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.