The video below is an extract from an Intensive Interaction session yesterday. The whole session lasted for about twenty-five minutes, which is a pretty good length of time for Henry to engage with anyone without running off. As I watch (and compare with the experts on the videos I linked to on my Intensive Interaction page) I can see where I am going wrong – taking the lead too much, asking too many questions, not always listening carefully or waiting long enough for a response. But this is why videoing the sessions is so useful – these things are much easier to see during playback. One of the best things for me is to see how Henry’s current favourite stim – spinning the Trumpton DVD – can be turned into something more interactive, and how he eventually abandons it for the ‘noisy’ game. (To any of our neighbours who may be reading this – my apologies.)
Despite the positive gains we’ve seen already, there are still times when Henry is very hard to reach. We’ve had a couple of these days this week. It’s as if someone has reached into his head and scrambled his brain. His eyes are unfocused and heavy, his face pale. He paces the room, flitting from one thing to another, fingers in his ears. Every word or action of mine, however quiet and tentative, is met with a muttered ‘Stop stop’. It reminds me of when he was in the process of being diagnosed and, as there had been no sudden regression, the paediatrician asked us to look back through old family videos to see if we could pinpoint the age he was when his autism first became apparent. And there it was, at sixteen months, quite clearly on the screen as it had not been clear at the time – a dulling of the eyes, a gradual turning inwards, a gaze that did not meet the camera lens or the person behind it.
It is as times like these that I long to be able to see inside his head and find out just what is going on. I hate not knowing, and not being able to fix it. Being with someone who seems completely preoccupied with his own sensations, thoughts and feelings to the exclusion of everything and everyone else is a demoralising experience, particularly when that someone is your own child. It is like having a door slammed in your face.
However, as I’ve discovered recently, Intensive Interaction offers a way in. It doesn’t force attention or response, but is more like a wooing, a gentle courting of attention. I’ve written a page about II on here, with some video clips, and also linked to the UK site on my ‘About’ page. Where it seems to be most effective with Henry is in conjunction with sensory integration activities, in particular using sound. I have found that if I mirror his sounds, he becomes more engaged to the point when I can change to words. It’s interesting, as sound sensitivity is probably his biggest sensory difficulty – he often puts his fingers in his ears, tells us to stop talking and becomes very distressed if he hears a baby crying. Yet put him in control of the sounds being made ( in II you always follow your partner’s lead ) and he becomes involved and happy. I’ll try to upload some video in the coming week – today’s attempt was scuppered by an 11 year old cameraman with a penchant for wild zooming and panning…
“We cannot teach anybody anything if they are not listening to us” (Phoebe Caldwell)
The first ten days of home-schooling have brought home to me just how vital it is to get Henry attentive and calm before attempting to teach him. Sensory Integration therapists talk about ‘deregulation’ – that state of mind and body where everything is scattered, unfocused and overwhelming. I like the term – it describes the times when Henry is disengaged and hyperactive perfectly, but much less emotively. Observing him for whole days at a time has made me realise just how often he is deregulated and the range of strategies he adopts to deal with the overload: repetitive actions, avoidance of demands, hitting out, freezing on the spot with his arm across his face, putting his fingers in his ears.
It wasn’t that I was completely unaware that this was happening. One of the reasons for home educating Henry was to try to reduce the sensory overload he was experiencing at school. I had planned a timetable which had short bursts of formal table-based learning sandwiched between longer play sessions, based on Intensive Interaction, Floortime and Sensory Integration. But after the first few days he became so agitated in the table-based sessions that it was impossible to continue, even though he had been engaged and cooperative in the play- based activity just beforehand.
So my carefully structured timetable has been abandoned for something much more fluid, guided by how regulated he seems and directed, for the most part, by Henry himself. I have a list of targets for this half term and I try to incorporate teaching towards these targets into the play sessions he loves. It has meant being much more flexible and spontaneous than I’m used to (I’m very much a ‘lists’ person) and having to think on my feet, grabbing opportunities for teaching from moments that occur naturally. There have been some successes: he is using two or three words to request favourite activities (‘More X please’) and although he usually still needs a prompt to do so, a raised eyebrow is generally enough. He is starting to be able to count objects, thanks to endless repetitions of the Fun Song Factory classic ‘ Five Little Snowmen’ and some hastily made finger puppets. And during an Intensive Interaction session, he came up and said ‘Hello Mummy’ – the first time he has ever done so unprompted. I’ll write more about Intensive Interaction in my next post – and, if I can overcome my technophobia, will try to upload some video. It has been a revelation to me – such a simple technique but so effective in achieving shared attention.