Sunday, November 26, 2006


In this work we do to remediate our sons' autism, there's this concept of providing them with "Regulation-Challenge-Regulation" (RCR) experiences. Basically, the idea is to establish some sort of a regulated pattern (say, a basic activity wherein we take turns pulling each other back and forth), then you add a challenge (e.g., maybe I don't pull when its my turn, or instead of pulling I get closer to them), and then they absorb what's changed, make some sort of modification, and re-establish a new regulatory pattern.

This is all terribly common in everyday situations, it's just that with autistic kids you need to break it down, slow the process down, etc.

Anyway, so with Patrick today he was on this table in our "breakfast nook" area. And he loves his TV, even though there was no video and the thing wasn't receiving any television signal. He would just turn it on. And I decided I would make a noise and turn the TV off. Patrick laughed at that, one of those simple joyous laughs of childhood that makes everything seem worthwhile. And in the spirit of this RCR activity, I began adding variations. Different noises when he got close to the TV, different noises when I'd pull him away.

And then I upped the challenge, running away rather than being right there when it was my "turn," making him turn to engage me in some way in order to keep the activity going. He did and he seemed to love it the whole time.

It was such a positive experience for us both, really. And yet there's this part of me that looks back on things with anxiety. Wondering if I did it right, wondering if I did enough, wondering if all of this effort will really make any difference, wondering...

If this RCR stuff is as universal to true relationships as the developmental psychology folks would claim that it is, perhaps in a sense these doubts or worries are my own form of "challenge." Whether that's emerging out of my relationship with my son...or perhaps even out of my relationship with God, I don't know.

But something about this idea of "challenge" fits for me, as I look back on my relationship with God, with faith, with church. And I like the idea of "challenge" as a doorway to new insights, new depths of relationship. I also like their idea that in good mentoring relationships, there is no such thing as a devastating failure. There is only feedback, support, and guidance without the kind of overt "do this, this way, and at this time" kind of response. "Failures" are moments to learn, we need only keep trying. Development really only gets stuck when we feel so incompetent that we stop trying, when we begin to avoid opportunities for growth and challenge.

Back to that topic of anxiety or worry again. Interesting. Perhaps the lesson in all of this is to persevere, to tolerate the anxiety of not being sure if you're doing it perfectly, and to just simply continue -- to trust in the process, to grow, to be confident enough in my son's potential to know that progress is possible. Perhaps even to model the ability to face anxiety and persevere because that is precisely what I am asking him to do.


Magdalene6127 said...

Steve, I read this when you first posted it. I think I hesitated to comment then because it felt presumptuous of me... this is a challenge about which I know so little. I want to say something which might sound really facile: If Patrick is expressing such joy in an experience with you, it seems good to me! and something to celebrate. It saddens me that you feel such anxiety about your exchanges ("did I do it right?"), yet I totally relate to that as a mom. I know I think back on moments with my kids and worry and ponder: was I the best possible parent I could have been in that moment? But it feels that with an autistic child it must feel (I am guessing) that so much more is at stake.

You sound like an amazing father. I think your children must be so blessed.

Blessings to you,


steve westby said...


"Presumptous"? "Facile"?

My dear Mags, your words were supportive, kind, and moving. Thank you.

It is easy as a parent of an autistic child to doubt yourself. There's always that question of what you've done wrong -- in either somehow giving them the disorder, not preventing the disorder, or not doing enough to remediate the condition.

But while the stress may be higher, I don't think the worry is of a different type than most parents experience with their children. It is good to hear and be reminded that I am not alone in having such worries.

Thank you.