What a great fortune that the url affectautism.com was available! I thought of the name during one of my DIR® certificate courses. In the videos I’ve seen, Dr. Stanley Greenspan spoke so eloquently about affect within the relationship with a primary caregiver.
I was long familiar with the concept of “relationship” from my studies of Dr. Gordon Neufeld’s developmental attachment model for parenting even before my son’s brain inflammation. So when I stumbled upon the DIR® model, I knew this was the model for us. It fit in line so well with Dr. Neufeld’s work.
Affect = Emotion
One of my course readings really solidified the concept of “affect” within the caregiver-child relationship. Dr. Greenspan talks about the affective reciprocal interaction between caregiver and child and its importance in neurotypical development.
Reciprocal=back and forth
Interactions=between parent and child
For those of you keen on reading more, the paper is entitled “The Affect Diathesis Hypothesis: The Role of Emotions in the Core Deficit in Autism and in the Development of Intelligence and Social Skills” and can be found on DIR’s main website.
So what the heck is the Affect Diathesis Hypothesis?
Diathesis is just a predisposition to something. The Affect Diathesis Hypothesis is about the connection between affect and different processing capacities. In children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it could be that they have some predisposition—due to biologically-based processing problems—to failing to connect affect to motor planning and sequencing capacities and symbol formation. (For now let’s just call motor planning, sequencing capacities, and symbol formation “learning”.)
This misconception that autistic children are not able to engage in loving relationships is false. Many autistic children withdraw because the interactions are aversive to them due to their sensory profiles*. If parents can determine their child’s sensory profile and tailor their interaction to their child’s needs, loving and warm engagement follows.
* Downloaded from the SPD Foundation website
That is, because they are predisposed to not connect affect with learning, they are unable to have affective interactions. This is why autism was originally characterised as children without emotion. It’s not that they didn’t have emotion; it’s that they didn’t engage in affect with others in a reciprocal way. These affective interactions underlie intelligence and social development, so this is a big problem.
However, loving and warm engagement is different from reciprocal chains of affective interaction and this is the biggest challenge with most children on the spectrum. So how do we help? If we cannot help them with reciprocal affective interactions, they are more likely to have erupting, intense, catastrophic affects. It’s hard to symbolize unmodulated, extreme feelings.
So Dr. Greenspan says there is a distinction between the capacity to engage and the capacity for affective reciprocal interactions. The deficit of affective interactions puts the child with ASD at risk for not going through necessary stages of development that progresses to intelligence and social skills.
In other words, it’s great that your child has developed to the point of being affectionate and engaging with you on some level. But that is not enough. You need to have ongoing circles of verbal or non-verbal communication on a consistent basis.
Through our emotional interactions is how we learn. Intelligence has always been looked at as separate from emotions, but it is lived emotional experiences that influence how we can reflect and think and be more intelligent. We apply what we learn emotionally to our cognitive world.
Similarly, we can only feel empathy if someone has shown empathy with us. Also, we can only feel love, closeness and intimacy if someone has been this way with us.
For symbolic formation—a necessary precursor to intelligence—to occur, you need both perception and action. That is, you have a capacity for imagery and then combine it with intentions. Only then can you have symbolic meaning. This is a challenge for children who have catastrophic reactions because they cannot tie the overwhelming emotion with reality. And herein lies the problem.
How many of us have children of any age who are stuck in having these daily catastrophic reactions? Can I hear a “Hell, yeah!”
So imagine this. Take the perspective of your child if you can. I feel this huge catastrophic emotional reaction and it is just that. I do not have a symbolic image in my mind and/or I cannot see that I can have an intention to do something about it.
Capacity for affective reciprocity enables regulation of behaviours and mood. And then you can use affect as a signal, so that when you feel an emotion coming on, you recognize it, and then can consider alternate actions to a catastrophic all-or-none reaction.
This is why DIR/Floortime® is the best choice for your child. It teaches you how to get those “circles of communication” as they are called—the affective reciprocity; the back-and-forth interaction with your child that need not be verbal—that are so necessary for development to move forward.
Now how many adults who are supposedly neurotypical are not able to themselves use affect as a signal to adjust their own behaviour? Perhaps it’s even us as parents. And yet we expect this from our children who are simply incapable at their current stage of development, no matter their age.
DIR® addresses every one of these issues in such a straight-forward, logical manner. It shows us how to take one step at a time and just be human. Our affect makes us human. We will get into all of this at Affect Autism.
I’m going to help parents grasp these concepts so they are in your back pocket. Together we’ll help our children move up that developmental ladder as well as help each other in the process. So next time, we are going to start to delve into what this developmental ladder is exactly. It is the basis for moving forward.
Until next week, here’s to affecting autism!