DIRECT COPY AND PASTED from Dr Gutsteins news letters on the evolution of RDI. For more click on the RDI link on the right.
In previous newsletters, we've covered several of the unique, chronic and universal characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)... what makes autism, autism, according to the latest research by such experts as Peter Hobson of the Tavistock Institute and Marian Sigman at UCLA.
We've discussed what autism isn't (co-occurring conditions) and we've made a start on what autism is. So far, we've discussed: Emotional Referencing, Social Co-regulation, and Declarative Communication. If I were to give each of these a one-sentence synopsis, it would be the verbal or nonverbal indications of the following:
Emotional Referencing: Checking with someone else (or with yourself) when you don't know what to do.
Social Co-regulation: "Dancing" with a partner who can be spontaneous and unpredictable.
Declarative Communication: Sharing an experience or feelings with someone else.
If you think about it, all of these are visible, observable behaviors.
Relative Information Processing ...
The other unique, chronic and universal core deficits of autism we describe by what is happening in the mind..specifically, how the brain attends to and processes information. The consensus in autism research is that all those on the spectrum share a common information processing disorder, caused by the inability of the emotional part of the brain (the limbic system) to integrate with the executive part of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex). In the RDI™ Program, we divide the many difficulties of this attention-filtering and relative information processing problem into different categories, but you can see they are closely inter-related:
Relative Thinking: The ability to obtain meaning based upon a larger context or small changes, when there is no absolute, right-or-wrong / all-or- nothing answer (e.g. "Is Dad frowning a lot or a little?" or, "how long should I study for a test?")
Cognitive Shifting (Flexible Thinking): The ability to rapidly adapt, change strategies and alter plans based on changing circumstances. (e.g. "what if we are all ready to go to the beach and it starts raining?" or, "what if I agreed to meet friends inside the lobby, but instead, I unexpectedly run into them in the parking lot?")
Executive Functioning (Past/Future Thinking): The ability to reflect on past experiences and anticipate potential future scenarios to make decisions in the present
that lead to attainment of desired goals. (e.g. "what happened the last time I hit my brother?" or, "what should I do after high school?")
Also closely tied to Insight: The ability to intuitively understand and explain one's own actions and the actions of others.
What researchers have found is that these problems of relative information processing occur universally for all those on the spectrum, and children do not "outgrow them." While the outward indications of this problem will look different depending on age, the underlying difficulty remains.
... versus Absolute Information Processing
Note that the universal difficulty autism researchers have found is related to relative information processing, very distinct from absolute information processing. Absolute information processing is about solutions which are either right or wrong: 2 + 2 always equals 4. A red light always means stop. I must always say "please" and "thank you," "hello" and "good-bye." This kind of information processing is what we use in static, predictable, life situations: how to buy a movie ticket; how to act appropriately in a classroom; and how to program a VCR, etc.
What researchers have found is that absolute information processing is not necessarily affected at all in those on the spectrum. And many treatment approaches have already been developed which help children develop this type of thinking and instrumental (means-to-an-end) skill set. But while a proficiency in absolute information processing is tremendously valuable, it just isn't enough to work in the many fluid and dynamic situations we encounter every day (how to handle recess; how to cope in a group when everyone is making up their own rules; how to decide what to do when there's no one right answer, etc.) The truth is, both types of thinking (relative and absolute) are required for a good quality of life for any of us.
By learning about what autism really is and what it's not, we have a new way of understanding what has been so confusing about the autism spectrum. How can a person with autism seem to be "almost recovered" when they haven't yet grasped some of the things which come so automatically to a typical 2-year old?
The Missing Pieces
In terms of behavior, those on the spectrum can learn how to:
• recognize and label emotions, but still have a deficit in emotional referencing (checking),
• follow procedures and scripts, but still have a deficit in social co-regulation ("dancing"),
• use imperative, instrumental (means to an end) communication, but still have a difficulty in declarative communication (sharing).
And in terms of information processing, those on the spectrum can learn how to:
·use black-and-white thinking, but still have a deficit in relative thinking,
·understand rule-based thinking, but still have a deficit in flexible thinking, and
·grasp rote or procedural thinking, but still have a deficit in executive functioning (past/future thinking).
This explains the "almost-recovered" phenomena described earlier. It also explains why the most common feedback we receive from both parents and professionals is that the RDI™ Program is the "missing piece." If you have lived with or worked closely with an individual on the spectrum, you may have sensed intuitively that something has felt missing, even if you didn't have the words to label it. What has been missing are all the skills and motivation for true experience-sharing. In fact, autism can actually be well defined as the inability to develop the capacity to use Relative Information Processing to function in Experience-Sharing relationships.