Are we wired to help each other?
An article in NY Times Science section asks the question: Are we wired to be kind and helpful or are we raised by our caregivers to be helpful? Research by biologists indicates that babies are innately sociable and helpful to others. Infants as young as 18 months notice when a caregiver needs help opening a door or picking up an object and will try to assist the caregiver by gesturing and pointing.
This helping behavior seems to be innate because it appears so early and before parents start teaching children the rules of polite behavior. If children are naturally helpful and sociable what system of parenting best takes advantage of this propensity? According to researchers the approach known as inductive parenting works the best because it reinforces the child's natural desire to cooperate with others. Inductive parenting is simply communicating with children about the effect of their actions on others and ephasizing the logic of social cooperation.
What are we to make of children on the spectrum given that they seem to lack this innate desire? What are we to do to stimulate this desire if it is somehow absent or suppressed as a result of autism?
Will inductive parenting work? Probably not, simply because the inductive model assumes that the child is already attached to the caregiver, mom or dad. Without this attachment, the child would not be attending to the caregiver in the first place, much less tracking when to be helpful.
Do we then prompt for cooperative behaviors? Do we reward cooperative behaviors with charts and sticker or treats? Do we script for cooperative conduct?
No. No. No. We need to stimulate cooperation by focusing on attachment -- by engaging, playing, holding, cuddling, and communicating. If we do have an innate capacity to be helpful and cooperative that capacity must be connected to our innate capacity for attachment, to the desire to care for those who are valuable to us.
So, rather than adopt a behavioral approach to creating cooperation we should focus our energy on developing meaningful emotional bonds with children with autism. It is from deep human attachment that caring and cooperative action arises.
The article ran on 12/1/09. Check it out and let me know what you think!!
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