Saturday, 26 November 2011

Unconditional love: Gentle Teaching

I'm in blue type here, as there's going to be two of us in this blogpost.

I am lucky to be part of an international community of RDI Consultants and trainees, many of whom are qualified not only in RDI but also in other complementary approaches, methodologies and professions.  We have Educational and Child Psychologists, Speech and Language Therapists, HANDLE Consultants and autism parents, to name but a few, in our midst.  Our community is a fantastic resource to be able to dip into – we all share a website (the RDI Platform) where we can communicate with each other and draw on each others’ experience and knowledge, sharing views as well as video clips, updates on new research and webinars.  And we often do draw upon each others experience – because the families we are supporting have children and adults who have a diverse range of needs.

Brendan is a fellow RDI Consultant based in Gloucestershire, UK, who has found Gentle Teaching to be an excellent resource for supporting people whose behaviour can be challenging.  Here, Brendan (in black type) introduces us to Gentle Teaching:

My aim here is to simply give you the flavour of Gentle Teaching, not to explain it in any great detail. I have tried to keep my writing to a minimum here as Gentle Teaching is best understood by watching it in action. All in all, this post will take up about twenty minutes of your time, so grab your favourite tipple and relax.
Originally conceived in the late 1970’s, Gentle Teaching is a relationship and development-based model for helping those in need. Relationships are the main foundational elements of all goals. Skill acquisition and behaviour are seen as by-products of a much broader process: that of teaching the person to experience and reciprocate feelings of emotional and spiritual connectedness with others. As you read on and view the video clips, those of you familiar with RDI® will no doubt see the obvious parallels between the two approaches.
Gentle Teaching is part philosophy - part intervention. Care-giving is seen as a subjective act with each person bringing his or her own unique set of values and beliefs to any interaction. Through a mentoring process, caregivers are empowered to use their personal gifts and abilities to help guide the vulnerable individual towards feeling a sense of belonging, companionship and community. Gentle Teaching is not a scientific endeavour in any respect and, because of the number of variables involved; it does not lend itself easily to scientific research.
The main strategy of Gentle Teaching, as silly as it may seem, is unconditional love. The focus is on four essential domains that need to be intentionally taught to the vulnerable person. These domains are:
1.    To feel safe
2.    To feel loved,
3.    To be ‘loving’ (i.e. to be able to reciprocate these feelings)
4.    To be engaged (i.e. to be an active participant in one’s own life project)

As part the mentoring process, caregivers learn to teach the above developmental domains using their ‘tools’:

1.      Hands
2.      Words
3.      Eyes and
4.      Presence

Have a look at this clip to see the process in action between typical parents and their infant children.

Central to all dialogues is the simple message that “You are good and I am good”. Many children and adults requiring support get stuck in the ‘terrible twos’. Over time, as the individual begins to feel very safe and very loved, caregivers gently ‘stretch’ him through those terrible twos. Gentle Teaching does not follow a step-by-step development model. Rather, the domain of safe and loved is at the core of the human condition and the other domains radiate outwards from it. At any time during our lives and through no fault of our own, this central domain may become broken or very fragile. For example, when a mother loses her baby, those close to her will provide her with the extra love and attention she needs to feel safe and loved again.
I have picked the following clip as the young man featured presents some particular challenges that make it very difficult for his caregivers to value and honour him unconditionally. The clip also features Dr John J McGee, the founder of Gentle Teaching and a little Eminem!

If you are still awake and with me (!) this third clip features David. David runs around and around. He is like a bird that continuously flits from one branch to the next. When caregivers place demands on him he can become self-injurious and aggressive. In this clip you will see John working to establish co-regulation with David.

That’s about it! However, before I go I must express my thanks to Zoe for this opportunity to share Gentle Teaching with you all. I am happy to answer any questions and/or provide more information as required. Please feel free to contact me at any time:
Brendan’s web site is
Thanks Brendan J

1 comment:

  1. Hi Brendan
    Thank you for your post, I found it very interesting. I can certainly see the link between Gentle Hands and RDI! Studio III came to South Africa a few years ago and your post reminded me of them. I also really liked their approach.

    Zoe, Happy Birthday, you are only a few months older than me!!! :)