Autism and Parent Empowerment with RDI® – Part II

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Autism: A New Perspective
Autism and Parent Empowerment with RDI® - Part II

In part two of ‘Autism and Parent Empowerment,’ Lisa Palasti, a Certified RDI® consultant and RDI® parent, talks with Kat about the ‘Three E’s of Parent Empowerment:’

  1. Empowerment through the Guiding Relationship
  2. Empowerment through engaging with your child
  3. Empowerment through video.

Lisa and Kat talk about each of these and why they’re important, as well as their own personal experience as RDI® parents and how RDI® empowered them to take control of their children’s growth, learning and futures.

With RDI®, No One Else Is the Link to Your Child – You’re in Charge

If RDI® is about anything, it’s about parent empowerment. When you take control of your child’s learning and development, you take control of their future. When you’re in charge, there’s no other person you have to depend on. When you depend on traditional behavior therapies, then the program your child attends at school or in the community seems like the only way to reach your child. Your child’s therapist seems like the only link you have between you and your child, and the potential loss of that therapy might seem terrifying.

But with RDI®, no one else is the ‘lifeline’ or link between you and your child. You are that lifeline for them, the one who’s guiding them toward improved quality of life and independence.

Ready to set the foundation for your child’s future?

Find your consultant today.

Autism: A New Perspective is Available on iTunes!

Full Transcript

Kat Lee: Welcome back to Autism: The New Perspective. The podcast show where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child. And we encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee, and in this week’s podcast, RDI consultant Lisa Palasti joins us and talks with me about the three E’s of parent empowerment. Let’s listen in.

Kat Lee: I love visiting Lisa because we are… I wanna say Lisa, we’re always on the same page, so it’s always really fun chatting with you. But we’re both parents, our children are grown, but we went through the RDI program with our children. Tell us your personal story about why parent empowerment is so important to you.

Lisa Palasti: My personal story, okay. That’s a really interesting thing. So, early days, I was an ABA parent managing a team of six. I remember one particular snowy day, one of my therapists left my home. And as I waved goodbye to her I said a little prayer for her safe return, her safe drive home and her safe return because I felt that she was my lifeline to my child’s future. And I felt very, very uncomfortable with that. At the same time, it was an incredibly scary place to be, to feel like there was some other person that I was paying who would be the only source of help for my child. Because up until that time, as parents, I think many of us were led to believe that we’re not enough, and that other people, the experts if you will, or the therapists, were better suited to raising our kids or parenting our children. And so that’s my personal story. And when I found RDI, I… There was no turning back. I just felt like it made such good sense. I got to be a parent, a mindful parent, but it helped to really empower me to feel confident to step into the journey ahead of me. So that’s just one story. I have many, [laughter] but that’s one story.

Kat Lee: I know you do. We can visit a lot longer than the 20 minutes about that one, right? 

Lisa Palasti: Yeah.

Kat Lee I hope… I know I’ve told you, but my story is that we had been in behavior analytic work with our son since he was two. And at the time I came to RDI, I think I first heard about RDI when he was 11. And there just wasn’t anything for training us. We had to just, I don’t know how to say it really, but we just had to push our way into the training of the people that we hired to work with our child. Back in those days, there were no clinics, there were no trained folks, you hired people and got them trained. But there wasn’t an empowering parent training program. And when I learned about RDI and I went to Dr. Gutstein’s presentations, I was so blown away by the parent training, and education, and the whole plan for guiding parents and supervising them and helping them become empowered. Because we had not had that, I felt… I just… It was the big draw for me in terms of what I wanted to do for our family, and what I wanted to do for other families, Lisa. So, I felt it was important that since we’re visiting with all of you about this topic, that Lisa and I tell you our hearts, where we are coming from, because we feel so passionately about empowering families. So we have for you the three E’s of empowerment. Empowerment through the guiding relationship, empowerment through engaging with your child and empowerment through video.

Kat Lee: And we’re gonna talk about each of these as we visit with you and why we think they’re important. And Lisa, I wanna start with the empowerment through the guiding relationship. So these are elements of empowerment that we have as parents. Why do you think, this is such a deep question, Lisa, but why do you think the guiding relationship seems to kind of… I don’t know if I’m gonna say falls apart or doesn’t develop, when our children are vulnerable? 

