Thursday, April 29, 2010

All Blue, Only Blue, No Other Color Will Do

We have a new Smart Board at the clinic, and I am starting to use it in therapy.  Basically, it is like having a very large touch screen computer monitor.  I have been using it with some children as though it were a large white paper and we have been coloring and drawing on it. There are many cool ways one can draw and create art on a Smart Board but trying to create a structure that allows a child with autism to draw in a socially interactive way can be a challenge.  This post is about one of the autism challenges that I have encountered as I started using a Smart Board.

For some children, the activity of coloring is like a cognitive pothole where the child becomes stuck in a single colored neurological loop.  The child becomes consumed with the desire to use one and only one color.  If I was not trying to hold a conversation with the child, I am sure I could be cool with the one color thing--at least for a while.  I am not cool with it, though, because there is very little one can or wants to say while trying to cover a large white surface with a single color.

Three children that I saw this week insisted on the color with one and only one color thing and wanted to fill the entire white surface of the Smart Board with one color.  I used a shapes program on the Smart Board and filled much of the board with circles. The child was then able to pick a color and fill these circles with that color by tapping on the circle.  Two of the three children would only choose blue.  The third would start with one color and then she stuck with that color, period, end of discussion.  I know the drill with her because we have done some coloring on paper and she does the same thing. When I tried to talk these children into using other colors, I got ignored--which served me right because talking is almost never useful in this kind of situation.  If I pushed the issue by taking a turn and coloring with a different color on the board, the child got upset and tried frantically to repair the damage that I had done.  If I pushed too long, the child lost interest in the Smart Board activity suddenly, completely and absolutely.  So.... what to do?

First, I know that some of you have some good strategies and now, as I think about it, a lot more strategies are coming to mind. Feel free to comment below with what you would have done or have done in a similar situation. I missed several of the likely to succeed strategies.

Child 1.  I gave up on talking and took a turn, thus ruining her art by adding a second color.  She moved away from the Smart Board and requested that we go to a different room to play. I took her to a different room when she said We gotta get outta here, Tahirih!

Child 2.  This child filled every circle with blue.  I took a turn and filled a circle with red.  He protested angrily and I decided to take an indirect approach to showing him all the color opportunities on a Smart Board.  I offered Child 2 a different activity which I set up across the room.   While Child 2 was busy putting together a letter puzzle on the other side of the room with his mom, I had mom call out letters across the room to me.  When she called out a letter, I wrote the letter on the Smart Board.  Child 2 likes letters and he started looking up to see me write the letter.  I changed colors often and called back what I was doing. Red B. I said while writing a B in red.  Blue T.  Purple X.  The child began to call out letters with prompting from mom.  I wrote the letter in different colors.  I hope we will be able to do a letter writing game on the Smart Board next time he comes so that we will not be stuck with blue, blue, nothing but blue every time he draws on the Smart Board.  Once we have the colored letter game down, we will try to play the colored circle game the same way--with lots of different colors.

Child 3.  We started by making circles and Child 3 helped me and then I suggested that we paint the circles.  he agreed but then "painted" them with blue, blue, and more blue adding circles and then painting them until the whole white board was covered in blue. I sometimes changed the color of a circle quickly but my co-artist quickly changed circles back to blue and after a few times he asked me politely to leave the circles alone.  The words were polite but the voice sounded a note of panic. I became aware that every time I changed the color of a circle, this child was learning that asking politely does not work and he was moving closer to having a melt down. I stopped changing the colors. I then talked about how "boring" all blue circles were and he told me he liked boring.  Never argue with a child who has autism. You can disagree but there is no point engaging in an argument. I know this rule and I didn't pursue this discussion because it was likely to become an argument.  We talked about it being my turn to choose a color and that it would be fair if I got to choose my own favorite color.  He told me that I could take a turn but my favorite color was blue. I soon realized that we were not making progress even though this little guy is very verbal and wants to be cooperative.

We left the Smart Board to go and spin tops on the other side of the room.  But before we started, I quickly put a bunch of square shapes up on the Smart Board.  My plan was to fill these with color. The first top we wound up for spinning was blue.  I suggested that my friend go across the room and paint one square on the Smart Board blue.  He did this, because he really does try to do things that I ask him to do--as long as I am not asking him to do something that is terribly wrong. He came back as I wound up the top and we watched the blue top spin.  The second top we wound up to spin was orange and purple.  I went over to the Smart Board and colored a square with orange and purple.  Then I went back to where my co-spinner was waiting and let the orange and purple top spin.  We watched the top spin across the floor. The third top that I pulled out was green.  I guess you better color the next square green  I said.  Why?  he asked.  Well, because this top is green.  I answered.  I don't think that Child 3 understood my logic exactly but with a furrowed brow, he did it anyway.  We continued this way until all the squares were colored and he did grasp the pattern of making squares on the board match the color of the top.  All the different colors look good to me.  I said, as we finished spinning all the tops.  Not boring.  My friend did not say a word on this topic.  All I can claim at this point is that this one time, Child 3 used a variety of colors even though he typically tries to use all blue, not just on the Smart Board but where ever possible.  He used different colors without signs of anxiety or sounds of protest.  Maybe that was progress.

But maybe he is at home right now reflecting on how much nicer those squares would have looked if he had done them all in blue.


Deb said...

Thank you for bringing some humor to this process! I think if child #3 at least did draw in different colors, that is progress! He tolerated it, which we all have to do in going to someone else's favorite restaurant that we don't really care for. This encouraged me because I was just out in the yard while my son is napping ruminating on how to help my son not immediately leave a project when it's not what he was expecting or he can't get his way. It seems as if even getting an inch when we hope for a foot or a yard is some sort of progress!

Tahirih said...

Humor always works--in that it helps me be patient and calm in situations which might otherwise cause frustration. The indirect approach which I have been trying this week, which involves stepping back and gradually building a mutually acceptable logical framework for doing something differently really does work, albeit gradually. Trying to see things from the point of view of the child with autism is what makes this work fascinating and fun.

TJ said...

Hi Tahirih,

I just read this quote in a book recommendation in the Atlantic for "The Evolution of Childhood" by Melvin Konner, and thought you might be interested:
"Play," Konner says, "combining as it does great energy expenditure and risk with apparent pointlessness, is a central paradox of evolutionary biology." It seems to have multiple functions--exercise, learning, sharpening skills -- and the positive emotions it invokes may be an adaptation that encourages us to try new things and learn with more flexibility. In fact, it may be the primary means nature has found to develop our brains.
Interesting! And now I have another book on my wish list. :)