And the answer is…
A speech and language therapist used to play a game with Ananth. The game was called “And the answer is…” Regardless of the question posed by one participant, the second participant always responded with the same answer. This is my experience with Ananth over the last 20 years! Regardless of the outcomes of interest, challenges, opportunities etc. we seem to end up with seven key components that inform our daily routine and habits. I have organized these components into seven tips.
Seven Tips for Parents
Over the years, we have focused on many outcomes. We have encountered a variety of challenges (sensory and movement challenges, language processing challenges, working memory and executive functioning challenges, stress management and emotional regulation etc.). Regardless of outcomes of interest, the seven tips represent seven key parts of our solution strategy!
Initially, I wrote these tips to align with days of the week:
Monday: Be mindful of movement.
Tuesday: Try theater arts tools.
Wednesday: Work with your hands.
Thursday: Use visual and tactile tools for thinking and communication.
Friday: Enrich family interactions.
Saturday: Practice sense-making.
Sunday: See what is taking shape.
While I developed the seven tips about two years ago, I have refined them over time. For example, once I started learning Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD), I modified the second tip to specifically focus on theater tools.
Reaching the Learning Brain:The Three Rs
Dr. Bruce Perry suggests that to help a vulnerable child to learn, think and reflect, we need to intervene in a simple sequence. His three Rs model provides a simple and consistent way of organizing the design of learning experiences for neurodivergent children and adults
Over time, I realized that the sequence of these tips also works! Movement, theater arts, and working with hands are calming and enjoyable. They help address Regulation and Relationships (the first two Rs of Bruce Perry’s three Rs for reaching the learning brain). Thinking and communication is cognitive and addresses the third R (Reasoning). Family interactions, sense-making and observation include all three Rs.
The seven tips flow well with the sequence suggested by Dr. Perry.
Learning Together: The Three Rs Tetrahedron
The seven tips poster shows the three Rs model as a folded circle. We have divided the circle into two halves to represent the parent and child.
Once folded into a tetrahedron, the bottom triangle represents the parent and child regulating together during experiences. The middle triangle represents relationships. The two triangles at the top represent parent reasoning and child reasoning respectively.
The model shows that the parent and child’s past experiences shape their capacity to regulate together and their relationship. Intervening means shifting the way parent and child regulate together and interact with each other. Therapies such as Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) intervene to facilitate the guided participation relationship between parent and child. The child may also need occupational therapy and other interventions to be better able to regulate and engage in activities with the parent.
The LIFESMART Parenting 365-Day Exploration
Hence, we have started a 365-day exploration our LIFESMART Parenting group. We will focus on these seven tips with one tip each day and look at how these tips can be used as a starting point for thinking about different issues and outcomes while raising neurodivergent children. The activities for days 1 to 7 are given below. We encourage community members to do the daily activities. The activities will be discussed on Mondays during our weekly meetup!
Day 1: Review your child’ daily schedule. Describe how you are incorporating movement throughout the day.
Day 2: Try Theater Arts Tools: Review your child’ daily schedule. Describe how you are incorporating theater arts tools (movement and dance, music and rhythm, storytelling, drama, and arts and crafts) throughout the day.
Day 3: Work with your hands: Review your child’ daily schedule. Describe how you are creating opportunities for your child to work with his hands. In Waldorf curriculum, they include, knitting and crocheting. Chores are a way of working with your hands. Ananth used to follow Wholemovement approach for folding. This was a key activity for him and he will be sharing in a video.
Day 4: Think and Talk with Visual and Tactile tools: Review your child’ daily schedule. Describe how you are incorporating visual and tactile tools (Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), specialized AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) tools, and general-purpose hands-on and computerized tools)throughout the day. We have explored a variety of tools over the years including index cards, post-its, folded circles, notebooks, OneNote, Plectica, Thortspace, Canva, Prezi, Powtoon, and Obsidian. The tool that we will discuss today is index cards. We use index cards to organize memorization. Index cards work better for Ananth than notebooks since information is organized in small chunks. We use post-it flags to identify cards that he needs to memorize.
Day 5: Enrich Family Communication: Each of the previous activities can enhance family communication. For example, our daily walks (movement) provide opportunities for many conversations. Exploring theater activities (movement and dance, music and rhythm, storytelling, drama, and arts and crafts) together is a way for parents and neurodivergent children to enjoy time together. It is important to view the goal as enjoyment rather than skills development or performance. The mindset of doing theater arts activities together for fun rather than for learning specific skills sets the stage for building authentic communication. In a similar way hands-on activities are calming and create opportunities for communication. Finally, visual and tactile tools can be used to enhance communication between neurodivergent learners, parents, and eventually other family members.
Day 6: Practice sensemaking: Family communication paves the way for practicing sensemaking. We learn how to think about situations, make decisions, and engage the world through communication with parents, mentors, peers, and others. The previous activities facilitate communication and hence enable sensemaking together. Theater arts tools, especially storytelling is an important vehicle for sensemaking. Choosing stories that explore different values are a way of practicing sensemaking with your child.
Day 7: See what is taking shape: Finally, it is important to observe what is happening. Observe what is working and not working for the child. Consider what is happening in your life. Consider support and guidance available from others.
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