I am proud and privileged to introduce my friend Di, from South Africa. Di's blog inspired me to start my own blog after months of procrastinating. I asked Di to do a 'guest slot' here so that there would be a perspective from another Mum whose child has a different autism profile. I know you are going to love her story and if you'd like to follow her blog so that you can keep up to date with her family's adventures, the link is:
Check out the fabulousness of our international collaboration. We've never met in person but it feels like we're psychic sisters :) Over to Di..........
Thank you for asking me to be a guest on your blog and although I am quite chuffed to be invited, I am also a little apprehensive as I would hate to give out incorrect information! I am always happy to talk about RDI, however, please be aware that I am still 'a parent in training'!! :)
To give you some background.... I have a little (well, actually he is getting rather large!) boy called Nick, he is nearly 12 years old and on the cusp of puberty. To top it all off, Nick has autism with co-occurring issues. To put a finer point on it, he is a non verbal child with extreme learning difficulties!
Over the years I have followed the typical path of what happens when you have a child with autism.... I know I don't need to go into this!! Thankfully, we are very fortunate that Nick has a wonderful team batting for his side and they have watched him grow from a tiny wee tot to the big strapping lad that he is now. Anyhow, as we were traveling the typical pathway we came across a sign that whispered to us "Relationship Development Intervention". Whoa, we stopped in our tracks and thought "hey, this looks interesting". This started the process of reading/watching/observing/talking and doing! I slowly came to the realization that 'oh my word, my little boy doesn't do that, he can't do that, we don't have that connection, joint attention - what's that! As for co-regulation - you have to be joking!! Seriously Zoe, we were just getting through the days, trying to keep Nick happy, stressing big time when we had to introduce a change in Nick's life, mourning the loss of our social life, concentrating on the 3 R's because of course if he got up to speed with his peers on an academic level then he would be fine............ yeah right!!!
Over the following year we spent a lot of time using the principles of interaction (click here for some of those principles!). Nick learnt the importance of referencing facial expressions and body language for information. I also learnt to stop talking so much and to give Nick time to process information. We are not perfect, however, we try our best to apply these principles in all our interactions with Nick!
Zoe, this post for you got me thinking, so I started looking through old video footage of Nick.... and look what I found! (I have hours of footage but don't want to bore you!). This clip was taken in May 2007. The gentleman in the clip is an RDI consultant from the USA and he spent a lot of time in our home, assessing Nick and guiding us. You will see that Nick is capable of looking at a face for information and that he can follow eye gaze. When you watch the clip you will also see that Nick is having fun but he is overexcited........ roll on a little bit more and you can see how Nick is becoming stressed and then goes into fight or flight mode. I had actually forgotten that he used to be like this! I do realize Zoe, that your son is a more capable child than mine... and he can talk! but I am 100% positive that you have also had to incorporate the principles of interaction! After all, our boys are the same...... but different!
RDI introduced us to the concept of 'same but different'. I don't think that this expression is used any more, although I do continue to use it! 'Same but different' has played a MAJOR role in helping Nick learn to cope with changes in his environment. My word, Nick couldn't deal with any change, whether it is putting on a new pair of shoes, trying a different type of pasta for supper or using another route to drive to school. He also needed to watch the same video clip over and over and over.... in fact he drove us all mad! Zoe, I am sure that you know all about 'same but different'! We introduced this concept very slowly and subtly - At school, Nick's chair would be moved to a slightly different position, I would send in a new style of lunch box, I would change his seating in the car and then drive another route....... the list goes on and on!! :) Wow, you cannot believe what my child is like now - we no longer use schedules, he moves freely to any place he needs to be, we can take him out into the community! He can cope if something unexpected happens - today he indicated that he wanted a particular cereal, which unfortunately had all been eaten - he accepted that it was finished and moved on!!!
Goodness Zoe, you may regret inviting me as your guest because this is turning into a long post! Best I hop, skip and jump a few years!
Our RDI consultant was only available for a year, thereafter, we tried to go it alone. Easier said then done!! We muddled along to the best of our ability and although Nick was progressing, I felt that my relationship with him wasn't sufficient. Life has its funny twists and turns and towards the end of last year I found myself with another consultant. What a blessing it has been - I can already feel the difference in my relationship with Nick!
The following clip was made a week ago!
Zoe, you asked me to talk about what we are doing with Nick and instead of highlighting our latest objective I have chosen to give you some background information! As you say, it is a different perspective and one of my objectives for this post is to convey to families and professionals that Relationship Development Intervention works for both a child like yours and a child like mine! :D
All my very best