Kat: We’re looking square in the face of a new year, which is really scary. I am thinking about parents … I had two parents contact me with 18 month olds recently. I just have this feeling for parents of wanting to give them hope and thinking about the new year and that there is hope in RDI and that there is remediation or they do not hear and I always say, “We don’t have crystal balls so we don’t know what’s going to happen.” We do know what potential the children have. To that end I think it can be a very hopeful year to come. Don’t you, Rachelle?
Dr. Sheely: I think it is hopeful. I also think the issue of potential is elusive. That while we know everyone has potential we don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like when it’s full-formed. The thing we know about RDI is whatever your potential we can help you get there.
Kat: I always think about measuring potential as feet are moving forward. I’m like two people. I think if we look too far down the road it gets really murky down there. I think if we think about how can we move this child’s feet forward right now then that’s a good way to think.
Kat: I wonder how possible that is for new parents. You talk to an awful lot of parents, Rachelle. How do you get them thinking about moving those feet forward?
Dr. Sheely: One thing that I like to think about when I think about going forward is … Both of the things that you mentioned. First of all, where are we going to be at age 21? But also where are we going to be next week?
Dr. Sheely: I don’t think you can ever give up either one of those and exclusively think about one or the other. I feel that when we think about the next week what are we going to do next week? Next month? Next couple of months? What we’re doing is we’re building a memory bank. That memory bank is giving us confidence in our competence to move toward the future.
Dr. Sheely: We build up these memories and each one of those memories is something that we use when we start going forward. We get to uncharted territory and we think, “Wait a minute. I know what to do because I’ve had a similar experience.”
Dr. Sheely: We are always thinking about the big picture, not whether we made the bed or not but whether we’re getting closer to our goals. One goal I always like to think about is the guiding relationship. I was talking to a mom this week and she said that for the first time her child had said to her, “You know, if I had listened to you I wouldn’t have made that mistake.”
Dr. Sheely: It wasn’t the mistake so much but it was that he was saying, “I’m beginning to see you as a good mentor for me.” We tucked away that memory and that area of competence and we used it to build his own confidence in his competence that there’s a way forward. Your mom and your dad are the people that are going to help you do that.
Kat: You know, I think about moving the children forward and that is a beautiful story you told. I also sometimes think that we as parents are thinking about moving ourselves forward. That parallel process of are we staying static ourselves? What are we doing to move forward?
Kat: It’s one of the reasons I love RDI, Rachelle, is because it’s moved me forward too. It’s important that everybody in the family is moving forward but families do get stuck. Why do you think that parents have a hard time getting themselves moving forward? What are their obstacles?
Dr. Sheely: I think one of the obstacles … I think it’s actually the same obstacle that I run into as a consultant. The obstacle is one where there’s a kind of trauma in the beginning when you have a child on the spectrum and you hear that word autism and you’re filled with fear and a lot of times you have a child who isn’t responding to you in the way you would like to. Either joyfully or maybe in the worst case scenario a tantrum.
Dr. Sheely: You get to a place and that place feels so good you’re almost afraid to mess with success. You know, it’s like I don’t think I want to do anything else. I just want to stay here. Because even with our typically developing children what we know it’s two forward, one back. Two forward, one back.
Dr. Sheely: It’s never a straight trajectory. If you have in your background that fear that this might be as far as you can get you can be afraid to take that next step. I feel like we all become complicit in that. “We are doing great. Let’s just do some more of that.” When actually we need to say, “We’re going to really go forward now. We’re going to go for the gold.” They’ve got to go for the gold medal.
Kat: That’s so interesting because you’re so right. We all like to feel comfortable. Staying where we are can feel more comfortable. I just picture you being on a cozy couch in front of the fireplace. It feels good.
Dr. Sheely: It does feel good. Also when we move forward it’s never going to be at the same place that we’re leaving, that same feeling of success and competence. We know that because we’ve moved forward a few times. It’s like, “Well, he’s doing so great. She’s doing so great. I’m doing so great.”
Dr. Sheely: Then the consultant says, “Okay, we’re ready to leap forward now.” You know that it’s not going to be smooth and that you’re going to have to work on getting to that same feeling that you have now. It’s hard.
Kat: You know, as I think about the year to come I also think about a topic I’ve heard you speak about, which is all the voices. I think parents today hear a lot of voices. I think sometimes those voices act as … I don’t know. They can prevent the parents and the children from moving forward. Almost like the noise is too much. What do you think?
