Joint problem solving: Every interaction - a good interaction!
When we want to help a child up the developmental ladder, problems are our best friends and helpers! After we had put Bruno's beloved letters in a screw-top jar earlier, I would now try with great exaggerated effort (but unsuccessfully) to open the jar. 'Oh no! The letters are all in that jar! And I can't get the lid off!' We can imagine that Bruno would look at his mother stunned (so far she has always done everything for him immediately!) when she hands him the jar, - and then in his turn try to open it. But he can't manage it. 'Oh dear! You can't get it open either? What are we going to do now?' If we don't do anything now and wait expectantly, Bruno will take the glass, and maybe shake it. 'Yes, that's a good idea! May I shake it, too? Maybe we'll get the letters out that way!', his mother might say. And 'Oh no. Still can't! Phew! How stupid is that!? ... Oh, now you're hitting it. Yes, it's really frustrating. Can I hit it too? (and thus prevent it from breaking;-)!). Maybe hitting it will help?!' Probably not;-)! If we are dramatic and playful enough, then maybe a child like Bruno has already found fun in making nonsense together. And in exploring his environment together with his mother and with the help of his hands, - in a way unfamiliar to him so far. One could perhaps still turn the jar upside down ('Oh, that rattles quite a bit! But the lid still won't open.') or roll it back and forth ('Watch out! Now the jar is coming rolling toward you! Boom. And now to me! On your marks - get set - go!'), letting the letters speak 'Hey Bruno, I'm the B! I want to get out of here! Open up at last!' ... or whatever else comes to mind in terms of 'theme and variations' to delay the final opening. Provided, of course, that it is funny and fun for both play partners! Just before the child reaches his frustration limit and freaks out, we of course manage to open the jar, and full of relief to free his letters! After all, our goal is NOT to teach the child how to open a jar! The longer the glass remains closed, the longer we have a common problem, and thus help the child to remain socially affectionate and strengthen his relationship skills.
Clues to keep the interaction flowing
- Coregulate attention and emotionality, i.e. follow the interest of the CHILD.
- Maintain emotional involvement, i.e., let the CHILD initiate.
- pay attention to mutual interaction, i.e. see that the CHILD does as much as possible, and the adult does as little as possible, and only as much as absolutely necessary.
What is this nonsense!?
So the reader may ask. Or the mother. But not Bruno's mother. She laughs and says 'Hmm. Is that how Floortime goes? Yes, Bruno does that kind of nonsense, too. But I always scolded him for it, because I thought I had to teach him to speak first and foremost, and that he should behave properly. I wonder if that's why he prefers to play with the letters on his own?' Making nonsense actually has an important function when it comes to luring a withdrawn or non-social child into joyful joint interaction. If the child is having fun, then all we have to do is stop ... and wait expectantly for him to signal us to continue. By creating a visible problem in a playfully obstructive way (remember Bruno is very visual!) so that his letters are not directly accessible to him, we were able to create a perfect situation to work with the child on FEDLs 1-4 and encourage and consolidate joint attention, interest in the environment, social relatedness and spontaneous initiation on the part of the child, and even his problem solving skills. What we practice here with the child in a playful way, without the child perceiving it as 'practicing', is a prolonged back and forth of communication circles, including eye contact and gestural non-verbal interaction and increasing frustration tolerance. For this purpose, joint nonsense-making is excellent!
'If you and your child are having fun together, then you are doing something right! Fun is the "magic formula" for success with this method. When children experience positive interactions with their parents or caregivers over and over again, they will want more of it! And already the child will prefer to play with you rather than alone with his or her favorite toy.' (Dr. Rick Solomon)
Yes, I understand. It's not about teaching him to open a glass, it's about getting him out of his closed-off isolation and into a joyful togetherness,' says Bruno's mother. 'I can then do the same thing with getting dressed, or with other things.' Yes, for example, put the pants on the head or the stockings on the hands! And try to drag out such everyday interactions as long as possible, so that the child remains as long as possible sozal to and in a joyful emotional contact. Of course, you need enough time and leisure for this. So, not in the morning before kindergarten when everyone is under stress. Unless you get up half an hour earlier and add another half hour of quality interaction play to your morning routine. Because, 'it's all in the dose!' (Dr. Rick Solomon), i.e. the more, the better! After all, we are trying to strengthen something like a weak 'interaction muscle'! Such a thing does not happen automatically and without making an effort and trying for it.
Wf we creatively combine Bruno's interest in letters with our interest in joint interaction, then we can succeed in a rather long back and forth of communication circles with each other, in which the child, regulated and with interest in the world, tries to solve his letter problem in relationship with another person, i.e. socially oriented. The common problem is our vehicle and keeps us together, which enables the child to stay longer and longer in emotional contact with another person on his own initiative. Because problems are our friends! As soon as he has the letters, Bruno is probably alone in his world again. And so is the mother.
Excerpt from the expanded 4th edition of Sibylle Janert's book: Building Bridges for Autistic Children. Fourth expanded edition, Reinhard Verlag 2020 Order here