By Raun K. Kaufman
Director of Global Education, Autism Treatment Center of America®
Joining is one of the most crucial techniques of The Son-Rise Program®. It’s the first thing we do, and it is absolutely essential for building trust and rapport. When we join our children, we participate in their ism (“stims”) with deep interest and acceptance – without trying to change or redirect it. All learning and interaction rests on the platform of the relationship that is built with your child through joining. This is why getting joining right is so important. I have seen many, many people join, and I never ceased to be moved when I see someone joining their child with love and sincerity. However, I also see quite a number of people do things during joining that they may not realize totally undermine its effectiveness.
Below are the top seven Joining No-No’s that I see. There is a good chance that you’ve done some of these things. But, hey, that’s okay! You’re in good company! Most people I’ve ever worked with – people who love their children and who are stepping out from the crowd by doing a Son-Rise Program – have done at least one of these things (and usually more). So I beseech you to read these seven no-no’s with a sense of self-acceptance, ease, curiosity, and – yes – humor.
- STARING. Many people keep watching their child as they join. The problem is, that isn’t joining. It’s observing. And your child can easily tell the difference. When you’re watching a movie with someone, and they are staring at you the whole time, it doesn’t really feel like you’re watching a movie together, does it? So once you begin joining, rather than staring at your child, stare at what you’re doing. Instead of looking at your child every two seconds, really get involved with what you are doing. Remember, you aren’t trying to prove that you can mimic, you are getting involved with the activity that your child loves. You are building a connection around a common interest – the operative word being common.
- HOVERING. I see lots of people who hover when they join. They get too close, and their child really just wants some breathing room! When joining, you don’t have to get in your child’s face. Remember that part of the reason your child is “isming” in the first place is to tune out everyone who’s in their face! You want to give your child some space. If your child is sitting down, then, by all means, sit down, but don’t sit down an inch from where he/she is sitting. If your child is standing or pacing, then stand or pace, but not right up on top of him/her.
- STEALING. Hey, man, don’t take your child’s stuff. (I know your child’s stuff is awesome, but try to resist!) If your child is lining up small green cars, then, whatever you do, don’t take his/her green cars and start lining them up. Yes, that’s right, you’ve got to use the rejects. If your child likes to use the shiny green cars but shows no interest in the old, half- broken yellow cars, those yellow cars are all yours, baby! Use the same typeof item that your child is using, but not the ones your child is actually using.
- NARRATING. Many of you think that you’re a sportscaster. As your child is, for instance, stacking blocks, you are narrating his/her every move. “Oh, now you have the green block. Oh, that’s nice how you’re putting it on the red block. Here comes the blue block!” Believe me, I’m not questioning your narrating skills. I’m sure they’re awesome. But, when you’re joining, that’s not the time to put them on display. If you are joining, and your child is not speaking, don’t speak.Get into the activity you’re doing rather than doing anything that smacks of trying to interact with your child. Which brings us to the next no-no.
- CHEATING. Whatever you do, don’t try to change your child’s behavior in any way when you’re joining.This is the biggest mistake people make, and it’s the mistake that is most detrimental to the whole point of joining. Your child is no dummy. If you try to use joining as a way to get your child to change, alter, or stop his/her behavior, your child will immediately see that, and you will have torpedoed the entire joining technique. This means no saying “Hey, buddy, look at me!” No trying to get your child to take his/her little car and race your little car. And no gimmicks to try to get his/her attention. What is so spectacular about joining is that it results in child-initiated interaction. A major characteristic of autism is the lack of social interaction that is initiated and wanted by the child. One of the factors that makes The Son-Rise Program unique is that it focuses on developing within each child the ability to initiate social interaction. We want to enter the child’s world, wait for her to voluntarily initiate interaction, and then (and only then) use that interaction to invite her to stretch and communicate further. We want our children on our side. The only way to achieve that is to join them in their world until they join us in ours. This can’t be forced. Joining isn’t a trick we use to sneak our child into a different activity or behavior. Joining is the way we enable our child to form a bond with us.
- TIMETABLING. (Yes, that is a word. My spell check says so.) In the last several years, a few autism treatment methods have sought to adopt aspects of The Son-Rise Program by doing what they thinkis joining as a way to create interaction. So they will, for instance, set aside 15 minutes of each session to “join” the child. (The length of time is decided upon by the therapist, of course, not the child.) The problem is, these methodologies still end up missing the boat because they try to adopt joining without understanding it. Joining correctly means joining until your child stops isming of his/her own volition and looks at you or approaches you in some way. It does not mean that we set aside fifteen minutes for joining, after which our child must do as we say. The length of the joining is determined by your child, not by you. That is the key.
- COPYING. This last no-no is for all of you who have a child or adult who has Asperger’s Syndrome or is highly verbal. Many of these kids/adults don’t have traditional-looking isms such as hand-flapping, repeating sounds, tearing paper, etc. When theyism, they talk about their favorite subject. In depth. For a copious amount of time. People will sometimes join these activities by either repeating back everything the child says (i.e., “copying”) or talking (often over the child) about the child’s subject. This will often feel, shall we say, less than thrilling to your child. Instead, listen with great interest and enthusiasm. Joining, at its core, is not about copying, mimicking, mirroring, or imitating. It’s about creating a relationship, a trusting bond, a sweet rapport, based upon diving into your child’s world, loving what they love, exploring what they’re exploring, cherishing what they cherish. It’s a way of showing your deep love for your child by saying (through action), “I love you. And because I love you, I love what you love.”
An important note. I have some parents and professionals (not many) tell me that they’ve tried joining, and it doesn’t work because their child always tells them to stop. This almost always happens when the people “joining” are doing one or more of the no-no’s. So, of course, the child, who doesn’t want to be interfered with and manipulated, wants them to stop. If your child does tell you to stop, the first thing to do is stop. Then give your child a little time, and try resuming your joining from much farther away – making absolutely sure that you aren’t doing any of the no-no’s.
I know that you love your child. I know that you so much want to forge the most powerful, loving, close relationship possible with your child. And that is beautiful. And sweet. And deeply meaningful. Joining is your way in. Use it. Capitalize on that boundless, limitless love you have for your child.
And know that I’m cheering for you every step of the way.
All the best,
Raun K. Kaufman