Lisa Palasti: Well, the feedback is not reliable, so it’s hard for parents to begin to understand how to guide their children. And so with… Through RDI, they learn how to provide those personalized productive supports through a very detailed assessment, to look to see what it is specifically that the child needs and what their developmental readiness is. So it’s not this cookie-cutter approach. But once those things start to fall into place, then that communication, that co-regulation, becomes so much more informative in a sense. And so it, RDI, provides this framework for families so that they can really start to understand who their children are. But before that, often parents are… They just… They want so, so much. I know I did, as a parent I desperately wanted my child to do the simplest things like respond to me when I called his name. But I actually was part of the problem because being in crisis and so desperate, I called his name all the time, and he learned to tune me out because I never gave him a reason [chuckle] to check in with me. I was just like, “Can you hear me? Do you… Are you responding to me?” And I think the more I called his name, the less responsive he became.

Lisa Palasti: So again, a lot of times the guiding relationship, just as another example, could break down because parents might be so desperate to try to get that communication going with their children that they create this pseudo communication, but it ends up being just a lot of question asking. And that’s just puts a lot of pressure and demand on kids too that ends up falling flat. So without really being empowered to understand how to help support human development and growth, and through relationships, and you’re just looking at skill-based development, that can undermine the guiding relationship. So even though we may have the very, very best of intentions, it backfires.

Kat Lee: And I think these elements that we have here, the feelings of trust, the feelings of competency with your child, the feelings of working together with your child and so forth, they’re all the elements that come with that empowerment through that guiding relationship.

Lisa Palasti: Yes.

Kat Lee: And even more, you learn how to set goals, and you learn how to know if you’re meeting those goals. And those are process goals, they’re really important to relationships. And I love the feeling of empowerment, of working with others who worked with my child. So knowing I had a voice, and knowing I could feel confident in that voice. And of course there was communicating in a healthier way with my child, which was just huge for me, Lisa.

Lisa Palasti: And I think also, just going back to that first bullet point about feelings of trust, it’s often been misunderstood when I’ve used that word with families, where I’ve felt like I’ve had to qualify that. Because I’ve had parents say to me, “I’m the only person my child trusts.” It’s not that they don’t trust their parents, it’s this feeling… It’s feeling safe within the engagements, it’s safety and engagement so that you can help the child to step to that… You can empower them to experience their own sense of self and their agency and autonomy. And so that’s where their trust comes as they develop greater sense of resiliency in the face of manageable challenges through the process of the relationship. So it’s just a beautiful parallel process, where as consultants we can empower the parents, but the parents are empowering the children.

Lisa Palasti: And if I could just quickly share with you, I thought, “I’m just gonna look up what the definition of empowerment is.” And it reads, “It’s the degree of autonomy and self-determination in people and in communities. This enables them to represent their interests in a responsible and self-determined way, acting on their own authority. It is the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.” And so when I thought about what’s the opposite of that, well, I’m sure there’s a better answer than this. But, just, if you don’t have that you’re gonna approach the world with anxiety and fear.

Kat Lee: And it’s the opposite of everything on here. [laughter] It’s like everything’s reversed. That’s a beautiful definition, it really fits what we’re talking about. I think the feelings of competency, it’s interesting because again, you mentioned the parallel process and it works here too. It’s a competency for you, but it’s also that competency feelings for your child and both need to be present and that is the beauty of RDI, I think.

Lisa Palasti: And I’m gonna admit something, early in RDI, the name is relationship development intervention. And I think that on the surface, one would think that it’s really all about social engagement and developing that social competency. But it’s, and that was my initial thought, even as a new consultant for years, but it was… Of course RDI is so cutting edge and continues to layer on itself, and we’ve learned so much from our experiences that maybe initially we didn’t even know. I don’t think that we labeled growth-seeking mindset, but it has turned out to be a major benefit, one of the most beneficial aspects of what it is that we do. And with that said, it’s through the relationship that we help an individual develop a sense of self, and you need both. So yeah, so I can… I just think that the guiding relationship helps to develop that empowerment, not only in the parent, but in the child too.

Kat Lee: And, well, continuing to think about the definition you brought to us. The feelings of empowerment when you’re working with others who work with their child, I don’t wanna say constant, but on a regular basis, weekly, if not some weeks, daily, parents are wanting, they’re needing to be able to work with others who are with their child. Whether it be a teacher, or a therapist of some other kind, OT or speech therapist, etcetera. And this whole program gives them that feeling of confidence and competency to do that and to not feel for less than a, I can’t think of a better way to say it, for less than, like, “I don’t know anything.” You do know, you do know. That’s what our program will show you.

