In last Friday's post about fruit smoothies (recipe included), you might have thought it odd that my mother was following us around taking pictures. We had a reason. A week or so ago, a reporter from our countywide paper, who had been reading my blog, asked if she could do a human interest story about us. We live in the county seat across the street from the owner of the newspaper and are Facebook pals with some of the staff. The article appeared in today's paper ("Glasers Bring Quality of Life to Autistic Daughter") and I think Cathy Gilbert did a phenomenal job capturing the essence of RDI and how it has improved our quality of life while giving information to families in the area with autistic children.
I think autism awareness is pretty high in our county for we have an early childhood development center which had over twenty Applied Behavior Analysis therapists the last time I checked. In case anyone familiar with ABA views my blog, I am going to cover the biggest difference I see between ABA and RDI in a way that makes sense to people well-versed in ABA (which I am not). If you are unfamiliar with ABA, here's a crash course!
The basic working principle of ABA requires that the adult provides a stimulus (usually a verbal command) and provides a reinforcement (praise, toy, or piece of candy) immediately after the child makes the targeted response. Since eye contact is such a big issue for children with autism, a classic discrete trial training (DTT) session would include multiple rounds of the following interaction pattern:
Adult: "Look at me" (while holding a piece of candy at her eye).
Child: Looks at the candy and glances at the adult's eye.
Adult: "Excellent looking" and gives the child the candy immediately.
When we first started doing RDI two years ago, we worked on something broader than eye contact: Pamela discovering that she can read our facial expressions and gestures to know more about what is going on around her. I changed the way I interacted with her: (1) declarative language as opposed to imperative language, (2) making my words important by slowing down and speaking fewer words ala the "My Words are Important" and "Unexpected Sounds and Actions" exercises from the manual, and (3) trying some lifestyle activities in which I nearly cut out words and exaggerate my facial expressions as depicted in videos of RDI families you can find online. (Newsflash: The new RDI book is out and it incorporates the emphasis on lifestyle not found in the lab manual, which is no longer needed.) I framed these changes in my communication style in a wide variety of activities like baking brownies, storing salad fixings in the refrigerator, getting out her shampoo and stowing it, etc. I was so excited about Pamela's immediate change in paying attention to my face (you can see the awesome before and after video here), that I shifted to a face-reading card game that Pamela found hilarious because of all the weird contortions my face made and a complete overhaul of how I guided Pamela in our interactions.
A fellow homeschooler and RDI friend compared the interaction style to checkers. The adult and child take turns (reciprocal actions), each one basing their move on what the other person does (contingent responses). Today, we hung laundry: Pamela's role was telling me where to put the laundry and my role was to act predictably sometimes and unpredictably at other times. We worked on applying her speaking vocabulary (a struggle since she has aphasia too) real time: rack, railing, rocking chair, bricks, and multiple prepositions and positional words. Sometimes, I counted the socks with the wrong numbers and she corrected me so that we would have a shared understanding of counting systems. Sometimes, I would do something weird like put a shirt on my head or throw it at her. I would often act confused and look at her for help. We worked on using very specific language for where I ought to hang each item.
In the last round of our interaction, I held six socks and looked at Pamela for suggestions. She could clearly see the front of the rack (on the left) while I was looking at the back of the rack (on the right), which still had two empty rods. She told me, "In the back." So, I asked, "The top, middle, or bottom?" She told me, "The bottom." So, I said, "But the bottom is full." I expected her to tell me to hang them on the top or the middle. But, she surprised me with, "On the bricks." Since I often run out of room on the rack and hang clothes on the railing, rocking chairs, and brick, I agreed with her suggestion and laid the rest of the socks out on the bricks.
The following two videos show a dramatic difference between how responsive Pamela is to my nonverbal interactions. I recorded the first clip of us baking a cake when we first started rdi. The second clip of us making noodles was ten months later.
Compressed into one long soundbite, in ABA, the adult gives the child a very specific, discrete stimulus and expects a very specific, discrete response, setting up a scripted, predictable, patterned interaction. RDI has the exact opposite situation occurring: the adult gives the child a very broad, multiple channel stimulus and responds to a very broad, multiple channel action, setting up an unique, unpredictable dance.
In short, ABA focuses on a static system, while RDI focuses on a dynamic system.