Passive versus Active Observation

Posted: April 20th, 2014 | Category: News | 0 comment

What follows is the continuation of a story of my work with a little boy with autism and his family. To learn more read the first post and participate in the conversation in the comments below!


I frequently have guests observe my sessions with children. Today the observers were Jay’s volunteer Robert and his mother Mary. Both are passionate in their enthusiasm for Jay, well known to him, and very loving. And even so I am coming to recognizing the usefulness of training observers to add to my work with a child and not to detract from it. Jay, for example, would frequently turn to Robert and make faces or ask partially formed questions. Robert, in his capacity as a Son-Rise Program volunteer, has learned to respond enthusiastically and loudly – encouraging this social behavior. This is excellent when that is what we are building but sometimes shakes Jay out of the the concentration that he is cultivating during our lessons. Similar to if someone was getting a gentle, relaxing massage and ten minutes in a bystander made a loud noise, I see Jay jolted out of his quiet concentration. This is by no means a criticism of Robert, but merely reflections on my experience and thoughts about what is best for Jay. Once I interrupted Robert in the middle of a side conversation with Mary and asked him to keep his voice down. I don’t know for sure that his voice was pulling at Jay’s attention, but my guess is that it was.  This is not to say that there are not times when an observer is essential, as exemplified when Robert and Jay were cuddling together. If a child is already disengaged and more likely to bond with someone they already know, then using the observer to create a social interaction is an easy and oftentimes effective solution. But when a child has to choose between paying attention to movement and another person (and movement is the desired focus of the moment) I am finding it useful to remove the temptation of the external social distraction.

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