Thursday, November 25, 2010

The hardest behavioral intervention

Our Husky mix loves to play hide and seek. She stalks the gate, bolts through an opening, and runs with joy. She races across the neighborhood then hides for the seek. She cannot be seen, she is a natural predator. She'll do this for an hour or so, waiting for us to walk nearby then bolting past us.  Eventually she's sated, and she comes to us. Until recently she got a treat on the return, because our expensive experts told us that's what we needed to do.

Running, playing with the pack, eating the treat. Doesn't get better than that. We spent more money than I care to think about on this problem, consulting with the best experts. None of the expert advice worked.

Kind of like with our eldest. Almost everything that's worked with him we invented.

Lately, we've been trying the hardest behavioral intervention of all our our mutt. Doing nothing. Extinction is the technical name, it's how to train husbands, exotic animals, and special needs persons. When she runs, we don't pursue her. We leave the gate open. We go for a walk. We wait. It's painful because, of course, there are cars out there. Even very smart dogs don't really understand cars; even seeing eye dogs don't get them.

She's coming back sooner now. We greet her with subdued affection and without treats. If she survives the cars, I think this will work. Of course if she ever actually ignores an open gate and comes to us, she will be rewarded. (We also stopped playing chase games. That was my bad.)

Dogs and humans - same difference. We're in a good spot with our #1 child now. It's been that way for a few months; but there was a bad time before it. There will be more bad times ahead; probably worse than those we've known. That's our life. It's a way go get old fast, and maybe wise too.

During this good time, we've been applying extinction methods on some obsessive behaviors that caused us significant distress. We don't deny the behavior, instead we a version of it officially approved and regulated - though with an undertone of muted disappointment. We've stripped the behavior of all emotion and context. It's not gone entirely; it may never go. It is, however, very much diminished.

Extinction is a good behavior modification technique. It's very hard to apply, but sometimes you have to go with what works.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Apple's iPad/iPhone App store has a special education section

The iPhone/iPad App Store has a section devoted to special education. I was able to find some announcements from the end of October, so it's quite new.

There's a lot there, from sign language to communication to accessible readers to language development apps.

This opportunity to market and sell focused special needs apps could be a very big development. I'm excited, I've written before about our own experiences with my son's iPhone, including the weaknesses in iPhone parental controls. He's probably moved beyond most of these offerings, but we'll be examining them in more depth. (Lately he's been using the money to earn to buy games, which is an improvement on using it to buy candy.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Understanding a different mind: memory organization and receptive language

I wrote about my son's memory and processing disabilities two days ago. Today I read a Zimmer article on the routers in our brains, and how consciousness goes offline during even simple decision making tasks. I think we'll hear more about this "router" dysfunction hypothesis, particularly in the context of autism, schizophrenia and other disorders of cognition and consciousness.

The "offline when making decisions" model is something I'll be watching for in him.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Understanding a different mind: memory organization and receptive language

As my oldest son moves into his adolescence, his mind continues to change. Observing him, I get new insights into how his mind works.

He has a pen pal now, a young woman who is studying special education. She started writing him as part of a school program, and has continued on. She is a wonderful correspondent.

My young adolescent tells her stories to impress her. They aren't, however, true stories.

They are generally plausible stories, no more or less impressive than the things he actually does. Often they are things he has done, just not things he has done recently. On the other hand, he omits adventures that I, in his place, would certainly include.

I think he's dissembling a bit, but mostly I think he doesn't really remember what happened yesterday. He may remember it in detail six months from now, but at the moment it's lost to him. So, like an Alzheimer's patient, he fills in the gaps. He tells a story.

His memory dysfunction is a profound handicap all by itself.

His inability to process speech is probably related to this memory dysfunction. It's not usually obvious to anyone, even to us, but he struggles to process  even relatively simple sentences. He will often react negatively to a request, but, if he's given a minute or two to think about it, he will usually reverse himself. I think he needs time to try to reconstruct the sentence, to understand its meaning.

Curiously, as his reading slowly improves, largely due to his email and texting, his written communication is becoming stronger than his verbal communication. He understands ideas that are written as words better than the same ideas spoken aloud. He can read and reread printed text, gradually building understanding and reinforcing his limited short term memory. Spoken words are hard to reprocess.

He has other disabilities, but also some useful strengths. He's quite good with his iPhone, and with software and devices of every variety. Already his calendar, which I can edit from my desktop, is turning into a history of what he has done as well as what he is going to do. He takes hundreds of pictures of construction vehicles (an obsession), but in time the phone photo library will become a history of things he has done, places he has been. We often discuss things by text message; I think he finds that easier than spoken communication.

The phone record, including a record of where he and his phone are, may have other value as he gets older. Many cases of false imprisonment seem to involve people like him, people with such disordered memories that they can choose guilt for any crime. His prosthetic phone memory may protect him.