Tuesday, March 29, 2011

RDI in school

RDI is an intervention that addresses dynamic intelligence ( Theory of mind) in our children.  For school age children, being able to take on perspective, understand critical thinking, emotionally regulate with another person, and reflect on their surroundings is crucial.  If our children were not given this opportunity before 5 years old, it is never too late to lay the foundation for Dynamic thinking and improve a child’s quality of life and social understanding.
Below is a chart that outlines static and dynamic intelligence. 
Static thinking is what you know. For example, formulas, procedures (like following a recipe), memorized information (like multiplication tables), habits and routine.  You will note that much of the static column is what comes easier for our children because of the effects of Autism on their neurology.  The Dynamic column is what so many of our children struggle with.  Dynamic thinking involves flexible thinking, experience sharing communication, appraisal and self-awareness.  When we deliberate, reflect, worry, hypothesize, daydream, and improvise we are using our Dynamic intelligence

(Static Abilities)
(Dynamic Disabilities)
Thinking and Problem Solving (Cognition)
Black & White
Detail Analysis
Parts – to – whole
Rule-based thinking
Alternative thinking
Critical thinking
Good enough thinking
Grey area thinking (fuzzy logic)
Hypothetical (“what if”)
Improvisational thinking
Simultaneous processing
Social & Communication
Social Rules
Multi-Channel communication
Perspective taking
Regulating & Repairing

Emotional regulation
Planning, preparing, previewing
Self-efficacy, resilience

 So how does struggling with Dynamic thinking impact learning? Being able to relate to others is at the core of HOW we learn.  Babies have thousands of hours practice in the social and emotional  back and forth between themselves and their parents.  Children with Autism do not have this chance unless we specifically create for them a  deliberate way to revisit what they missed the first time. 
Without this opportunity to restore their developmental path,  we are fostering use of static thinking only and therefore not preparing our children to a higher quality of life that is possible for them.
New Jersey core curriculum, along with every other state recognizes to prepare our children for society,  we must go beyond simple memorization and procedures.  For our children with Autism, wanting more for them and preparing them for independent lives should be in the forefront and partnership with both skills and thinking is crucial for success.    As with any child growing into adulthood,  the ability to think, problem solve and take on other perspectives creates in every individual an engagement as active citizens in a dynamic  society and to successfully meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st-century global workplace( per Core standards)

Mission: 21st-century life and career skills enable students to make informed decisions that prepare them to engage as active citizens in a dynamic global society and to successfully meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st-century global workplace.

 Vision: The systematic integration of 21st-century life and career skills across the K-12 curriculum and in career and technical education programs fosters a population that: Applies critical thinking and problem-solving skills to make reasoned decisions at home, in the workplace, and in the global community.
Uses effective communication, communication technology, and collaboration skills to interact with cultural sensitivity in diverse communities and to work in cross-cultural teams in the multinational workplace. Is financially literate and financially responsible at home and in the broader community.
Demonstrates creative and entrepreneurial thinking by recognizing and acting on promising opportunities while accepting responsibility for possible risks.
Is knowledgeable about careers and can plan, execute, and alter career goals in response to changing societal and economic conditions.
Produces community, business, and political leaders who demonstrate core ethical values, including the values of democracy and free enterprise, during interactions with the global community.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tips for Relationship Development Intervention

