Ensuring Success through Guided Participation
By: Michelle VanderHeide
A little girl, about 1 year old, is standing next to a coffee table when she decides that she wants to step off and make an attempt at walking. She immediately falls to the ground. One of two things can happen at that point. A parent or caregiver can see this attempt, and step in to encourage the child to keep trying; or they can allow the child to try and figure out how to walk on her own. Imagine how much longer it would take this infant to learn to walk without the support of a loved one to encourage her along!
One of the primary concepts in the remediation of autism is that of guided participation. In the example above, two critical people needed to be involved in order to ensure success: the parent guide and the child participant. This child was therefore involved in a guided participation activity. Think about your own life for a minute. What skills, talents, and discoveries did you develop through a guided participation relationship? When you think about some of the more challenging things you have achieved, a parent, coach, or teacher often guided you. As a result you were more successful than if you had tried to figure it out on your own.
In order for an individual with autism to achieve success, he or she also needs to be a guided participant; but often these individuals will put up boundaries to being guided, so that the relationship between parent and child, for instance, breaks apart at a very early stage. Why do those with autism put up these boundaries? It is not because of anything the parents did wrong; instead, it’s because of a neurological disorder that the individual has. Research has shown that the pathways between the different parts of the brain function at an increasingly decreased rate in those with autism as opposed to a neuro-typical individual. As a result, the individual with autism has experienced many failures in understanding social relationships. Why is this? Those with autism are unable to process social interactions at the same rate as a neuro-typical individual, and therefore miss many critical elements of social development beginning as early as infancy. When interactions fail, move too quickly or involve too much processing, success is minimal and interaction with others less appealing. Who wants to keep reentering situations in which failure isn’t only a possibility, but most likely a reality?
Upcoming articles will reflect further on the concept of guided participation, what you can do to begin building a guided participation relationship with your child, and critical things you can do to ensure those interactions will be successful.