unpredictable, but not overwhelming.

When I first learned about RCR, I found it useful but did not realize that we had discovered an important tool for life. As I have learned more about managing stress and creating the conditions for learning with ease, I have started seeing RCR as one of the most important tools in parenting neurodiverse children. Hence, I chose this topic as the first weekly topic.

There are many lessons to learn from RDI. I view the three key techniques of continuous exploration four patterns of interaction, Regulation-Challenge-Reorganization (RCR), and Just Noticeable Differences (JNDS) as the most valuable lessons from RDI that I continue to use even today. Learn more about RDI here.