Tips for RDI  Part one -
3 beginning tips to keep in mind while you are waiting to start a complete RDI program with your child-  I welcome any questions you may have about a particular situation in your family and how to help foster mindfulness! 
1        Slow down your actions with your child.  Give him /her time to think about what comes next…and if they don’t know what comes next, your pause will help your child to look at you to to try and understand.  As parents, we sometimes anticipate what our kids need and don’t give them a chance to seek out our interaction for that joint attention.  Or we are told to prompt them in the activity to the point where the child has no point other then following directions. There was nothing better than the first time my own son looked at me for information because I paused in our activity and did not compensate for him.  He had to reference my face for more information.  Keep in mind in the beginning of this process I counted in my head anywhere from 25 to 45 seconds before moving on.  This is a good rule to follow in both our actions and our language.
2        While slowing down your pace, limit your verbal communication and use as much facial expressions and body language as possible.  This reinforces the pause…as once our kids look at us,  we want them to understand that *words* do not hold the key to communication but that it is an entire package.  We want our children to hit the milestones of understanding those non verbal cues in their own life to translate into outside.  This is the very beginning of being able to read people and their words…an example being sarcasm if someone says,  “Love your hair” with a smirk on their face!! Losing your own language is for both children who cannot speak yet and very verbal children.  For children who depend on language ( over talking) you may want to invest in an ipod and tell your child that you cant hear him ( forcing him to communicate more non verbally) .  This way he/she does not think you are ignoring them.  They may initially become upset because they depend so much on words and not non verbal communication.  My son had a huge issue with this.  An example of this would be he would say Mom and I would look at him but he did not understand that me looking at him was the same thing as saying “what”? My younger son was Non verbal when we begun the RDI program.  I concentrated on social cues with him and limited my language until he was solid within those milestones.
3        For the language that you do use with your child,  comment on your thoughts in the situation instead of asking questions of your child.  This will help your child to understand that you are thinking, and that other people in his world have a perspective separate from his.  This is called Self Talk, and means you are simply verbalizing your internal thoughts but not requesting a response.  Typically, when someone says out loud, I love chocolate ice cream, I internalize that in my own thought process to think about what I like.  I may say  in response,  “ oh I love Mint chocolate chip ice cream” which is experience sharing, or I may say nothing at that moment.  Both times I am thinking.  Our children on the spectrum may not say anything yet but you are building a foundation for thinking.  Encouraging that process will build competence in your childs mindful intelligience.  Prompting a child just to talk limits their thinking and erodes their competence because responding to your request simply becomes a task to complete.  They already have their own agenda, self talk lets them know that we are in their world too. 

I hope these few tips encourage you!  Check back for more tips!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Obstacles to remediation

Within RDI,  there is a planning stage for the family after the assessment.  This gives the consultant and family an opportunity to see the obstacles in their own child’s static thinking.  We review these ( This is not an exhaustive list but the main obstacles) and mark all that apply.  After that we decide the three top priorities to begin with in the program!
They are as follows- 
Respecting limits and boundaries
Behavioral self regulation
Limited emotional response ( Anhedonia)
Emotional regulation problems ( Meltdowns)
Frustration tolerance
Opposition and defiance
Aggressive/Violent?Threatening/Risk taking
Attention engagement and/or Maintenance
Drowsy/Low Energy
Hyperactive-  in constant motion
Obsessive focus
Rigid /inflexible
Inappropriate, annoying language use
Limited or absent motivation
Non communicative
Passive/ Prompt dependant
Poor body tone- rigid or floppy
…………….continued to more unique obstacles

Kathy Darrow- RDI Certified Professional

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Yes, RDI works on developmental milestones for theory of mind.  This is crucial for our children to understand friendships in their life.  Babies begin to learn about friendship as they learn to borrow their caregivers perspective...they learn that they have thoughts and the person they are interacting with also has thoughts that may be the same or different then theirs.  We must fill in these missing functions with our children incrementally so their ability to understand their social world, which includes understanding collaberation, mutual enjoyment, empathy and common trust can emerge.

