Monday, August 20, 2012

Details on the RDI program

What is RDI click here

RDI in school click here

Wondering if the RDI program is a good fit?  Click here

Relationship Development Intervention is based on the Model of typical development.  This affords children with Autism the same chance at a redo in their development as their peers without Autism. An example of this is- typically developing children develop resilience and the ability to manage uncertainty in the first year of their life. Building on motivation, helping a child feel competent and not only to manage uncertainty but to embrace it is part of the foundations of RDI. This opportunity for a second chance is rooted in Guided participation, which is how we all learned from our parents, and how society passes knowledge onto children who do not have any obstacles preventing them from accepting guidance. ( A book on this topic is apprenticeship in thinking by Barbara Rogoff.) RDI is a precise systemic program for guiding, broken down with objectives for each stage of intersubjectivity ... For more on intersubjectivity Click here

There are 7 goals for parents that empower them with the tools they need for remediate their child’s Autism, and in the process transform themselves into expert guides, decision makers and able to see themselves as competent parents when addressing Autism…along with learning how to help their children ( ASD or NT) became effective in their own decision making.

These 7 parent goals are


Student assessment, planning, and obstacle management

Personal assessment, planning and support

Set the stage for guiding

Guiding methods

Knowledge management

Applied guiding

The student stages follow typical development to remediate Autism

The 5 child/student goals are

Competence Development

Joint attentional learning

Self regulatory decision making

Co regulatory decision making

Emotional responsibility

(Within these student goals are three different stages which includes multiple objectives for each)

click here   to read from a students perspective

Once a family graduates from the Family consultation program they can move on to the next level, fine tuning any obstacles that remain with their child’s/students dynamic intelligence ( in this stage of the program Autism is no longer an issue but families are working on advanced concepts to effective pass on all learning and experience sharing to their child.) RDI is helpful to children and adults of any age..believing that all milestones regardless of chronological age must be addressed and cannot be ignored if we want to continue to move forward with a strong foundation. For families who do not start with RDI, many come  after their previous therapy stalls due to that therapy concentrating on specific skills and not addressing the complete developmental trajectory.

RDI advocates when fostering engagements for the child, to frame everyday activities with the focus on pacing and adjustment, along with the mode of communication and uncertainty present…to give a child a small enough challenge to feel competent in contrast to a challenge to great to handle. Planning and Framing activities allows the interactions to be structured but at the same time * family friendly* for each individual family dynamic, making RDI less about therapy and more about helping the child become competent in engagement through activities the family already does and interacting in their social world.

If you have any questions or would like to get more information on the online system, please email me at
For more info visit my website or  rdi connect

Monday, May 14, 2012

Employment for children with Autism

Think about your last job interview.  What were some of the questions?  Did they include questions like, How well do you work in a team?  Or what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?  Do you get along with people?  Why should I hire you?

These are all very open ended questions.  In today’s world, more than ever, employers are looking for flexibility,  creativity, problem solving skills, and an overall ability to share perspectives when looking at a task at hand.
Within the  Autism community,  we know that these very abilities that employers are looking for , are what our kids struggle with if not addressed. 
Wanted to throw some thoughts out after reading this article-

For my own two children who were diagnosed with Autism, both before the age of 3,  this was my wakeup call 7 years ago.  My oldest was just about 8.  He had intensive therapy for 4 years and was very advanced in skill acquisition…but lacked flexibility, creativity, etc.  He had a strong desire to be in control of every aspect of his day ( the more he could control, the less there would be anxiety within his day that he had no control of) .  This was my red flag,  because I was told, at the age of 8,  that it was as good as it was going to get…and that his life was going to entail trying to prepare him for employment by life skills, etc.  Fortunately, I did not know it then , but my younger son being Diagnosed was going to change the direction for both my sons.  My younger son did not respond to behavioral therapy,  and after a year I knew I had to act..I was not happy with the *results* so far…and I knew my kids deserved MORE.

In my research, I learned about Relationship Development Intervention.(RDI).  RDI takes a look at a child’s development milestones as crucial for remediation of Autism.  We all know that Autism is a developmental disorder,  but the leading *treatment* for Autism at the time did nothing to address actual development…and was based on changing behaviors despite children having not having the prerequisites to understand the WHY of the behaviors.  An example of this is how we taught my son how to talk at 4 years old.  While we were teaching him how to talk, he kept saying the word  “say”,  copying us.  We had to create a program that was called Don’t say “say”  Now I realize of course that he had no idea why he was talking other then behaviorally he was copying us.  He had no communication milestones in place ( Prosody, non verbal communication, etc…all milestones that babies have in place before they utter their first word). 

