I want to expand on one of the stories the author includes as an example of non-reciprocity. She kind of just lets it stand by itself, so (a) I want to complain (b) I want to explain what’s so shitty about it for people who may not find it as obvious.
Given these ABA data, the following scenario related by a mother in the section called “From the Front Line” of the near-classic ABA-for-autism manual, Behavioral Intervention for Young Children with Autism: A Manual for Parents and Professionals (Maurice, Green, & Luce, 1996) makes infinite sense. The mother began by describing how she established a behavioral therapy program for her daughter.
The first order of business was to establish attending behaviors. This was accomplished by the therapist holding a food reinforcer at her eye level while stating “Rebecca.” Rebecca wanted that reinforcer (a raisin or a Cheerio) so she would look momentarily at the therapist who would immediately give her the Cheerio and praise her verbally (Good looking, Rebecca!). Once Rebecca began to attend, she was taught to follow simple gross motor imita- tions and simple commands (stand up, clap hands, wave bye-bye). (p. 366)
By the time we hit the one year anniversary of our program 3 months ago, Rebecca had developed a great deal of skills and language. . . . A sampling of her current skills includes her ability to expressively identify all the letters of the alphabet presented in random sequence. She knows her shapes and colors, she can count up to 12 items, and she has an extensive vocabulary (several hundred words). Additionally, she has become proficient in categorizing items among nine different groupings. I was recently quizzing her in the car and asked “What’s a zebra?” “It’s a animal.” “What’s a triangle?” “It’s a shape.” “What’s a couch?” “It’s furniture.” “Who’s William?” “It’s a person.” “What is a w?” “It’s a letter.” “What’s a helicopter?” “It’s something you ride in.” “What’s a bathing suit?” “It’s clothes.” “What’s cake?” “It’s food.” (p. 369)
As the mother wrote, “I present these examples to illustrate that many of the things that Rebecca knows are quite advanced for a child her age. I am convinced that Rebecca is a highly intelligent child. Her teachers tell me this constantly. In a way, that makes her deficits all the more maddening” (p. 369). What are these deficits that are so maddening to her mother? As the mother laments,
If, for example, I enter the kitchen after my morning walk and [my two daughters] are sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast, Rebecca might glance up at me for a second and then look away. I have to walk up to her, get in her face, and force the interaction (“Hi Rebecca.” “Hi Mama.” “How are you?” “Okay.” “I love you.” “I love you, too.”). I have always found the contrast between my two children to be the most obvious and the most painful at mealtimes. Holly is such a talkative and observant child, and Rebecca will be sitting there like a sphinx, unable to participate in the give and take.
We find ourselves continually trying to draw her into our conversations. “Rebecca, what are you doing?” “I’m eating.” “What are you eating?” “Pasta.” “Good. What’s pasta?” “It’s a food.” “Good! Is it delicious?” “Yes.” “Say, ‘It’s delicious.’ ” “It’s delicious.” (p. 368)
You make your every interaction with your daughter into a quiz and you’re surprised she doesn’t want to talk to you?
That’s not drawing her into your conversations. It’s not a conversation if you’re not actually communicating, if you aren’t learning something that the other person wants to tell you. The fact that you try to get her to talk this way is not communication, it is a judgment that the way she normally acts (i.e. not talking) isn’t acceptable. And the content— the fact that your “drawing her into conversation” has the same form and content as your “teaching her to identify words”— means she doesn’t even get to talk just for the sake of talking. She has to say the right things, too, and if she doesn’t, she’s a double disappointment, a bad girl who doesn’t talk enough and doesn’t even know her lessons. OF FUCKING COURSE she doesn’t want to talk to you. YOU DON’T WANT TO TALK TO HER EITHER. Making someone recite their vocabulary words is not a conversation. Come back when you actually care about what she might have to say, instead of about how bad she looks next to her sister.