Is RDI just a few strategies?

More then 12 years ago,  when I was first introduced to RDI, I asked the question what is RDI?  The answer I was given made some sense,  but I still didn’t get it.  I heard things like,  you slow down with your child, or you don’t ask questions.  Great because fast and questions was my normal so why would I want to do RDI?! J  I read articles and ultimately I did an entire blog called what is RDI to try and help answer that question. It’s here

In reality it’s hard to take what you read about RDI and not exclaim “ what does that mean for my family?”  That is because RDI is not a program where you are trying to change your child’s mind through teaching behaviors or skills.  Don’t get me wrong, those can be good goals.  The difference is RDI is working WITH your child’s own mind, leading, guiding them to make new connections and discoveries that make sense to them, and that helps them to relate to others and learn from those experiences. Helping them learn through each interaction in the relationship.  Frankly that looks a little different with each child an within every family.  That is a good thing. 

I believe there is entirely too much brain work being done in the field of Autism,  where new connections are being made that are NOT fostering thinking and flexibility and a child’s own intrinsic motivation.  They are not focused on relationships but instead on getting the child to do something with prompts and reinforcers.  This is why the research is clear on how development unfolds and what our kids true obstacles are.  Side note- Behaviors are just the symptoms.  Think about what happens at age 21 if ONLY skills are taught?!  You can teach a child a skill…but RDI is about teaching the child the function behind the skill…AND the skill.  Cool thing is a lot of times when you help an individual relate to their partner in a new experience,  skills emerge naturally.  Those that don’t,  you can then work on them. . I can tell you that when I focused on the motivation for my own kids,  it helped me get off the hamster wheel of having to teach every single discreet skill.  I was constantly amazed to watch my kids get things I never taught them,  because they were picking it up by observing and monitoring, just like in typical development.  They were back on their own personal developmental trajectory

Now,  lets go over a few RDI strategies that are out there..  so the next time you hear “RDI is just about fill in the blank “or another professional says, “yes we sort of do RDI in our program”,  you can have a reference to think about.

RDI is slowing down-  We want to slow down our pace so that we are someone who our kids don’t feel like they have to avoid!  Our faster pace can be a whirlwind for them, we want them to be able to take in what is happening around them and this takes longer at first until we can build up their processing speed.  The more they feel competent, the more they are motivated to practice…the more they will seek out wanting to grow.  Giving them the model during activities where you re not rushed,  where you stop and say  Oh I wonder what will happen if we do this,  helps them to know that you will wait for their thought.  The more this happens the less they will want to engage in self stimulatory behavior to avoid feeling incompetent.  The truth of the matter is we ALL want to feel competent. 

RDI is not talking-  Behind this strategy is being mindful of your communication and how much talking we as parents do because we aren’t getting that same feedback.  By not talking as much, we get to see other opportunities and are more in tune to the subtle non verbals going on. What I tend to see if parents think they cant talk is they start pointing to everything, which is just as much a prompt.  Less talking helps with being more mindful that the talking in the interaction is not about the end result. You can definitely talk with RDI,  we just prefer it be more Experience sharing language. Here is an example

RDI is not asking questions-  This is just a continuation from above, again the process is just getting used to activities with an experience sharing Focus.  You can ask questions..  you can ask questions you do NOT know the answer too.  If you know the answer to a question, why ask it right?  Example, what color is this?  You know the color…so a more experience sharing way to communicate with your child would be,  Ohhh  I love this color and pause and see what they say.  You have activated tons more brain neurons by helping your child relate to you before thinking about what color it is.  Lets build plenty of engagement neural pathways!  Boo to those static pathways.

RDI is videoing yourself and then you are told by your consultant what you did wrong.  Self evaluation is the worse.  I heard Johnny Depp never watches himself on film …so we are not alone.  As an RDI consultant,  I love to watch videos on how the interaction unfolded and how to change things up to see what would happen.  This is called exploring and experimenting.  Does it make you feel better if I were to say,  I don’t think anything is wrong in a video?  THAT is not the purpose. The reason for video is so that we can both see how the activity went down, and which milestones were in play…what the child has and what is an obstacle.  It is not possible to be in an activity and also get the most of what to plan for next time/next activity.  Video is a positive tool to help us really see all the subtle events happening moment to moment.  Its common for a parent to say,  Ohh  I talked too much, or I didn’t wait long enough. I don’t see that as wrong because we want our kids to be flexible and be able to adjust in dynamic environments.    However that reflection is a wonderful tool to help with planning in the next activity.  Its not wrong,  its just information to celebrate and build on.

RDI is saying we did it together after every activity-  Research tells us that our brain is set to receive negative responses within seconds. This is because if a car is heading towards us our brain needs to say ‘GET OUT OF THE WAY”.  For this reason, the brain can encode negative experiences and memories faster….  A sort of direct line.  Contrast this with positive experiences. Ever hear someone say,  “ let me stand here for a second and soak this in!”  That is because it takes the brain longer to encode a positive memory.  Given this information,  we can see how many of our kids gravitate towards negative emotions and experiences.  In RDI  we spotlight the positive parts of any interaction,, during the activity,  and want to end with something positive that the child takes away.  We don’t want a child walking away not knowing what he got out of any interaction.  By spotlighting, we are helping his brain see the positive.  This is another reason we are not task focused in RDI, because we don’t want the focus to be on the task.  This is why sometimes Ill tell a family to just involve their child in the middle of an activity  and don’t worry about “finishing” with their child  We want the takeaway to be the child relating to their partner.  This is also why we tend to keep activities short in the beginning  to begin to build more pathways for positive.  Ending in a positive note is huge for encoding success for our kids.  Its sounds simple,  but once our child is interacting we want to keep going.  Then ultimately if they disengage we have lost the opportunity to encode succees.  Through video reflections we keep that edge of where they feel safe and competent growing and stretching so that interactions can be longer

RDI is doing chores around the house.  The truth is chores can be used but so can play, social games, baking cooking etc.  RDI is considered the untherapy because we actually are trying to insert your child into activities you are already doing.  Social games and open ended activities are my favorite because it is harder to focus on the end task…and since I want the focus to be the experience of that is good.  Chores are great because there is nothing reinforcing about putting silverware away or doing wash.  That’s good too because it gives the opportunity to help both parent and child relate and focus on one another, giving each other a role.  Yes Chores can be fun..anything can be fun when the focus is the relationship.  If you are hearing Im bored or your child is walking away,  it means the engagement has to be worked on.

This is just a glimpse of some of the strategies in RDI. These strategies are about optimizing the environment.  When learning how to relate,  prepping the environment for the goals and objectives that will be worked on is the crux of RDI.  Your family and your RDI consultant team up with unique goals to increase engagement, Experience sharing and Growth seeking ( not afraid of new experiences and actually begins to prefer them over the same old same old))  Skills become part of the process once functions are in place,  the why bother of skills.

That is when you see remediation.  You see meaningful engagement ( where they observe not just engage with you to get their needs met) Gaze shift ( meaningful eye contact) Experience sharing- sharing perspectives and growth seeking ( wanting small manageable challenges/wanting to try hard things,  over sameness/not having challenge)

If you do not currently have a consultant start practicing some of the above strategies to get you ready!


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