Today’s guest blogger is an RDI dad who works with consultant, Kathy Darrow.
The boys went cherry picking in Gilroy on Saturday. With me. Just me. Not with their mommy and daddy. Just daddy. It was Nathan/Gabriel and Daddy time.
Why am I making it out to be such a big deal? What’s the significance of it? Why am I even blogging about this?
Last year, when we took the two of them up to Brentwood, CA to pick cherries, we planned the event 2-3 weeks in advance, slipped the “leash backpacks” onto the little critters, begged our mommy-helper to come out for the morning, and then prayed like mad that the boys wouldn’t get lost, jump in front of an oncoming car in the dusty parking lot, or just get hurt because their ASD got the best of them.
Fast forward to last weekend. I announced to Edie that cherry picking season would be coming to an end very soon, and we needed to bring a bucketful of them home before the season ended. She agreed, but we were also in the process of doing some major spring cleaning at home (we’re the proverbial family that takes a lot of stuff in…especially ASD-related items…but never gets rid of them). How were we going to do everything that we wanted to do? Especially since we were going to be heading down to SoCal on Wednesday morning for my cousin’s wedding?
With a self-imposed “finish-cleaning” deadline of Tuesday, there was only one solution. Edie would have to stay home on Saturday morning while I took them cherry picking…if that was, in fact, still in the works. At first, I was just a tad-hesitant: last year’s cherry-picking exercise required significant help to get through the morning. Could I handle them by myself?
Since I was so bent on taking them cherry picking (actually, it’s part of their therapy…I’ll be explaining more later), I decided to take on the challenge of taking care of the kids by myself for about 4 hours on a hot, dry, cherry farm located in the garlic capital of the world.
Yes, the boys had fun, and we ended up pulling in 10 lbs or so of bing cherries, but the most amazing part of the experience was that I had fun just hanging out with them, laughing together, working together on the ladder, and enjoying their company. The two kids can be quite a riot when we’re just hanging out (“Daddy, if I pee on the tree, will that help the cherries grow bigger?”). For roughly 4 hours, I completely forgot that I had two special needs kiddos. And I’m certain that to all the other amateur cherry picking families, they had no clue the boys have ASD.
If you’re wondering how this is possible, I simply give you three letters: RDI. It stands for Relationship Development Intervention.
I’ll start by saying this: Edie and I have tried all the other traditional ASD therapies. ABA, Sonrise, Floor Time, etc. You name it, we’ve probably tried it. Do they work? I don’t know…but when the statistics show that only roughly 21% of ASD kids who undergo those forms of therapies can lead a semi-functional and independent life, my question is, “Why isn’t the percentage higher?”
That’s the question that Dr. Steve Gutstein, the one who pioneered RDI, asked. He took it upon himself to go to the heart of the issue…to determine what the true differences between a neuro-typical child and an ASD child are. From his research, he broke down all the nuances of social relationships, how we acquire these skills as children growing up, and then developed practical and detailed steps in helping an ASD child get back on the normal developmental track so that he/she can be fully remediated.
Notice, I wrote “remediated”, not healed. That’s in large part because Gutstein doesn’t believe that ASD is a “disease”.
Why did we junk all the traditional ASD therapies? Well, I’m about to make a very strong and controversial statement: they were making the boys even more autistic. The strategies found in these traditional therapeutic systems were making kids live even more out of social scripts, and they were hyper-fixating on items even more so than when we got started. Something was wrong, so when Edie stumbled onto RDI through an acquaintance (whose daughter was on the spectrum, lost her medical diagnosis, is considered fully remediated, and is now an honor student at a highly competitive high school), she boldly proclaimed to me, “Bun, we found it. I think this is it.”
Believe me, I had my doubts…I’ve become cynical and skeptical over the past 4 years. But through a series of incidents, I became a believer.
I strongly believe that God is strongly involved in our process. We give Him credit for finding RDI. We believe that our cries to Him to not abandon us are currently being answered. Our prayers that we would get our children back are slowly being answered. There are still doubts…I can’t say that I’m this pillar of faith and strength. But there are days when I’m wowed by what’s going on.
We’ve got A LOT of work to do. But for the first time, there’s HOPE.
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Kathy Darrow has over 10 years experience with autism and six years in RDI; first as a parent and three years as a consultant. She has a passion to help families with children on the spectrum and is excited to watch as children and young adults involved in the RDI program become increasingly competent and resilient in their social world as they progress through that *second opportunity* for development! Visit Kathy’s website here.