So the many articles that are coming out now about adults,  and the crisis that we have for our young adults coming into their own, wanting employment, is heartbreaking .  There are limited long term studies and the studies that do exist are dismal.  The behavioral treatments that some advocate for may have evidence behind them,  but that evidence does not follow through to adulthood.  It is evidence that looks at short term skill acquisition goals.  These have little to do with what will help our young adults succeed as they look for employment.   When we look at the model of typical development, we see the answers on how to help our kids with Autism.  Restoring their developmental milestones  not only addresses skills,  but addresses the understanding that we live in a very flexible world where things are always changing.  Being able to think on your feet,  problem solve,  and relate to others are crucial.  The foundations for these abilities are learned through relationships  before 2 years old.  There is no way we can skip the developmental process and expect our kids to get it …and this is where the crisis rests. 

For my own 2 children  ( and others),  developing their experience within the framework of thinking and relationships remediated their core deficits of Autism.  My second son is now 15 and my third son is 11.  Neither  lack * dynamic intelligence*  See chart here-

This is what we need for families who would like to address their child’s actual development.  Emerging treatments for Autism hold promise to address the core issues that are challenging for them.  It is time to raise the bar for our kids and  understand the promise of restoration! This is what RDI does for our kids, young adults and adults on the spectrum!


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

RDI's Family consultation program

Guest blogger Dr Gutstein-

The Family Consultation Program (FCP): Frequently Asked Questions

"I believe that these children present a challenge and opportunity for all of us. The challenge they present is to understand and appreciate the thousands of elegant small steps it takes to turn a small infant into a fully competent adult human being. The opportunity is the permission we are given when we are privileged to function as Guides, to slow our pace and  admire the daily miracles of development.”  - Dr. Steven Gutstein, 2006

What is the Family Consultation Program?

The RDI Family Consultation Program was designed to help families restore the natural "Guiding Relationship" when it has been disrupted or has failed to develop. Parents work with a trained RDI Family Consultant to harness the immense potential residing within each family. The goal is to to provide parents with tools and the knowledge of how best to use these tools function as a 'Guide' and facilitate their child’s mental growth. The program has provided a second chance for thousands of families worldwide to resume the critical functions that are the universal basis of family life and their children's success in the 21st century world.  

Our program mission can be condensed into two statements:

  • A. Teaching parents to guide their children in a manner that builds Students' competent enactment of their role as mentally active dynamic learning Apprentices.
  • B. Teaching parents to guide their children in a manner that builds the Students' essential motivation, responsibility and neural foundations for Dynamic Intelligence.  

What is the problem? Why is this program necessary?

Most of us are fortunate to have grown up and raised our children in circumstances where things largely go as they should. We may think that parenting is difficult, but in reality we take our good fortune for granted. Our children’s development takes place in the context of a natural intuitive "Guiding Relationship."  

If we were fortunate and all our stars lined up the way they were supposed to, we could remain blissfully unaware of this behind-the-scenes brain and mind building process we call the Guiding Relationship. That is, if nothing went wrong. But what if it did? What if, for example, a child was born with neural vulnerabilities that were so great, that they disrupted the natural process?

The most talented guides cannot succeed when they are unable to obtain reliable feedback from the child to determine the “edge” of their child’s competence. Without this feedback, guides can no longer safely present productive challenges. The  process quickly breaks down or never develops in the first place. Some children, such as those with Autism Spectrum Disorders, are born with such significant neurological problems that even the most capable parent is unable to function as a Guide. Until our program was initiated in 2001 an initial failure to form a Guiding Relationship meant that opportunities for children's dynamic mental and neural development were irrevocably lost. There were  no courses in Guiding. There were no books or manuals.

What is the value of the Guiding Relationship?

Children who learn to actively engage with the support of their parents in safe but challenging learning opportunities–problems and situations that are just beyond their level of competence–develop a strong motivation to explore and expand their world, as well as develop competence and trust in themselves and their Guides.  

By the end of the first year of life, infants who have experienced success in the Guiding Relationship, respond to the experience of uncertainty, by entering a state of mind Scientists refer to as "Studying." When children are in a state of Studying, their heart rate slows, their movement decreases and their attention clarifies. Once they decide to engage with new situations, children's brains release powerful, highly pleasurable neuro-chemicals that sustain their engagement. Their brains also begin exploring new neural connections, determining which best provide the new integration needed to solve the problem.