Lisa Palasti: That’s right, that’s right.

Kat Lee: It is nice, it dovetails nicely I think into the empowerment that comes to engaging with your child, Lisa. This idea of spending time and of actually having active engagements with your child, why do you think that empowers us so much? 

Lisa Palasti: Well, through the mindful guiding process, the beautiful thing is we’re looking at quality time, not quantity time. And by being present in the moment and understanding clearly what our goals are, we’re able to seize everyday opportunities and optimize them in such a beautiful, meaningful way. That’s the piece that really sticks for our kids too. It’s vastly different than trying to teach a child with flashcards in a boring, rote way. It’s those meaningful experiences. Some of the funnest times that I’ve had is those playful moments where I think some of the things that I did as an RDI parent, I would’ve never done if I didn’t have that empowerment. So, just quickly, when I was working on more complex things with more complexity with my kids, I’m at the grocery store with these adolescent boys, and usually it was just one at a time. I have two boys that benefited from RDI. But anyway, I’d have one pushing the cart, but I’d have them have to continually monitor me and check in on me, because guess what, every so often I would lob something, like a pack of flour tortillas, and they might be 10 feet away from me. Or I might lob a small, I don’t know, orange or something that. But I would wait for them to… They would continually monitor me then.

Lisa Palasti: And then without even having to go, “Hey, here, catch this.” I would just lob it at them. And I had… And it was fun. And I had people looking at us sometimes thinking, “Oh, look at that playful mom with her pre-teen boys.” [laughter] And so it just… It really… I wasn’t… Yes, I was creating a little bit of a spectacle, but in a very fun, playful way. It was priceless. So, yeah, why not have fun while you’re helping your children to develop some mental tools and processes that are going to serve them in the long haul? 

Kat Lee: You’re lobbing the flour with fast hands, right? [laughter]

Lisa Palasti: Mm-hmm. I never lobbed the eggs or anything risky.


Kat Lee: Oh my goodness. I’m sure I couldn’t have caught the flour, but that’s a whole other story. I wanted to emphasize the spending time, and activities, and engagements for parents and professionals who might be new to RDI, because it really is key to that empowerment. So, some of the things we’re talking about are such basic principles. So one of the big questions I get asked when I talk to new families is, “How much time does it take?” And I love the answer I’ve heard over the years, from one parent to another, it takes the time that you have because if you’re going to spend that time lobbing groceries at your children or whatever [chuckle] the case may be, you don’t want to be in a rush. You wanna just have that good time. I liked what you said about just spending that time, taking that time with your sons. So it is really an important element that you gain empowerment from. And then of course in RDI as consultants, those who’ve been in it will know, we gain this through those activities and those engagements. Which, as you pointed out when we first began to chat, are it’s so individualized for what those personal needs of the child are. Right, Lisa? 

Lisa Palasti: Absolutely. We wanna pull on the child’s strengths and motivations, and interests. And at the same time, one of the things that I love to help parents recognize, is who they are as people, and to maybe re-experience the things that they enjoyed learning how to do or that made them who they are. What was it about their life’s experience that helped shape who they’ve become, and how they might take that passion and then share that with their children. And so I think that’s often a very historical thing that families do, where they pass down, maybe a hobby or a tradition, where they may teach their kids how to do something. I know that my husband taught our boys how to become excellent skiers, and I taught them how to cook and to fish, and to play basketball, even though I’m the shortest person in my family, but I grew up playing basketball. So those are just some examples. I’ve had other families where they started playing the piano with their children, or they’ve taught them how to, I don’t know, if art was their thing that they engaged in art with them. But I just feel it can be such a warm shared experience that may be part of their guiding relationship from when they were young. And they continue to be able to… Just because they may have a child with vulnerabilities or challenges doesn’t mean that they can’t embrace some of those same things and enjoy them with their children. In fact, we encourage it.

