Something like 95% of what my daughter says (it's probably higher, I'm just leaving room for occasional unusual comment, and perhaps a little bit of denial) are the same topics, same sentence construction, and in most cases, the same exact sentences or questions nearly word-for-word with perhaps one word swapped out. She'll ask how I feel that she's gotten (or going to get) a certain toy, or what I think of something that happened in a video, or about how she found various videos and shows online. A small subset of that 95%, maybe 20% of that, may be about something she did other than buying toys or watching a show, but that is almost without exception more than 2 years ago, any and all of which we have talked over - the exact sentences - dozens, hundreds, even thousands of times, just like the other sentences. It's just a rotating collection of the same content and delivery. It reminds me of talking with my grandmother with advanced Alzheimers Disease years ago where she'd have the same impulse to restart the same conversation and we'd have it over and over again and she would totally forget it and restart it with me over and over again during the same hour, as if incapable of learning or remembering.
My little sweetie making a Valentines Day email for me with help of Brandi, one of our Son-Rise Participants
I sometimes help my daughter improve her grammar to help her make sense to someone who doesn't fill it in for her, or respond creatively to what she says, sharing a new thought, a different feeling, or drawing connections between something she said and something else she hasn't related it to in her mind yet. Yet somehow all this modeling of variations doesn't work: she doesn't have novel comments about the same topic or respond in novel ways herself to what I say. She doesn't continue the conversation at all usually. She just goes to one of the stock sentences and topics we haven't talked out in the last few minutes and says it again, perhaps with the occasional word swapped out.
If I thought it was helping my daughter to keep doing as I'm doing - celebrating that she told me and adding variations - at the least the way I've been doing - to how I respond, I would. But I don't think this is fostering anything approaching normal behavior and impulses so it's time to change it up. I'm going back to basics - such as asking myself what might explain the impulse to re-ask questions I know the answer to, or that would explain no curiosity, etc. and how to set it up to foster further development that heads toward normal.
Lately, even though we've been doing a vast number of new things - swimming and breaking vast new ground with that, her using paragraph symbols for the first time, going to view apartments without freaking out like she used to, etc. she seems to just about never talk about accomplishments or recent events. Of the <5% exceptional statements that are about something new, often it's something I'm still not sure is really not just a repetition, like asking me why I'm upset when it's something I don't want to or think it appropriate to share with her, or "Why are you serious?" when I'm just asking her to do the dishes, which now that I think of it are also repetitive and exactly the same, so I'm now putting them in the 95% repetitive content category even if they sound like she's actually in the moment and perceiving the other person. and usually those comments are just adding a statement about a new show or having finally
So first, why doesn't she ask any real questions, which are the ones where you don't know the answer? My first thoughts are that you won't do something:
- if there's nothing you want to learn / know given your situation;
- if you don't understand what it is, how it's used, or what it gets you particularly not obvious connections and benefits;
- you understand how it may be used but may believe there is another use for it that in fact is not a normal or acceptable use for it;
- if, even after you understand how it's used, you don't see perceived need or value even if you did learn something (if the cost-benefit ratio doesn't justify the efforts);
- if you have never seen it modeled and need to invent it for the first time in order to do it, which may never happen;
- if you don't know how or are incapable of doing it even if all the other factors are a given for you;
- if you are just in a deeply ingrained the habit of doing something else that is mutually exclusive so it feels like a deep comfortable groove and not easy or comfortable to change;
I know we can eliminate the possibilities that involve not knowing or understanding how to create and what to get from questions in her life - she has had models, and has herself learned and then come up with novel sentences and questions, including all kinds of questions (in Stage 2 she learned "what", "where", "who" - and was emerging with her own "why" questions, and in stage 4, "when"). Why have they nearly vanished at this point? All she wants to know is what people think and know about toys and her videos, and the same things over and over. The other questions - the ones where she genuinely doesn't know something and wants to - I might only get from her once every month that I can remember.
When she's upset she doesn't ask why it happened or how to fix things, she just suffers or fixes it herself. I might suggest a question she might ask but she will not offer that the next time.
Video of when I started a list of new and growing list of positive things my daughter and I can discuss cheerfully:
I got sick of hearing the same content - same comments and questions about the same videos and experiences all the time, so I decided I should ask for and emphasize new events and bring them up and emphasize them in response to offer other options and shift her focus closer to the present. It started generating modest new content right away, and it's starting to stick for her to review THESE things as new content. I think I'm on the right track - ask for and model what you want, it works!!