This portion is from an article by Dr Gutstein on Adolescent friendship

Friendship levels

The six levels of friendship
We often use the term friendship without defining what kind of relationship we are talking about.We refer to friendships as if they were all alike – as if the relationship of two 4-year-olds is no different than two 16-year-olds. In reality friendship changes dramatically from the initial bonds formed in pre-school years to the close friendships of the older adolescent. For typical children, friendship is a progressively complex array of skills. Friendships gradually become more sophisticated. They reach their zenith by the close of adolescence. A number of psychologistshave constructed models for the stages of friendship development.
In summarizing their work I have developed a six-level model of friendship development, which we use at The Connections Center.
Level I
An important point to realize is that typically developing children are not ready for peer friendships until they have had extensive training and practice being partners with adults. Research psychologist Carollee Howes, the world’s foremost expert on the development of early friendships, has conducted research showing that in typical development children are not interested in playing with peers, with the exception of brief interactions, until some time during their third year (Howes and Matheson 1992). In this initial pre-friendship level, adults function both as the principal social partners as well as guides. They prepare the child to participate as an equal partner in the less predictable but more exciting interactions with peers. This is a critical step that cannot be bypassed, as it lays the foundation for all future friendship development.
Level II
Children at Level II are mainly concerned with finding an equal partner with whom they can share and coordinate activities. Friends areconsidered those peers who consistently act as enjoyable playmates and who communicate their desire to interact with their friend by showing excitement and consistently choosing their friend when opportunities present themselves. Even at this beginning friendship stage, a peer friend is expected to take equal responsibility for coordinating the pair’s actions.
Level III
In Level III the elements of collaboration and mutual support come into play. Friends experience the strength of acting together as a unit to solve problems and overcome obstacles. Friends help each other in simple ways. They also show concern if their friend is hurting or scared.
Level III
friends develop co-creative activities by combining their ideas and developing newactivity variations,which become their own versions of games. These collaborative creations serve to cement the bond betweenfriends. Children involved in Level III friendships know that friends will not tolerate a cheater or sore loser. Nor will they want to be with someone who does not find ways of compromising and collaborating with them. By the close of this level, friendships become the main arena for social comparison, as children examine similarities and differences between themselves and friends as part of their initial identity development.
Level IV
Children ready for a Level IV friendship have begun to perceive of their relationships in a more self-conscious manner. They recognize theimportance of considering others’ thoughts and feelings as distinct from theirs. They become aware of the need to act in a manner that will be attractive to a friend. They become interested in how they are perceivedby their peers and purposefully seek to create a good impression. They also know that to keep a friend you must provide something in yourinteraction that is meaningful to them, not just what you find interesting. Friends begin to become highly valued as collaborators in theworld of ideas and imagination.
Level V
As typically developing children approach middle school years, there is an emerging desire for friends who will share ideas and internal emotional states. The child can now differentiate between what is really felt as opposed to what may be overtly expressed. He becomes interested in deciphering friends’ intentions as well as observing their actions. The enduring preferences and opinions of friends become important. One element that clearly distinguishes the Level V friendshipis the knowledge that a friend should function as a reliable ally. Children describe friends as understanding, loyal, and trustworthy. An ally is someone you can count on; someonewho always takes your side (except when the two of you are having a conflict). An ally will stand up for you if someone is trying to hurt you. Friends must prove themselves as trustworthy,ready to support and stand up for their buddies whenever called upon to do so. In this stage children also learn the need for regular friendship maintenance such as frequent phone calls.
Level VI
By teenage years, typically developing teenagers report that exchanging intimacy has become the crucial defining characteristic of close friendships. Friends work hard to develop and maintain a strong bond of trust and mutual concern. They know each other’s fears, dreams, strengths and weaknesses and treat their friend’s vulnerabilities with acceptance and respect. Teenagers view a friendship as something that exists apart from the moment, or from the individual’s current actions. They learn to examine their different friendships and determinewhich qualify as truly close friendships. They learn to accurately define the concept and to evaluate their friendships in relation to the level in which the friend has earned their trust. Teenagers realize that all friendships do not have the same value. There are people you can have fun with, but you may not share common interests with. The very person who can be your ally andstand up for you may not be sensitive when you talk about a fear. Not everyone can keep a secret or provide constructive feedback.

Relationship Development Intervention- what does it look like?

 RDI looks at the thinking in any interaction.  Think about yourself.  What are your memories of childhood?  Some of them involve memories of friendships and good times.  We dont necessarily remember what we did but moreso the shared experience!  For our kids, since they are struggling with being very static( Rule based/instrumental) in their thinking, rule based skills are easily taught through behavioral modification.  Unfortunately, This just increases their static thinking.  At first, as they accumulate skills we as parents are thrilled.  With me, it took me about a year to realize no amount of skills was going to transfer to being able to share perspectives with others or theory of mind.  This is why it is common to hear parents echo,  "my son has a straight A average or is on the honor roll,  but cannot make a friend"  II cover friendships in the next blog.  To remedy this,  I turned with my own children to RDI as I realized that I needed to built my sons social and emotional developmental foundation if I indeed wanted to have my son able to have real, meaningful friendships and relationships.  I say all this because in order to go back and equip our children with these crucial milestones, we need to once again look at typical development.  WHen we are interacting with a baby we are interacting at a slower pace, we are very expressive, and limit our language and *turn up* our non verbal communication.  We are not looking for the baby to *do* anything other then their role of giving us simple feedback....and we wait for that feedback before we move on. 

