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Developmental Sequence | Ep 108

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

Connect with S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Podcast with Guest Ellen Winney With Dr. Richard Smith and Dr. Lynette Scotese-Wojtila Episode 8, Launch Date: June 23, 2021 Listen on major podcast platforms, and here: Our blog posts serve as brief overviews of our podcast episodes. Welcome everyone to the eighth episode of CONNECT with SUCCESS podcast, built around The S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Approach (SM), and the person who coined it, Dr. Lynette Scotese-Wojtila. In Episode Seven, we introduced the next foundational application of The S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Approach (SM) which was built around socialization in autism, and in this episode we're going to build on this discussion by adding developmental basics to our talk as part of The S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Approach (SM). Let's take a moment before we jump in to talk with Dr. Lynette about today's term for the show.

Dr. Scotese-Wojtila

Today's term is developmental sequence. Developmental sequence is basically a concept that all professionals who serve children are trained to know and should be operating under. And what it means, though, is that skill acquisition happens in sort of a step-by-step fashion. So we might consider it sort of like a linear process. And a quick example would be, we absolutely would expect a child to be able to sit before they could run. And that seems obvious to us as we think about the sequence of skill development, but it becomes a challenge, and we're going to talk today about how that challenge manifests for kids with autism, when we're not really solid on the developmental sequence, and we might accidentally expect a child to be able to perform a particular skill before they're really ready developmentally.

Discussion between Ellen Winney, Dr. Scotese-Wojtila and Dr. Smith:

And it’s the idea that the brain development dictates our skill development, and things should happen in a step-by-step process. And so if we look at many different areas, whether it be physical motor development or fine motor development, social development, cognition. All of those skills within there, happen in a very linear fashion, in neuro typical development. And so, it's a concept though, that we might lose sight of a little bit even when there are typical children, that also becomes more complicated when we add in the autism, and some of the challenges that are experienced there.

if we don't honor developmental sequence, we not only frustrate the child and set them up for failure; we put unfair expectations on them, we frustrate ourselves, and we really kind of get in our own way of really helping the child to succeed.

For our kids on the spectrum, they oftentimes develop what we call “splinter skills” where it almost seems like they skip part of the developmental process and a higher level skill emerges; but they don't have the foundational skills below it to support it. And so there's not a lot of real meaning and function around it. We see kids on the spectrum, because of their episodic learning style, who are fantastic at memorizing rote facts. So a child could, you know be four years old and know all their times tables. We believe, “Wow they're a math genius! They know all their math facts,” -- but they don't understand the concept that two times four means you have two sets of four items each and able to know and understand what that actually means.

And so then we're like well you know, we can just put them in third grade math because clearly they know their multiplication facts, but they don't actually have that deep learning occurring, and the foundational skills to build on.

And because of that, our kids on the autism spectrum in particular, are “foolers.” They're not trying to fool us, but they end up misleading us if we don't ask the right questions and if we're not the just-right kind of detective to see what really is in their brain in terms of knowledge and deep understanding of a concept, we can be fooled. And it's not a good outcome. It's a disservice to a child to assume, or wrongly infer, that they have the capacity to be at a higher level math, when they really don't understand that numbers represent things, and quantity is just that – it can be abstract – and our kids struggle with abstraction, we know that.

Think about the term readiness, which can be a moment-to-moment sort of thing. Readiness to mobilize to make contact with something. Or a readiness to take in information, that kind of moment-to-moment brain readiness; but this is skill readiness, and one of the things that we've run into, whether it's a parent, a teacher, or really anybody who's trying to serve a child and help them, they want the child to do something that is standard and appropriate for their age, like cutting with scissors. And so they may want to work on cutting in school, and what they may not be thinking about is the child's readiness developmentally to do that well, not so much from the hand perspective, but from the cognitive perspective. So what that means, is in order to know what to do with scissors, and to use the scissors properly, you need cognitive skills and motor skills. A little bit of visual motor skills too as you know, but what happens for our kids: if a teacher, or a grandparent, or a daddy, or a therapist or anybody puts scissors in the hands of the kid, let's say is five year old body, or even a six year old body, which clearly by six a child should be able to cut right, and they don't understand tool usage, or what it's for, that child could accidentally cut anything. Like a wire, or someone’s hair, like their skin. And so, they're exploring so to speak, because we're giving them access, but we might only be giving them access because we want them to develop or show a skill that they're not quite ready for.

What is my expectation?

We are talking about kids who might be the last child picked for the soccer team because their gross motor skills aren’t so developed. When parents, who understandably want these kids to be involved with extracurricular activities or something social, we can unintentionally set a child up to fail if the focus is “go perform this gross motor skill, just like everybody else: run the bases, just like everybody else; hit the ball just like everybody else. And when I say “everybody else” maybe there's variations: mediocre, really great, not so great, whatever.

But if they are already disadvantaged in their motor skill development, it almost sets them up to not perform like their peers. And so you have to ask yourself a question: if I want my child to be involved in a program like that: soccer, baseball, what is my expectation of that? Is it social? Great! Do they actually need to play baseball for it to be social? Maybe, maybe not, depending on the league or the parent or the child or the team. Maybe they can be the water person, or the treat distributor or the mascot. If your goal is socialization, then that's a different reason to enlist in that kind of activity or group.

Every podcast episode concludes with either a challenge or key takeaways for our listeners. The Challenge from Episode 8:

The challenge is to choose one area of development that you are maybe most concerned about with your child (or adult) with autism. Discern where your child is at with the help of your team. Celebrate where they are at, maybe even videotape where they're at, so that you can always remember this developmental level, and then do the work of discerning what is the next step in that skill set. We hope that you learned something today to help you on your journey with autism. We'll share more on our next Connect with Success Podcast. Until then, expect success! Listen to Episode 8 of Connect with S.U.C.C.E.S.S. on major podcast platforms, and here: For more information about The S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Approach, please go to our website at Want to help your child and your whole family using The SUCCESS Approach? Check out our online course: Follow us on Facebook: Follow us on Twitter: Follow us on YouTube:

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