Monday, November 21, 2005

Communication and integration

One of the great ironies in my life is that I teach a college course in Interpersonal Communication. To the students enrolled in the class and the college that employs me, I am (on some level) considered an expert on the subject. And yet, my son - the student who gets the greatest number of hours under my tutelage - finds that this is the very subject that evades him most. There is some sort of cosmic somersault at work here, I think.

I have found, though, that my life with Bud has greatly informed my teaching, and that the material I teach has provided a valuable lens through which to view Bud's strengths and challenges. I recently added a new perspective to the mix when I attended a seminar by Barry Prizant on the SCERTS model, which is "a comprehensive, multidisciplinary framework designed to enhance the communication and socio-emotional abilities of young children with Autism Spectrum Disorders."

Since the summer, we have been integrating RDI into our activities with Bud at home, and I really believe in the program. The downside of RDI, however, is that it is complicated. I've given the team who works with Bud some basics of the philosophy - slow down, use fewer words, wait 45 seconds for a response, use declarative language - and they've been great about implementing them, but the bulk of the work we do with RDI will continue to be at home with the guidance of an outside consultant.

SCERTS, on the other hand, is designed to be a curriculum-based assessment for use by professionals who work with children in the classroom setting. It is in line philosophically with RDI, but is packaged in a more user-friendly way with clear assessment tools that yield specific goals and objectives appropriate for each individual child. It is a program that I think Bud's team will find helpful, and even inspiring.

The SCERTS program addresses three domains for assessment and intervention: Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, and Transactional Support. Social Communication and Emotional Regulation are, of course, two main areas of challenge for children on the spectrum. In the area of Social Communication, SCERTS sets as the overriding goal "to help a child become an increasingly competent, confident, and active participant in social activities and events," by enhancing the child's capacity for joint attention and reciprocity, expression of emotion, and understanding of others' emotions. It seeks to help children become more conventional communicators and to enhance their abilities for pretend play and symbolic behavior. It seeks to help them become full partners in the intricate dance of communication.

Through a focus on Emotional Regulation, SCERTS helps children achieve and maintain an optimal level of emotional arousal to maximize their "availability" for learning and engagement. The focus in ER is trifold: self-regulation (using strategies to regulate independently), mutual regulation (achieving regulation through social transaction), and recovery from dysregulation (being able to employ these strategies in times of extreme dysregulation, when the child is no longer available for the learning process.)

Transactional Support is an area not addressed in RDI, but is extremely important in the educational setting. TS focuses on the collaborative efforts of everyone (teachers, parents, caregivers, siblings, peers) who work with a child so that the same goals and strategies are infused across a child's daily activities.

Fundamentally, SCERTS is about integration: integrating work across disciplines, so that SLPs, OTs, PTs, classroom teachers, special educators, school psychologists and parents are all working from the same guide book; integrating approaches and philosophies that reach core deficits, instead of focusing on treating symptoms; integrating strategies for communication development with strategies for emotional and sensory regulation.

And so I start the process of integrating SCERTS into our own little grassroots approach to ASD. It's not too difficult, really. SCERTS, RDI, my class in Interpersonal Communication: they all have the same goals, when you break them down. To use an analogy from RDI's Steve Gutstein, we are all trying to help our students become "broadband communicators", to trade in their 2800 baud modems for high speed cable, to download and interpret volumes of information in an instant and respond appropriately. SCERTS encourages students to simultaneously share attention, share affect, share intention, and share symbolic systems. RDI promotes dynamic intelligence through the development of emotional referencing, social coordination, declarative language, flexible thinking, relational information processing, hindsight, and foresight. And my class in Interpersonal Communication teaches students to view themselves and others as sender-receivers, to be intentional with and attuned to verbal, nonverbal, and paraverbal messages, and to remain aware of their filters of perception and attribution.

Different words; strikingly similar goals.

So I take it back, what I said about teaching Interpersonal Communication and having a child with ASD. I was wrong. It's not a cosmic somersault; it's a cosmic cartwheel. It's not one of the great ironies in my life; it's one of the very good fortunes.


kristina said...

"Dynamic intelligence" is a very nice way to put it--and, from reading yours communication and connections with Bud, it seems to me that yours is not so much cosmic acrobatics, but ballet.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am a mom also of a child with ASD. I found your site while searching for something to help us to find a program for Benjamin. We also have been doing RDI for over 2 years and will probably continue with it for a long time. I have tried to have our school district incorporate the basics like wait time, declarative language, competancy, etc. All the things you mentioned above. My district does not have a program that is meeting Benjamin's. I have had him home with me for 2 weeks now searching for another school. Everything is behavioral based and low and behold Benjamin is really very compliant, quiet, does whatever you tell him, but needs to be pushed to use his language for sharing, for social relationships etc. He is great with me but put him out of his comfort zone and he clams up. So today I came across the Scerts model on the internet. It sound perfect. Exactly what Benjamin needs. I was interested for the same reasons, it seems to follow alot of the same goals as RDI but has more that the school can implement as far as goals and objectives. My question to you is where do I begin? Should I go to an intro workshop? Should I just try and order the dvd's and books? Also I noticed online that all of the contributers to this "Scerts" have there own sites and offer there own trainings and evaluations. Is there any one you would recommend over the other? I came across "Communication Crossroads", "Rocky Mountain Autism Center". I was looking for a school that actually would follow the scerts model. Couldn't find any so far. Any information or advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated. After feeling defeated for a couple weeks now I feel like a finally have found some hope after reading your blog. Thank you Thank you! I am seriously thinking about running my own program for Benjamin or opening up a small school myself so that he can finally get what he needs.

MOM-NOS said...

Anonymous, I was thrilled to learn about SCERTS last year for the same reasons. RDI is such a family-based program that I was finding it difficult to integrate the concepts with his school program. But SCERTS is designed to be school-based.

I started by attending a full-day workshop with Barry Prizant, which was a thorough introduction to the program. He did a Q&A with parents after the session and I asked him how I should go about trying to introduce it to the team at Bud's school, and he suggested that I just start using the language. I did that... and it worked. I also printed off some of the blog posts I'd written, which Bud's teacher found helpful as well.

In my opinion, RDI and SCERTS work really well together and they've both helped me re-think the way I approach parenting and education.

I hope that helps. Feel free to drop me an e-mail if you have more specific questions!

Tahirih said...

Hi, I was just thinking about how to make a comparison of SCERTS and RDI, both of which I use as an Speech Language Pathologist with my clients and their families. I work in a clinic and see only kids who have a diagnosis of ASD. I was about to have this question as a topic in an upcoming parent group This was a nice, friendly, and accurate explanation. I will now start to read your blog.

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