With our children with Autism,  we want to give them that chance that they missed the first time.  We are not going to treat them like babies,  but what we do is concentrate on the thinking involved in the interaction, along with collaberation and reflection.  This process obviously slows the task down considerably.  This can be challenging as we may have learned to compensate for our children by prompting them and in essense doing their thinking for them.   The first thing, as a parent is to learn times in the day where you can do something, anything like wash or baking or washing the car at a slower pace to allow for thinking and not be overly concerned with how long it will actually take to DO the activity.    We frame the interaction according to the specific RDI developmental milestone that is being worked on, and focus on that instead of the task.  This does two things for our kids.  First, it shows them that we are more interested in THEM then the task, and second it models for them what experience sharing looks like.  They may be extremely task focused- black and white, and want to do an  activity for the end result of being done.  This is how RDI starts to help our kids learn how relationships are the center of every interaction and not the actual task.  This is broken down in very deliberate steps as we move along stages within the RDI learning system.

For example,  if there is ball playing, we are spotlighting non verbal communication and the experience …Many times the item, like the ball is something that our kids can stim on or find reinforcing and then the person in the ball play is secondary.  For this reason, for many children,  RDI focuses on doing household things like wash or cleaning with the child to spotlight the relationship…  we want to spotlight the relationship and not just entertain….typical children love to help around the house not because chores are fun but because they love working with mom and dad.  They have that intruistic motivation and social foundation to want to be with a person no matter what they are doing.  They know how to separate the item from the person.  With RDI,  one of the first steps is to restore having the parent more emotionally reinforcing then anything that they are doing together.   We want the child to understand how to be rooted in relationships and  walk away thinking to themselves,  I love spending time with my (fill in the blank)  and that the ball play was secondary to the relationship and memories formed.  Experiencing the experience instead of concentrating on a task.
Parent lead through being the guide…the exact way we help development unfold with our neurotypical children. 

What is RDI ( Relationship Development Intervention)

 We know Autism is caused by the lack of networking within the brain.  There are numerous causes for this ( regressive/infantile Autism) so each child is unique!!  Because of this lack of dynamic networking,  our kids become very static thinkers-  where they do not like change and they want to control everything in their world to prevent any change in their environment.  This is why some children are very rigid.    When my son was just alittle over 1 year old I knew he had Autism because first of all I had a older son with Autism but among many other clues,  he would start crying in his carseat when I took a different way home.  If I went straight instead of turning..any variation that was against what he thought I should be doing. 
RDI is an Autism Intervention that targets Dynamic thinking ( theory of mind, perspective taking, intersubjectivity). 
RDI acknowledges this static wiring in our kids brain and believes a vital role to help our children is to create in them the ability to build up their dynamic intelligience instead of just accentuating skill based learning.  Dynamic thinking is A fancy term that describes what we all have …brains that are neutrally integrated.  We enjoy a challenge and we base our actions mostly on our perspective of relationships in our lives.   To have very static brains would mean that the focus would be off of the social and emotional factors of relationships and based more on rules or black and white thinking.  Our children have some excellent abilities like the  ability to memorize facts.  RDI works on the weaker part of the brain where the social dynamics are underconnected.  By doing this, building this strong foundation in our childs emotional understanding…as children progress through the RDI stages they are able to catch up socially because we are bulding those foundations from the ground up. RDI does this through years of studying how typical development unfolds…and believing that is still the best process for our children, gives the child a second chance to meet those milestones.  This is done step by step, in  a precise manner building upon each mastered social milestone.   An example would be understanding all channels of communications and other peoples perspectives.  RDI works on the foundations of communication first,  in which being able to use words in their actual context springs from.     Think about when you talk to a friend, you would say,   Love that color on you..but say it with a smirk on my face.  Your friend,  using different channels in processing your words would know that your words did not match what you said and she would know that you were really just being sarcastic in your language.  If you think about babies,  they learn to talk AFTER they have mastered, non verbal communication, the intonation in our voices, our gestures.
With my first son I did go out of order before I was introduced to RDI as we used a different intervention in the beginning…My son would say say with his programs so we had to create a program to try and teach him not to say say before words or script.   With my second son because I gave him the foundations for communication, he never had the pronoun issues or scripting…when he did start to talk his talking was experienctial and meaningful.
Addressing the social and emotional deficits of Autism itself as a precursor to all other static (academic) skills.  Addressing the core deficits of Autism and dynamic thinking lays a strong foundation for learning academics and skills in context and in an age appropriate application.
From the RDI Book-

The key to integrating dynamic and static learning is to make sure that you do not introduce static skills until the child is ready to develop the associated dynamic processes needed for real world competency

Kathy Darrow RDI Certified Consultant