What are the consequences if the Guiding Relationship does not develop?

Children who do not receive the benefits of a functional Guiding Relationship go through life perceiving their world as pervasively threatening. Their innate drive for curiosity and understanding is buried. Children perceive themselves as incompetent and fragile. New problems and settings are experienced as too difficult, new information too discrepant. Their strategy is to pervasively avoid and withdraw from any problems and situations they perceive as new or different, as well as those persons associated with them.

Without the Guiding Relationship, the child's brain fails to develop in a neurally integrated manner. Children's minds fail to develop critical abilities needed to understand change, to perceive the world from different perspectives, to perceive shades of “grey” rather than viewing problems as either “black or white.” The child grows up unable to speculate, wonder, or improvise. When problems do not work out as planned they have no way to adapt.   

  • Children do not develop feelings of competence
  • Parent lose their sense of empowerment

How do you Measure Success?

The Family Consultation Program assumes that relationships–the consultant-parent relationship, along with the supportive partnership of Parents and the Student "Apprentice,"–are the primary vehicles for progress and eventual success.

The program is considered successful once the Guiding Relationship between parents and the vulnerable child becomes solidly established and provides a learning environment for the child's development of Dynamic Intelligence.

Success is also determined by the Students' ability to transfer their "Apprentice" role to other safe, consistent adult guides.

In the final analysis, success cannot be measured by checking mastered objectives off a list. Rather, it must be based on the ability of the family to construct and maintain an environment for the vulnerable child that provides lifelong opportunities for mental growth and that eventually leads to the child's self-management and personal ownership of development.

Who participates in the Family Consultation Program?

Program participants include parents and concerned family members, along with a vulnerable "child" of any age. Children may have been born with or acquire neurologically-based vulnerabilities that obstruct the development of the natural Guiding Relationship. Parents often enter the program possessing "normal" parenting abilities. Frequently, they successfully guide or have guided the vulnerable child's siblings. However, when deprived of active participation and accurate feedback, even the most masterful Guides cannot be successful.

What is the length of time a family will participate in the program?

The Family Consultation Program has no defined program length. The program is designed to accommodate parents and children with a wide range of obstacles and handicapping conditions. Therefore participation may range anywhere from months to years.

A few thoughts on Dynamic intelligence

Guest Blogger-  Dr Gutstein
A Brief Introduction to Dynamic Intelligence
Steven E. Gutstein Ph.D.

What is Dynamic Intelligence?

  • The real-world application of the most sophisticated level of human neural processing.
  • Mental functioning that has evolved to enable us to successfully handle challenges presented by complex, dynamic environments

The Gutstein Dynamic Intelligence Model, considers human beings to be active decision-makers, problem-solvers, opportunity-seekers and life-long learners, who benefit from their own and others experience, to make and execute effective decisions, in increasingly complex, dynamically changing environments.   

Dynamic Intelligence is deployed in settings where emergent change is the norm. These are fluid, information rich environments, where paralysis or chaos results if we cannot rapidly "filter" and narrow down the Decision-Making Field. They are "volatile" environments where new situations may emerge without notice and require immediate set-shifting.  They present tasks and problems where even the most careful plans inevitably require multiple revisions, as we encounter unanticipated factors, inherent in dynamic environments.

Let me provide just a few examples of the unique abilities we consider as hallmarks of Dynamic Intelligence:

  • Selecting personal goals in balance with the needs of others and the limits imposed by the current environmental field 
  • Widening our perspectives to consider multiple viewpoints. 
  • Selecting several potential response options and "mentally modeling" them in our minds
  • Rapidly "narrowing" our response options to select a contextual "best-fit" response
  • Maintaining a dynamic equilibrium through "on line" adjustments of multiple competing variables, such as performance quality and quantity
  • Updating and upgrading our knowledge, through evaluating the effectiveness of current efforts, whether they be successful or unsuccessful

    Dynamic Intelligence provides us the ability to select from a range of potential responses, matched to the unique needs of a situation.  Take the example of the world-famous wound specialist, whose 3-year-old son fell and cut his knee. Rather than using the height of his sophisticated medical knowledge, the famous expert respond to this wound by saying, "Oh Jimmy has a boo boo.  It's all right. Daddy is going to kiss it, put a band-aid (anti-bacterial of course) on it and make it better. Oh look at the dinosaur on the band-aid! What kind of dinosaur is that?" In this example, the expert physician is also an expert father. He recognizes that helping his son to reduce the emotional impact of the event is  more important than accessing any expert knowledge he might have about his sons' wound.

