Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Why, the What, and the How of RDI

Happy Mother's Day to All Y'all!

Pamela gave me the flower in my stationary box, and how she went about it shows why we are working on her concept of self versus other. Our consultant and Pamela taped a pen to the flower, wrapped it in tissue paper, and decorated it as a Mother's Day present to me. Pamela was supposed to ask David to hide the gift in his backpack so that I would have no clue about it. Unfortunately, I inadvertently caused the situation to be dynamic because, while Pamela and our consultant were busy making plans, I had moved from my original spot to the same room as David. Our consultant quickly explained their plan, so I bolted and let them hide the gift.

I patiently waited until this morning for the gift. Pamela never forgets special occasions, and she wished me a happy Mother's Day this morning as always. But, she did not give me my gift. After lunch, I put on a sad face and said, "I am sad. I thought I was getting a Mother's Day present." Pamela did not realize that, even though she and David knew where they had hid the gift, I had no clue. She did not react. I tried reminding her about the secret gift she made with our consultant, but Pamela did not understand why I could not find the gift.

I explained a bit further and said, "I don't know where my present is." Pamela blurted out, "A thief stole it!" Why? Since she assumed I knew about the hiding spot, she assumed I had looked for the present myself. Since she was confused, I walked her to David and repeated what I said. He knew that I did not know where the present was, and I told him that Pamela needed help remembering where it was. He started nonverbally guiding her to find the present. She interprets facial gaze and nonverbal communications well, so David and Pamela quickly located the present and gave it to me.

The Why
Our consultant gave us a stack of papers explaining RDI in her own words to make sure we are all singing off the same sheet of music. Two things caught me attention from the very beginning: parent-based and developmental. Relationships within a family are the first and most important relationship any person will ever have, for better or for worse. Not only that, parents have the most opportunities to hang out with a child, especially when homeschooling. From the very beginning, I have always spent time learning from professionals, parents, and people with autism and tried what made sense for our family and situation. I have resisted formal therapies with certified professionals working with Pamela because it makes more sense to teach me to teach Pamela. The people who spend the most time with a child ought to be the ones implementing whatever needs to be done.

The focus on development rather than behaviors also intrigued me. Our consultant is helping us to figure out where Pamela is developmentally and what objective is most likely to emerge at this point in her development. Steve and I will not be prompting her to jump through hoops a la operant conditioning. We will be seeking and creating opportunities in every day life to help Pamela make discoveries on her own with her sharp eye for detail and great attention span. These discoveries will enable her to share and communicate her experiences, borrow our perspective when unsure, become aware of herself versus others, think even more flexibly than she already does, add personal meaning to her phenomenal memory for events in her life, and cope with an ever-changing world--explained in greater detail here.

Let me illustrate with a sweet example from our stay with Steve's cousin and her three children. Pamela had announced her intentions to go to bed. Her cousin Jenna, a fifth-grader, said, "Good-night, Pamela!" I could have prompted her by telling her directly what to do, "Say good-night!" By doing so, I steal an opportunity for Pamela to appraise a situation and think of possible actions. In fact, this would limit her choices to two that require pure reaction and no thought--obey or disobey.

Instead, I said, "Pamela, Jenna said good-night to you." Pamela had to think of her possible actions: tell Jenna good-night, give her a hug, kiss her on the head or cheek, shake her hand, do a combination of any of the previous, or keep walking to the bedroom. Pamela walked over to Jenna, waved, said "Good-night!" and kissed her on the top of the head.

The What
I am the world's biggest skeptic. I did not jump into RDI right away until I studied its guiding principles. We started our "lone ranger" RDI program back in March 2007. I blogged our journey, and you can read for yourself how we did.

As a lone ranger RDI mom, I read books and blogs and networked with other RDI families to figure out how I can create opportunities to guide Pamela in making the discoveries listed earlier. While I learned how to guide Pamela in our first four years of homeschooling, other RDI families explained to me how to refine my skills even more by speaking in declarative language, slowing down, and expanding my nonverbal communications. They helped me figure out what my next objective might be. They encouraged me to seek situations in our real life (chores, cooking, shopping, games, puzzles, conversations, book discussions, etc.) to frame whatever objective planned to target. They pointed the book Awakening Children's Minds to me as a great way to learn more about scaffolding.

Trying to implement RDI is not easy without a consultant, but generous and wonderful parents are willing to throw ideas at you at email lists like HS-RDI and Autism Remediation for our Children to help you get started. You can find all sorts of RDI blogs through your favorite search engine. You can find some explanations and helpful video clips (free once you register and log-in). If the five-hour DVD is too pricey, it often sells on eBay for a good deal, but I would hold off buying Solving the Relationship Puzzle new because an update is in the works.

Flying solo is not easy. A dedicated mom and dad with no other options will find a way to make it work! At first, I felt drained with every encounter in which I worked on changing my communication style. I had to think of so many things about what I was doing and what Pamela was doing. I had to figure out how to use my video camera so that I could film our interactions and get a chance to review what happened. Trust me! When you are in the moment, you miss so much. Seeing the recordings helped me glean so many details that I missed in the heat of the moment. In time, I felt more comfortable but never completely sure if I was on the right track.

I must have gotten some things right because our consultant found Pamela smack dab in the middle of stage 2 (out of 30 stages): she has mastered the two most daunting tasks (being an apprentice and co-regulating). Her nonverbal communication is quite good.

The How
I decided to find a consultant because I thought I needed more direction and accountability plus I wanted to be sure I was on the right track. I know some people complain about being left out of the new operating system with objectives and resources available only to parents with certified consultants (or ones in training). I can see both sides of the argument here because I have been around long enough to know that sometimes professionals claim to be knowledge in therapy X because they attended a workshop on it five years ago and then completely confuse parents with outdated information. This insures a level of quality control for parents spending their hard-earned cash. Even so, since parents are people as are consultants, some personalities clique while others do not. If you are searching for a consultant, find a person with whom you connect because that consultant will be your guide. Driving an extra hour or two might be worth it if it means finding the right consultant for your family and situation.

Time will tell how it will go with our consultant. My first impression tells me this is the beginning of a great relationship!


Prince Andrew and the Queen Mum said...

i need to catch up on your blog but i'm going to link these first two to our local Everyday miracles group. they are very descriptive. thank you;) looking forward to a few more minutes to read these in detial. and jealous that you found such a great consultant that will work w/ you as she is.

poohder said...

Tammy, thank you for being so sequential with your posts, this is going to be SO helpful to many folks
since you have such a big readership.
Excited for you and your family.

Blooming Where We're Planted said...

Tammy- I tried to leave you a blog yesterday but my computer was having issues. You clearly had a wonderful Mother's day with Pamela. Thanks for all your encouragement! I am truly amazed that with all you having going on and the detail that you put into your postings, you still find time to go out and read and respond to the blogs of others. You are truly a blessing to our homeschool community. I hope your Mother's Day was the best yet.

Angela DeRossett said...

I am going to have to look more into RDI myself... we try to focus on what it possible rather than expected with Xander and this might be the ticket to helping him along. I had never heard a name put to this method but it makes sense to me that it would be more effective and flow more easily. I look forward to reading more from you on your journey!!