More on Productive Uncertainty and Studying

In typical development, usually around the age of 12 months of age, the child discovers a new way to deal with uncertainty. When confronted with a new object, person, or task, he realizes he is feeling uncertainty but is not afraid. He starts to trust a more experienced guide to help him understand the world. He recognizes that he can study unfamiliar objects, persons, or tasks to determine whether to engage with them. He checks in with the guide to decide how to react to the new thing. This is easily seen in an infant when he looks at his mother when a new toy is placed on the floor. Mom smiles at him and the reassured baby reaches out to touch the toy. If mom had frowned or acted scared, the baby would realize that he should be wary or afraid.

Our kids on the autism spectrum miss this milestone. Despite the many differences along the autism spectrum, this lack of perspective-borrowing is universal. Teaching our kids this crucial skill is a fundamental component of RDI. It is not easy because by missing this skill, the child learns to react with fear and rigid control of situations, thus severely limiting their ability to learn and interact with others and situations.

ASD kids miss out on a lot because they cannot use the parent to resolve uncertainty. They avoid challenges and tend to focus on the static.  They often go between two extremes; Unproductive uncertainty where the fear and anxiety are too much and they cannot learn or benefit from the challenge. The other extreme is unproductive certainty where there is no challenge, no learning, no increase in feelings of competence. They miss the middle ground of Productive Uncertainty.

As guides, we need to create a situation of safe uncertainty. Unfortunately we cannot start there, we need to do some preliminary work so he can borrow my perspective and allow us to get to even a little bit of Productive Uncertainty, which will continue to build his feeling of competence and enable Productive Uncertainty to become easier.

We’re in an RDI objective with Zip that is encouraging the “studying” phase. I’m watching an RDI webinar on Productive Uncertainty and that’s where all the above RdI theory came from.  Zip has begun “checking in” with us when he shows us things, like an airplane on the sky or things on the computer or a video. Not sure that I’m seeing “studying” yet. He is still rather controlling in our interactions, which doesn’t leave much room for studying or borrowing our perspective.  We just had a nice interaction with pipe cleaners that I’ll blog about later today.


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