    Guiding...and why it is so important

    Guest blogger ...Dr. Gutstein on Guiding....
    A Brief Introduction to Guiding

    Steven E. Gutstein Ph.D.

    Parents have many different responsibilities and take on many roles with their children. They provide for their safety and physical health. They protect them and keep them safe. They teach them how to take care of themselves and do the tasks of daily life. They have fun together. They provide them with rules and discipline but also with lots of love. These are the parenting activities we are most familiar with. They are the easiest for us to see.

    But there is much more going on underneath the surface.  Over the last 30 years, developmental psychologists have discovered that people are not born with Dynamic Intelligence. While some people are born with more potential to acquire Dynamic Intelligence than others, even those with the highest potential will not develop Dynamic Intelligence unless the right opportunities are made available to them.

    While all of the above parenting functions are important, there is one parenting activity, occurring largely under the surface and unique to human beings that is performed in every culture on earth and that appears critical for Dynamic development. Through The "Guiding" process, parents and other important family members become the primary architects of their children's mental and neural development.

    Foundations of the adult mind are developed in the first years of life through thousands of hours of active engagement with and through others minds.  From the middle of the first year of life, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, in every culture on earth, children interact with parents and other important adults, in thousands of deceptively simple encounters, with a very serious underlying agenda; constructing the architecture of the child’s brain. 

    • Whether or not a child's neural centers become more integrated and learn to collaborate depends upon this process
    • The degree to which a child learns to make complex decisions and solve difficult problems, depends upon whether the child will have the benefit of thousands of hours of careful parental guidance as a junior participant in authentic activity. 

    How do Guides Operate?

    The difference between a child perceiving his world as challenging and embracing the world, or experiencing his environment as threatening, comes down to just a few factors:

    When the Guiding Relationship is functioning, it becomes a collaborative dance between more experienced "Guides" and less experienced "Apprentices," where each partner contributes to the success of the shared endeavor.

    Because Guiding is about transferring mental "tools" from the guide to the Apprentice,  joint engagement -  a strong shared state of understanding and experiencing - is critical. In addition, the Apprentice must perceive that he is junior but legitimate member of a collaborative partnership. The environment must provide a context where learning has meaning to the Apprentice and he experiences sufficient investment in the process.

    Guides serve as choreographers and managers of the learning process to make sure it is  productive and ensure that the Apprentice is gradually learning to guide themselves. Starting in the first year of a child's life, parents extend their guide role to others. Grandparents, older siblings and eventually teachers and coaches enrich the child's mind by providing their unique perspectives and methods.

    Guides provide “low intensity” settings, where the child Apprentice experiences the safe opportunity to be curious, study problems and explore different ways of solving them, without having to suffer consequences for the inevitable mistakes and failures resulting from experimenting with new ideas and perspectives. 

    Guides act as a catalyst, leading Apprentices to the “edge” of their competence and inviting them to take one step beyond, but not forcing or demanding that they do so. They view themselves as a "potentiating" and not a "directing force. 

    Guides use indirect influence. They provide opportunities for Apprentices to engage with new ways of thinking and experiencing, but never coerce or demand learning or performance.

    Guides are careful not to unwittingly become obstacles to the Apprentice's experience of actively contributing to his own mental growth. Rather, they provide opportunities and invitations for Apprentices to challenge themselves. They recognize the importance of chidlren experiencing that they themselves have made the conscious decision to move out of their comfort zone.

    Guides make ongoing, as-needed adjustments and revisions to maintain an optimal state of challenge and provide a "safe landing," if the Apprentice does not experience success when taking steps into the unknown. Guides seek to remain on or near a dynamically changing edge of competence: Too low and the child's existing neural pathways will handle the problem. Too high and the brain will move into avoidance or withdrawal mode.

    Guides allow their Apprentices to co-participate in tasks, problems and social interactions that are above the readiness of the child to master, but that provide the Apprentice a way to safely and productively observe the manner in which the more experienced adult determines meaning and significance and makes decisions, without initially having to take responsibility themselves.