Kat Lee: One funny story about this one, it’s funny to me anyway, Lisa, is that as I’ve talked over the years that we like to go hiking and to the lake and I decided that I wanted with the family to stand-up paddle board. So that’s one of the things I guided my son with. And he’s got the balance of a mountain goat. So he just walked right out on the board, first time didn’t have any trouble with his balance. Did you know in order to guide you have to do a little bit yourself. I cannot tell you how many times I hit that water [chuckle] trying to learn how to balance on that paddle board. I fell in that water so many times. But even so I was able to guide him in the use of understanding how his hands work, ’cause he struggled a little bit with the whole switching motion, which is a very unique motion that you do. And I really… What you said touched me ’cause I really cherished that time when I was continuing to look quite foolish, falling off [chuckle] the board into the water, but still guiding him even though he, by now, was more skilled in one area than I was. But once you have that, that empowerment of guiding you grow as a person too. And I grew as a person learning something new as well. So I think growth activating is not just for our children, Lisa, it can also be for us.

Lisa Palasti: Absolutely. And there’s so many things that you could have guided, or helped him further appreciate, which is, “Hey, it’s okay if you fall off, you just keep getting back on.”


Kat Lee: Oh my God. Yeah, maybe. I cannot stand to fall off something into the water. It’s like now that I can do it and we go out on the lake and everything, it’s still my main goal not to fall off. [laughter]

Lisa Palasti: Yes. Ironically, I picked up paddle boarding with my own two boys over the last few years ourselves. And I’ve been known to… One particular week I went 14 kilometers on my paddle board.

Kat Lee: Oh.

Lisa Palasti: Yeah. So, anyway I love it too. Love it. So anyway, it’s just… It’s great that people don’t have to think about how to help their kids in therapy. In therapeutic ways this can, the learning, the engagement, the growth, can happen during fun experiences like learning how to paddle-board or learning how to fish or learning how to garden. It doesn’t… It’s just whatever the opportunity is.

Kat Lee: And that leads me to empowerment through video. And some may be surprised that that’s one of our three E’s, but it’s such a central part of our work. I have had, as you can imagine, being in RDI now 20 years, I’ve definitely had people over the years say, “Why is it so necessary to have video?” My answer to that, Lisa, is because what you think happened didn’t happen. Or if you think you know what happened, more happened. [chuckle] So even if you’re right about what happened, more happened than what you know, ’cause you don’t have eyes in the back of your head or your peripheral vision only goes so far. And so we put a lot of value on video, Lisa. What are your thoughts about that? 

Lisa Palasti: Oh, well, I think the videotaping is critical, as you said. I would say that a lot of parents are harsh on themselves initially. They may judge themselves too much and we really try to caution them, we want them to understand that we’re learning through all of our experiences. It’s a try and see guiding approach or trial guiding. We know that. When I’ve had parents look back at their video, I would say 80% to 90% of the time they go, “Oh, that wasn’t as bad as I thought.” We are all wired towards a negative bias and maybe being a little bit more judgy or harsh on ourselves, but the video can help us spotlight and highlight the good things. But as well, what I think is really the critical piece is learning through the experience of reflecting on the video offline. Because it’s hard to be able to be as present and mindful in the moment, especially when you’re new to RDI parenting because there’s gonna be some things that you’re missing because you might be a little bit too focused on, let’s say the recipe.

Lisa Palasti: Whereas, we’re process-orientated on the guiding and, but they’re easily… Sometimes those things can get in the way, but as we learn our skill, it becomes less consuming. But regardless, it’s the offline reflection and the time spent there that we learn, we actually start to own our knowledge based on the experiences that we have. And when we start to put more of that knowledge into our, I guess, our bank, what we’re able to do is become more mentally agile in the online experiences in the moment with our kids. So the offline reflection allows us to be more mentally agile online when we’re spending time with our kids in time. It’s a process, but it doesn’t occur unless the parents don’t learn how to be reflective of their videos. And so that’s where the video is so crucial.

Kat Lee: Yeah. And it’s like you said, it’s the video and then learning to learn from your video, learning to review the video. And it’s the reviewing part that can be so challenging, I think. And, but once you learn to find comfort in that and realize what you’re gaining from it, it’s incredibly… It just changes things. I know over the years parents have told me going back and looking… And in all fairness and just so, for those who don’t know, prior to autism, I was in radio and TV, but mostly radio. And I had to… I listened back to my work almost every day as a self-critique. So I certainly had experience in that. But it’s just a whole another level of challenge, Lisa, when it’s with your child. And I know for me, one of the things I discovered was that when I was thinking I had thinking face and I would look so intensely serious in the funnest of things, because I was thinking so much and I really had to. I really learned through watching that video to reflect on, was my countenance reflecting what I was feeling versus, what? Having to think so hard, and what was affecting what? That is just so valuable because we don’t know how we’re coming across to another person. And I didn’t want to be reflecting what I didn’t feel. Does that make sense, Lisa? 

