Ok so its not like I was not parenting my children with ASD.. however it was quite different then parenting my “typical” eldest son and youngest daughter.
In some ways I was wonder woman super parent, researching, investigating and devouring books on the subject of Autism. I was becoming smarter in knowledge yet when it came to connecting with my son, I felt my only direction with him was to try and get him to do stuff and teaching him skills like looking at pictures and putting them in order, or counting, or reading. Mind you all good things…but ultimately he would do these tasks because he knew either there was a reward that followed or he knew when he got it done he could leave and go be by himself again… as a mom that did not give me warm and fuzzys! I was not relating to my sons and they were not relating to me. I mean there were moments, but I knew there could be much more…I wanted more. I did not want to accept what I have heard many times-“.well what do you expect, they have Autism.” Some may have called it denial, I called it persistence.
This continued for a few years. Ultimately when school proved to be challenging when it came to social interactions, thankfully I had come across a program that did not believe my sons were done and that there was much more I could help them with. It was a program where relating to others was a strong focus, that we learn through our experiences and this is the best way to foster not only engagement but also learning. I had discovered that we, well I in my quest to help my kids behave or learn, missed what research says about building motivation so relating to other people makes skills and learning flow naturally. At the same time, really helping my kids share experiences with me and want to know my perspective.
What I learned was my boys wanted sameness in those early years and we know that no two days unfold quite the same. After the meltdowns, tantrums, etc as we worked on those behaviors, they were getting less because I was putting them on extinction or not giving any negative reinforce. Success? Well not really, what was I teaching them? What replaced the behaviors was a greater desire to disengage which meant less motivation to actually have an experience with me…and more wanting to do their own thing. Basically avoiding me as much as possible unless there was a need. This meant I parented very differently with my 2 kids as compared with my other 2.. I started doing all the thinking, all the work in the relationship because I did not get any back and forth communication as with my other kids. I felt this on some level just could not put a clinical name to it.
That was until I learned about RDI in 2004… RDI stands for Relationshp Development Intervention. What is RDI? http://www.rdiconnect.com/about-rdi/
What I was experiencing when my 2 boys were little was not my own incompetence as a parent, although I definitely felt that way. I was experiencing the loss of the guiding relationship. What is it? http://www.rdiconnect.com/the-guiding-relationship-what-experts-say/ The Loss of the guiding relationship was making me feel incompetent! With typical kids, Guiding is what we do…so intuitively we don’t even know it. We guide them to monitor and learn about their environment and we guide them in make sense of the world and communication. Our typical kids know that our relationship with them is safe and they can take those small day to day changes with stride, and adjust, because they see the larger picture…. Their thought process is not tied to objects but instead to making meaning of what is going on around them through their relationships. They seek new experiences because of the excitement of challenge.. They are what we call Growth seekers in RDI. My kids with ASD, were not growth seekers…they were same seekers. Uncertainty made their world feel unsafe so they sought out keeping everything the same. I became really good at helping them do that to prevent a meltdown. That was an exhasting way to live since the world is constantly changing and shifting and the need to be flexible is crucial.
Fostering the desire to engage and the focus of building upon small challenges in very collaborative activities helped the process of revisiting milestones missed in development. This showed my kids the important piece is the experience, that attunement with another person, and helped them to be ok with unpredictability.
Engagement, Observing, social referencing, experience sharing, perspective taking, Multi channel communication and growth seeking are just a fe beginning foundations for RDI. These important mental processes began to restore the Guiding relationship for my family… and ultimately the success for both my children and their future!