couple dancingGive yourself a moment to go back in time. It may have been at a high school prom, a night out with friends, or your wedding. No matter the setting or the occasion, this magical process would likely have unfolded in a similar fashion.

As the music started, you and your partner would begin by casually monitoring one another’s movements, and maybe exchange a smile (or an awkward glance!). Without words, one action would beget another, and a series of small but critical adjustments would unfold. A dramatic gesture could change the tone, bringing drama or humour into your collective experience. A light touch or a moment of eye contact could make it or break it. One song, two or three minutes long, would have the potential to create a feeling as real as it is depicted on the big screen! Why do we love those “swept away” scenes the way we do? Ultimately, because most of us have been there at least once in our lives, and oh, wouldn’t it be lovely to go there again! There is scientific validity to the notion of “chemistry” you know!

In my work as an RDI® Consultant, my ultimate goal is to help children with ASD learn the “dance”

of social communication through their relationship with their parents. Before we can embark on such an ominous journey, parents must truly appreciate what it means for two people to engage in a simple, back and forth communicative process in which no one “calls the shots” and the outcome is simple enjoyment. Don’t get lulled into picturing the slick performances of reality TV dancers that spend countless hours practicing for a perfect score! I’m talking about the kind of interaction that is genuine – unscripted and pure.

mother with childAs human beings, we are hard-wired to do this from a very early age. A fledgling game of peek-a-boo appears deceptively simple. Yet, when you imagine it frame-by-frame, the infant must simultaneously study, monitor, interpret, and predict his partner’s actions – after determining if he or she is a trustworthy communicative partner, that is! Then comes the moment in which he formulates an action of his own. He will have made several split-second decisions. As a “communicator-in-training,” he will choose a response with much thought. I liken this process to a game of chess. My move will be determined by your last move. This type of human communication forms the foundation for all further cognitive development and  marks the beginning of the “dance” of social interaction.?xml:namespace prefix = “o” ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /

Why is this so challenging for our ASD children? The simplest answer I can muster is that basic human communication requires us to simultaneously send and receive. We must make meaning of what we’re receiving – while monitoring our partner’s actions and formulating our own. There is an incredible amount of processing needed for this to take place, not to mention the repair and adjustments required. It is well documented that children with ASD have neural wiring that prevents this type of “on the fly” interaction from occurring naturally.

boys playing togetherIs it possible for our ASD children to learn to engage in simple, reciprocal communicative exchanges?

I see it on a regular basis. Is it worth the effort for parents to work with their ASD child to help him or her discover the joy of reciprocal communication? It sure is.?xml:namespace prefix = “o” ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /

The next time you have coffee with a friend, or find yourself with your child enjoying a quiet, tender moment – consider the miracle of human communication. We are amazing creatures. Our ability to share our thoughts and feelings, to plan, collaborate and commiserate separates us from all other species on the planet.

ASD certainly presents a huge challenge to affected families, but it is no longer the life sentence it was once considered to be. Baby, save the last dance for me.