Taking the scary out of “what can I do with my kid?”
Are you the type of person who springs out of bed, ready to start the day, with a plan and purpose? Or are you more of the person who lays in bed uttering under your breath “please just 5 more minutes.” I think I fall somewhere in between. A huge factor to me was where I was in life…so I would absolutely without a doubt say when I was facing Autism head on…I would cling to my pillow trying to will the time to be wrong!
As I reflect, I know that it’s simply human nature to get up easier when you feel like you have a “good” day ahead. Defining a good day, now that is trickier. A spa day, Yes! A beach day, Yes! An IEP meeting, No!!!! My kids are older now but it does not take too much to reach back into my memory, when I was waste high in AUTISM, trying to figure out what to do with them…trying to make a day “good”
Ultimately, I was pretty successful when I ditched trying to make them behave how I thought they should, and instead focused on helping them to connect with me and their world around them. Amazingly enough, when I did this, they did behave. I was building in their own motivation to be with me, and not to try and get away from me.
I didn’t go it alone though. I dumped our existing program that heavily focused on compliance and behaviors and went with RDI ( Relationship Development Intervention) which focuses on building motivation to relate to other people. The basic focus was I wanted my kids to not want to stay in their own world, but to want to GROW and seek out challenges, with other people. This means, instead of them working for something ( object, etc) the EXPERIENCES was the work. Shedding the old way was quite liberating for this Momma.
Ok so as I spent a few years remediating Autism, ( and deciding if I should actually go get trained as a consultant) it was quite the mind shift to trust that when I help my child revisit developmental milestones, those skills I was working on with rewards, those skills would actually emerge when my child could make meaning and sense of the WHY we were relating to each other in the first place. I mean great, my kid can now ask me for juice, but does he want me to have some juice with him to share?
And it wasn’t easy. Thankfully I knew a few interactions, truly meaningful interactions where my son knew I was not just trying to get him to do something, but that I truly wanted to do it with him, helped him not want to control everything or take off at the thought of interacting with me!
To help this process in RDI, We call it Framing an activity. Choosing a goal ( given by an Consultant after an assessment) and choosing the activity that we could practice that goal.
Here is an example
Primary Objective- Co regulation of a pattern
Select an activity/prop - ____Putting silverware away__
Possible Obstacles Possible solutions
Trying to walk away Position yourself so that is difficult
Not referencing Pause and make a sound to add a moment
Not wanting to do it Keep activity short to start, the important part if child walking away with competence
For example, my son was super focused on controlling everything and objects so I framed this activity like this
Goal- co regulation…staying with his partner, recognizing and repairing when he and his partner are not together.
Activity, Moving pillows
Potential obstacles- walk away Potential solutions- stand closer and be on the outside
Potential Obstacles- not wanting to do it Potential solutions- short/end successful
Here is a sample-
When doing RDI each day, Those small connected moments meant more to me than any hour of drills. Thankfully I did not have to do RDI 24/7. I scheduled a few RDI times during the day to help my child in the process of seeking new experiences. To do this I had to introduce novelty into his day, as for him, I really could not compete with all his toys.
We stuck to a lot of social games, games where it was just he and I. I did not make him do anything at first, the only rule was he had to stay with me. When he saw It was safe, that I wanted him to make his own decision, he joined in! We also did a lot of chores where I would give him a role, like cleaning the windows, he was the sprayer and I was the wiper, then we would switch. The chores were not fun in itself, so this spotlighted for him, that I was the important part of what was happening. I made sure there was plenty of laughing happening. At first, I was the only one laughing, but soon, my son was able to match my affect. I knew he could, I knew he had it in him, even though I was told he was severely Autistic and would never talk. I just needed to give him opportunity to express it. That’s easy…its just not simple. I wanted to jump. I had to stop myself and just be IN the moment. I had to wait for his processing!
My experience, helped me to feel competent with incorporating RDI into many of my daily happenings.
There are moments everywhere. Close your eyes. You wake up, you brush your hair. You and your child can brush each others hair. You both can brush your teeth together. You can eat breakfast together, drinking together. If mornings are hectic, set time aside at night, to incorporate RDI into the nightly routine. Take the throw pillows off the bed together, get into your pj’s together. Each of these activities can be different depending on the goal. Mismatched Pj’s or breakfast for dinner for variations. Go for a walk. We love social games and changing the words to them to match your child. If you want to incorporate toys, I always made sure we each had something to do. That no one was controlling each other. In any activity I did with my child, I was never a passive command giver. We each had a meaningful part in what we were doing as an RDI activity. When something needed to get done quickly, that was not the time for RDI and I was ok for that. There was a time for everything.
For the families I work with, I tell them to choose 4 times in the day where you are not placing a demand on your child. Times that you can spend 5 minutes doing a simple activity. It can be any activity, but it should be framed. The goal can be just hanging out with no expectations. That way when you are tossing wash to your child, you are not trying to get it done…the goal is again, hanging out with no expectations. That means you can put the wash on your head, or your childs head. Help them EXPERIENCE the experience instead of looking at it like it is a task to complete and leave. We want YOU to be more of a draw then any electronic or object. Another goal could be gaze shifting. We don’t want eye contact from our kids, we want them to glance over at us and look at what we are looking at, and then look at us again…true curiosity and joint attention.
An RDI consultant can help you with goals that are unique to your child. Take those two goals I gave you, and try it! Write down 4-5 activities you are already doing in your day, that you could slow down, and include your child in. Sometimes a small portion of the activity if you are just starting. For example, if you are making cookies, your child could help put them on the tray. They could help take them off the tray. Break down these mini relating moments and slowly add, depending where your child is and how much they can tolerate. ( as they progress in RDI that tolerance builds and THAT is exciting). Reflect on how it went. What can you add for next time? Can your child tolerate a longer period of time? Was anyone trying to control the activity or was it even steven?
Autism makes us all feel not very competent. As you build on your own child’s competence, it’s a win win for them and for you.
Would love to hear from you if you have any questions or need some ideas! I have lists