Dr. Nicole Beurkens presented on simple strategies for improving information processing in ASD. The definition of processing has three parts: 1. To take in. 2. To make sense or make meaning, and 3. Do something. She made the analogy that individuals with autism process information like a dial-up internet connection compared to neurotypical individuals having a broadband internet-like speed when they process information. Steps 2 and 3 of the above definition take longer in individuals with autism. She made the case that autism is a severe information processing disorder and gave a few examples of children that she has treated that illustrated this point very well.
Autistic individuals have deficits in the simultaneous processing of information, and the communication, social, and behavioral symptoms we see in these children are the result of processing problems. One of her teen patients who has shown remarkable progress over the years said it best: “I feel so confused all the time.”
She also gave the example of a little boy whose teachers said he would say such random things that didn't make any sense. In a treatment session, Dr. Beurkens said the child said something out of the blue and realized the statement was about an activity they did 15 minutes earlier. He had a 15 minute delay in processing. Through her techniques, he now has a 3 second delay! This was interesting to me because it made me realize why B has a hard time taking his turn in Candyland in a timely manner. Also, why he will stand in the middle of the living room when we ask him to get his shoes on.
Dr. Beurkens proposed that the ways adults engage with children makes a difference on their ability to make sense of what is happening and to respond appropriately. She recommended three simple steps for parents to try in order to help their kids on the spectrum.
#1 is to SLOW DOWN, not necessarily speaking v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, but pausing and allowing time for the child to register a response instead of repeating what was said so soon after the initial request. The parent should stay with the child and expect a response. Slowing down allows for better processing and less stress. There should be a pause and a wait time. She said we need to "slow down to speed up." We slow down so our children can make the connections, eventually speeding up the processing time.
#2 is SPEAKING LESS, specifically using fewer words. Say what you mean and know when to stop! Do not repeat things over and over. Increasing use of non-verbal communication was recommended. Increase the nonverbal and reduce the verbal.
#3 is to STAY CLOSE. Get the child’s attention first, then communicate the message. Often times we communicate from a larger distance than our kids can process. Ever holler downstairs that dinner is ready? Make sure the child's attention has shifted, not necessarily eye contact. When helping with homework, sit at a 90% angle from the child.
When your child is approaching melt down or stressed:
Stop and Wait. When a child is already confused and overwhelmed, adding more into the mix is not helping. Focus on one thing at a time and pause to let the child tackle it. Give the child time and space to work through anxiety/meltdowns.