Dr. Sheely: I think the voices and the noise are both internal and external. The external voices even though we don’t like to hear them sometimes they’re a little bit easier because the internal voices seem to drive us a little bit harder. Thinking about the voices … I think that’s why in RDI we have a consultant because a consultant has his or her own voice. Not the same as yours.
Dr. Sheely: Sometimes the picture is clearer, the pathway is clearer, the trajectory makes more sense. We can say, “Well, look, I know that you’re doing great where you are and it’s time to move forward but it’s like you know what? We’re going to be okay. We’re going to be okay. We’re ready to take it. We’re always going to move forward in those small just noticeable different steps. It makes everyone feel competent. The challenges are going to be challenges that everybody is ready for, including you.”
Dr. Sheely: That’s the value of a consultant. RDI isn’t just a straightforward check off the box, “I’ve done this objective, I’ve done that objective, and this goal is finished.” It’s saying, “Where are you? Where am I? What is the next step?”
Dr. Sheelye: If you think about the diagram that Steve Gutstein has, it’s an escalator, it’s going up and it says it’s not the height of where you’re going but it’s that first step.
Dr. Sheely: We all have those monologues, sometimes a dialog, with our first step. Because we know the first step is the hardest. Once we make the first step then we are really ready to go.
Dr. Sheely: I was having a conversation with a boy who is in middle school right now and I was talking to him about one of the reasons things are hard for him sometimes is just that first step. He brought up something academic. He said, “Well, you know, history is hard for me.” I said, “What’s the first step?” He said, “Opening the book.”
Dr. Sheely: It doesn’t seem like a big deal but that actually is his first step because he does find once he’s opened the book. We have these preconceived ideas of how hard that first step is going to be. Once we’ve opened the book then we’re ready for what’s between the covers.
Kat: Well, that imagery is really beautiful because I think opening that book for both parents and children can be really hard. Once they do it the book is open and they really do see progress.
Kat: One other thing I was thinking about when you were talking I was so glad you brought up just noticeable differences is to help parents understand this concept of the process. I always say here, Rachelle, because I don’t want to be a hypocrite, that I tend to be a nice little product lover. I like little products. It’s kind of a part of my personality.
Kat: I had to learn that the process was the most important part. That’s where you see the progress is by being married to the process, not to those little products. I wonder how hard that is for parents today. I do think we’re a little bit of a product culture … If you want to say a culture. I’m not sure what to call it.
Dr. Sheely: We are.
Dr. Sheely: Yeah. We are. I think it’s hard for everybody because we want to see the end result and we want to see it now. One of the ways I like to look at the process is to review the mission statements. As you know, any time a family starts RDI, they have the mission … They have actually three mission statements. One is what do you want to see in six months? A couple years? Then age 21?
Dr. Sheely: When we go back and we look at those mission statements and how we managed to get where we are we can see that there’s a process that has unfolded and that some of the things that we might typically say, “Isn’t it great that he can do that?”
Dr. Sheely: It’s, “Well, isn’t it great that we’re on this journey and we know how to follow the pathway, we know how to increase where we’re going on this pathway, know how to think about it, and we have a lot of things we’re going to do to help us get there but in the end we’re going to stick with that journey.”
Kat: It’s a family journey, which is what I love about RDI. It’s not just the child’s journey, which we see in a lot of things that are suggested for the children. They’re the only ones on the journey. It’s a family journey. I think that is a wonderful message for us to go into the new year with that we love the family and we want the family all of their feet to be moving forward, don’t we?
Dr. Sheely: We do. It’s always a great time to think about new year’s resolutions. Nobody even really likes to make them anymore because we know they get broken.
Dr. Sheely: “I didn’t lose 20 pounds in a week so I quit.” What we know is that if we have a resolution that goes, “By 2020 this is what I’d like to see and my resolve is that first step. Once I take that first step then I’ll be ready to move forward.”
Dr. Sheely: I’ve been thinking a lot about that first step recently and how important it is that we identify it and that we follow through with it and we take joy in our going up to that first step and accomplishing whatever that first step is because ultimately it’s that first step that is going to get us to the end point.
Kat: I think it’s a beautiful way to end. I want to end by saying happy new year!
Dr. Sheely: Happy new year to all of our parents and families and consultants and happy new year to you, Katherine.