Bridging the Experience Gap:My First ParentSaathi Lessons for SpecialSaathi Community
Thank you Shilpi for inviting me to do weekly ParentSaathi lessons for SpecialSaathi. I will start this process by inviting parents to shift their focus from challenges and skills development to creating the right experiences with and for their child.
My lessons are based on more than two decades of experience as a parent of a neurodivergent son. We were fortunate in stumbling on to therapies and educational approaches that kept us focused on creating the right experiences for Ananth. I will start my post and lessons by introducing the idea of the experience gap.
Skills Gap and Experience Gap
When faced with an autism diagnosis, parents start worrying about skills and challenges. We have been blessed. Starting with Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), we have been tuned in to the experience gap. Parents worry about early intervention because it may be difficult to bridge the skills gap. I think it may be harder to bridge the experience gap that results from the child being unable to engage people and other elements of the environment because of sensori-motor and other challenges.
Our children are often unable to have the routine experiences that others take for granted. Our children face numerous challenges in the way of experiences with the family, play with peers, and other experiences in the community.
Because Ananth was only 6 when we started RDI, we could prioritize play and explore freely. We made a conscious decision to focus on coregulation and play and deemphasized academics. Given that my husband and I are both professors, this was a tough decision but it was the right one. Ananth’s capacity to handle novelty and change started growing. We homeschooled Ananth. Homeschooling also made it easier to focus on creating the right experiences and let skills develop naturally as a part of this process.
Then, after he was 12, Ananth started Bharatanatyam. MNRI (masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration) and Bharatnatyam developed his capacity to handle sensory information and developed his motor capacity. We realized the importance of sensori-motor development and the need for a sustained, consistent movement practice (Bharatanatyam) for Ananth’s overall development. While therapies such as MNRI were a starting point, Bharatanatyam has been a game changer. In addition to developing motor skills, Ananth’s engagement with the community has grown greatly due to Bharatanatyam.
Ananth performed his arangetram (first solo performance by a Bharatanatyam student after years of training) in October 2020. Dr. Ambika Kameshwar, Founder and Director of RASA, was the chief guest. Another key moment in bridging the experience gap had happened though we are only now realizing the implications of what started on that day!
Ananth started his journey to Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) with RASA (Ramana Sunritya Aalaya). Theater arts is greatly expanding Ananth’s capacity to share his experiences and interact with others. Finally, he is taking more initiative and participating in varied experiences. There are still challenges but we have made tremendous strides in bridging the experience gap. We want to encourage parents to create the right experiences with their child.
Creating Experiences Together
We created the LIFESMART parenting approach with the intention of encouraging parents to focus on creating the right experiences for their child at the right time in the right environments.
Is your child having the right experiences throughout the day?
What changes can you make to improve the quality of experiences that your child has every day?
Parents of neurodivergent children are often focused on addressing challenges as quickly as possible. While therapies and educational interventions are needed, we believe that our role as parents of neurodivergent children is to create the right experiences for our children in the right environments at the right time just as we do for neurotypical children!
We appreciate the efforts made by Shilpi Mayank-Awasthi and the SpecialSaathi team to create experiences. While parents can individually try to create experiences, communities are an essential component for creating the right experiences together. Thank you Shilpi for setting the tone! We also appreciate the experiences you are creating for parents through the SpecialSaathi challenges.
The four LIFE pillars guide the choice and implementation of experiences:
L: Learning daily
F: Family interactions
E: Engagement with community
The right experiences enable your child to keep learning daily, help him or her discover and develop their interests, enhance family interactions, and foster engagement with the community.
Creating the right experiences in a long-term process. Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-framed) goals and move forward in small ways towards the LIFE goals. Choose therapies and educational approaches that support you in addressing the LIFE goals.
In November 2023, we launched a newsletter to spark discussions on the experience gap, parent role, appropriate therapies and educational approaches, and the use of LIFESMART philosophy and practice:
We will include links to lessons on SpecialSaathi in future newsletters.
Dr. Dasaratha Rama is a professor and home educator. She was the editor of a monograph on service-learning published by the American Association of Higher Education. This monograph was a part of a series of monographs on service-learning published by AAHE. She was also an Engaged Scholar with the Campus Compact, an association in the US dedicated to higher education civic and community engagement at colleges and universities. She has served as the Chair of the Teaching and Curriculum Section of the American Accounting Education. She is a certified leader in systems thinking, mapping, and leadership under a program offered by Cabrera Research Lab. She is currently doing a certificate in Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) from RASA (Ramana Sunritya Aalaya).