I think she has little to stimulate her curiosity, and it deeply ingrained about what she asks about and how. So I hope to:
- create new opportunities for her to want to know something other than "When are we leaving?" including new activities in new places. I was thinking of taking her to a movie and ice skating, for example, and am going to try to teach her new topics such as typing and philosophy. More on this later when I figure it out more.
- focus her repeating comments and questions on new content by example, which is chosen to parallel what she says - elicit positive content:
- I created a list of new experiences - particularly her accomplishments - so that when she asks me if I'm happy that she started watching the "Ellie" videos online after she was cured [of IBD 2 years ask - see a prior post on this] - for the thousandth time, I look at that list and remind her that she was able to dunk her head under the lane divider twice this week for the first time without getting water in her nose. I'm trying to emphasize even small experiences that are new, like her learning how to use parentheses "( )" last week.
- When she asks me "Are you excited that I'm going to get the Sparkle Rarity [plush toy]? I answer but then ask her if she's excited that I'm going to get us more new chairs at our dining room table when we get paid.
- I'm considering introducing asking her she feels about things that are NOT so positive, like people quitting.
- I'm asking my Son-Rise participants to remember to follow rules of logic and point them out to her as a way of learning rudimentary logic such as that she cannot ask us to answer for her a question only she would know the answer to, such as how she feels about something, and that if she asks us if she remembers something then lists the thing, it is of course obvious that she has to know.
- I'm thinking of asking them to ask her questions about her behavior, such as why are you asking me how I feel about it if I just told you? Do you not remember?
- Memory-enhancing assignments: I'm also going to start increasing her short term memory by asking her to write down thoughts I state such as "The dog ate food." and see if she can remember and actually write them, then just do longer sentences until she builds up to retaining what's been said - like longer full sentences - minutes or even hours later.
- ABM (Anat Baniel Method) approaches - I'm thinking of having her vary the sentences in various ways - her volume, pacing, pitch, adding words, adding body movements, touch, etc. - in order to recognize and remember the many times she asked and introduce variation into the system around these repetitions. Anat says that people often aren't aware of their repetitive activities and to "use the process" (her 9 essentials) to help in any situation where brain change and novelty is desired.
- Reducing and changing what she watches as far as videos so they are not the same and creating such a deep groove of repetition rather than a seeking and satisfying novelty repetition which is more normal. I'm working on what series or movies for kids are reality based, not that violent and still fun and finding another dearth of things that are useful and appetizing for autistic kids - or frankly all kids. Another opportunity for someone - perhaps me - some day.
- Creating more curriculum for her bit books of learning, such as writing a sentence and then asking her to write a question mark if it makes sense as a question better, or other punctuation such as an exclamation point or period if it's a statement. She learned this months ago but seems to not have clarity about which statements - like those she knows about - are not questions. This may help.
- Will continue further cognitive science musings about what makes a question a question, what she might be after by repetitiously asking, etc.
- We'll continue giving her rewards for her work even if they do result in questions about the next toys she can buy - it keeps her visualizing, planning, working towards new skills and by itself is a plus. (See bunny picture below!) They are part of having her talk about new things, so no reason to take that away. We just need to help her find other things to talk about, too!
Anna's new bunny plush toy she bought with money earned from her big book of challenges, mainly for learning all the 2-letter state codes so she can recognize understand what states are. Very cute and motivating!
I thought at first all those repetitions of sentences meant she was just learning how to say the sentences she most wanted to correctly, but often she regresses to the earlier non-grammatic version of the sentence that leaves out words, and even if sometimes once learning how and saying it grammatically, she just repeats them just that way over the course of the day, disregarding the content. It's as if we've replaced her cycling from one "ism" behavior to another all day in her own world to cycling through interactive isms with me all day, which is truly not that much better; if in the end the person is just a person repeating hand flapping all day under the hood and learns and changes nothing, why put in all that effort all day to help in the flapping? I don't want to be giving her the wrong impression that this is normal and will go over great in the world - it won't. I hope these ideas work.
This is an Son-Rise and Anat Baniel mixed play therapy program. Contact me for more information. I give Option Process dialogues (I am a certified Option Process® Mentor-Counselor) and an Anat Baniel Method® Practitioner Trainee - graduating and available for services in May 2017.