    Apprentices rapidly learn that understanding the decision-making processes of their Guides, as they navigate various problems, tasks and interactions, is the "golden ticket" to becoming a competent, respected member of their society.

    Over time, Guides gradually allow their Apprentices to take on more mentally challenging roles and responsibilities, so that they become more competent in managing the problems and tasks that are central to succeeding within their culture.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2012

    Chapter one- tools of the mind

    How...and Why- The Importance of Resilience
    A look at some of Chapter one in “Tools of the mind”

    A sentence on Page 5 of Tools of the mind reads “Young children are able to think, attend, and remember. The problem is that their thinking, attention and memory are very reactive.”

    As our typical children develop resilience in those first few years of life, their mental tools emerge and their learning takes on a more self directed feel. At the very basic core, this begins when a typical child says things like “I do it”. When in a situation. They are no longer concerned with possible failure...they want to Try it. They have the foundations of meaning that the person they are with, is trusted as their guide (they know they would step in if need be). This guide...will give them just enough freedom to not overwhelm them. It is a beautiful cycle of development repeated all across the world (The guided participation relationship)

    Of course these is just the start...but at the same time crucial to further success in what milestones follow and how each mental process builds upon one another. The absence of this resilience most definitely influences typical children in all aspects.

    And this rings true for our children with Autism too. (Of course it would, as they are children too... needing/wanting the same chance) This is one of the reasons why I appreciate the work of Vygotsky and Piaget ( referenced in the book, background, etc). By linking memory, attention and social context to learning, we know that development cannot be separated from the social relationship and Social context. This fact holds the key to reaching our children on the spectrum.

    On page 10, social context is explored. I was fascinated by the rest of this chapter because I thought back to when Autism was considered the result of the *refrigerator mom*. We know, that Social context molds how we think and influences how we perceive our world. Children in orphanages have been shown to have an effect on their mental processes within self regulation compared to children who were in a loving home. This basic information could lead to the conclusion that the parents must have done something to *create* the child to act the way they do (people still fall into that trap) Yes, we are all a product of our experiences... but in addition to that, there is so much more going on in the background. Thankfully as we moved more toward understanding the disorder we knew that ASD was the result of an assault on neurology and not the parents fault. Because of this injury, the child struggles in understanding the crucial piece of the intent of relationships, which typical children use as they make sense of the world. On page 11 “The idea that culture influences cognition is crucial because the Childs entire social world shapes not just what he knows but how he thinks” the relationship piece is part of the developmental and learning process. When our children stall in development, the important question is how...and why. How to help...and why paying attention to the chain of typical development.

    On page 13 is the discussion of the relationship of learning and development. They are related to one another but are two separate processes. This belief is challenged by behaviorists who believe that learning and development is the same thing... (Conditioning Childs behaviors is very different then filling in their developmental milestones) This is clear as we know that accumulation of facts or skills does not make someone a good problem solver, Etc.
    The point here for all children, is by skipping a child’s developmental needs, we miss the chance to help our children with making their own learning discoveries. Think back in your own life, when you learned from experience compared to someone teaching you a skill. It is a very different memory. By giving children the tools of resilience, we are beginning to set the stage that they can make discoveries related to their experience and knowledge. There is just no comparison when we just try to fill children with knowledge, hoping it generalizes to something more without addressing the developmental milestones. We will talk more about generalization in the next chapter.

    I happen to believe that most children diagnosed with ASD, can socially think (more than just facts) pay attention, make use of their memories for relationships, and get back on their developmental trajectory by starting at the core... I know this to be fact as I have watched my own two children shed the obstacles associated with Autism, to become dynamic thinkers, resilient and back to their developmental path.

    To do this, we must start at the beginning. That beginning is fostering resilience for our children on the spectrum. It is the same beginning for our typical children as well. To start this process, the very first thing I recommend to parents is to slow your pace down in action and communication. When our children are first diagnosed, we set into motion a plan to try and get them to do what their peers are doing. Many times interventions will try and do this with prompts and reinforces, with little regard to developmental milestones. When we stop over prompting, and we wait for a child to give have a meaningful role in even a simple interaction, we show them that we will wait for them to process what we have said. This begins to build trust and with each successful interaction (without being told what to think)...their resilience is emerging and their anxiety is lessened. Of course this is the first step with many more to follow.

    I look forward to talking more about this and many other aspects of equipping our children with ASD with mental tools in the upcoming chapters.
    Stay tuned!