“What do you think?” Richard asked me as he loaded soiled bedding, mattress covers and Emma’s nightgown into the washing machine. “Have any theories?”
“I’m all out,” I said. “No theories. And I really need a theory here, it’s driving me crazy.”
“I think she’s forgotten,” Richard said.
‘Really?” I asked. “I don’t get it. She was doing great and now this is the third night in a week. Last night she set off the alarm twice. It just doesn’t make sense.”
“You’re trying to make sense out of autism?”
“Right,” I said.
“I think we have to go back to the basics, do the whole fire drill before she goes to sleep, remind her about the alarm and what she needs to do when it goes off, really make a big deal when she gets through the night without wetting the bed, the whole thing,” Richard said.
“Okay,” I said. “She’s forgotten,” I added, thinking of all the times we thought Emma had learned something only to find she had not.
When Emma was about 18 months old we use to spend most afternoons in various parks. A couple of my friends had young children around Nic and Emma’s age and so we would meet. The children would play, or I should say Nic would, while Emma would perseverate on some self-made routine; the swing, the slide, run around the perimeter of the playground three times, back to the swing, the slide, over and over again until it was time to leave. I had three girl friends I saw regularly and a couple of others not as often. But the three I saw several times a week, Emma would often behave as though she’d never seen them before. It was the kind of eccentricity I chalked up to Emma’s incredibly independent and uninhibited nature. Emma did not care what others thought of her, did not look to either Richard nor I for approval, was a “wild child” in her own little “hippy dippy” world as I use to describe her.
Emma’s peculiarities went beyond face recognition, she knew her own name when she was 18 months old, but a few months later seemed to have forgotten it. The same went with colors. At one point she knew all the names of the primary colors, but then at her special-ed preschool I was told she didn’t know any colors by name. We have seen this inability to generalize information displayed in dozens of different instances over the years.
I mentioned in a previous post, when we were using ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) with Emma she could recite each and every one of the 400 flash cards correctly, but when it came to using the information she had learned in the world, she was unable to do so. She readily told me the flashcard with the picture of the bicycle was a bike, but if we were walking on the sidewalk and I pointed to a bicycle, she was unable to identify it.
I remember when she was three, her ABA based preschool taught her to recite her name and address. For a month she proudly recited the information when asked. But when her teachers moved on to something else and then a few months later asked her for her name and address, Emma didn’t remember what it was she was suppose to say.
When we met Stanley Greenspan who developed the DIR (Developmental Individual Difference Relationship) model we learned more about autism and how so many children on the spectrum have trouble generalizing learned information.
“There’s nothing wrong with her memory,” Stanley said to us when we were in Bethesda training with him. “She has a terrific memory. She doesn’t know why this information is significant. It’s not meaningful to her. Your job is to make it meaningful,” he told us.
So how do we make our anti bedwetting campaign meaningful to her? We will need to do as Richard suggested. We have to go over everything the night before, make sure she understands what it is we’re trying to do and why. We need to make a huge show of enthusiasm and unbridled excitement when she has a dry night. Or as Stanley Greenspan use to encourage us – use high affect and take it up a few notches. Emma loves a big display, so even if one is tired and has low energy if we ‘act as if’ she won’t care, as long as it’s full of loud cheering and jumping up and down, she’ll be ecstatic.
And who knows? It may even work.