Lisa Palasti: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Kat Lee: So I think there’s an empowerment and then there’s also an empowerment that later if you have others who allow you, who are working with your child, you can help them review their own video. So it just… It builds a nice path of empowerment, I think.

Lisa Palasti: Yes, absolutely. And one of my clients who I would say was particularly empowered and loved the process of learning, she said to me one week when we had a meeting, she said, “Oh, I did some videos this week, but I don’t wanna send them to you.” And I said, “Oh, well why not?” And she said, “Because they were all good. I only like to send you the bad stuff.”


Lisa Palasti: She said, “‘Cause that’s where the real learning occurs.” She doesn’t really need my feedback when… And good for her to be able to reflect on those and look back at them and go, “I’ve got this.” And it’s interesting too, because I remember a different parent, teaching her how to do video analysis and time codes and really knowing when she hit her goals and and whatnot. And I can remember the first time I had this experience of reading her video feedback, watching the video and reading her video feedback again. And I thought to myself, “What good are you, Lisa? You don’t have anything… ” [laughter] This is what I thought. I thought, “You don’t have anything to add.” And then I thought, “Oh my gosh, actually, Lisa, you did exactly what you set out to do,” which was to work myself out of a job. And I thought, “Well done. You did that.” Because she had become so confident. And it was cute because I took her video feedback and I just added to it, rather than start a fresh sheet or whatever. I’m like, “Yeah, I agree and, yes, you’re right on about this.” [laughter] My whole feedback was just a lot of affirmation that she totally knew what… It was beautiful. It was really cool. So I think that there is… We can’t underrate how important the video taping is and how empowering it can be.

Kat Lee: Well, I personally like people only to see my good video. [laughter]

Lisa Palasti: Yes. [chuckle]

Kat Lee: But that’s a bit egotistical of me. But, and in a serious side, it is sometimes a struggle. And if anyone hears a parent who struggles with this, not to just want people to see the “good stuff” but it is where you have the struggle, that is where you learn the most from, Lisa, when it comes to video. You learn the most. And that leads, again, to the empowerment of the most from being able to analyze that and move forward. It’s not to say you can’t learn things from when things work, because that’s an experience too. We learn from positive experiences, but it’s also good at look those where you don’t quite make your goal, whatever that might be, or you think you don’t. I’ve also heard it where parents to my opinion said, “This isn’t any good. I didn’t reach the goal.” And they did. And that’s part of our process to help parents know when they have done that. And it could be just one small thing happened that they didn’t expect or was not pleasant, and it affected their whole view of that time with their child. But then when they get that feedback, they’ll be relieved. And suddenly the whole countenance changes to, “Oh! Oh, well, you’re right. That one moment colored my view of that whole time.” But that’s just, I think, that’s just being a mom, a parent, a person, Lisa.

Lisa Palasti: But it’s true because when we’re looking at videos, sometimes I might review a certain aspect, a moment, multiple times, several times. And with that, then I’ll… I might… I had a parent one time who said to me, “I don’t understand why my son got so oppositional at a certain point in the video.” And I watched it over and over and over and she was… It was actually, she was pouring in flour and he had to stir. And the more flour she put in, the less competent he felt. But rather than saying, “This is getting too hard for me,” he took the bowl into the, he is just about five years old, so he was just a little thing, but he took the bowl and went to the other side of the island. And he started screaming at her, “No!” But [laughter] she had no idea she had this… But it was just through careful observation of this video and seeing the struggle. And of course then I collaborated with the mom to say like, “Do you see this too?” And she said, “Oh, absolutely.” But if we didn’t have that video, we would’ve never been able to recognize that just that simple process was his edge plus 10, it set him over his threshold, and this is what caused the breakdown. So it’s just all part of that process of becoming empowered to learn how to properly guide your child. And it is through often the useful video.

Kat Lee: So being an empowered parent, what does it mean to you? Well, Lisa, I love your story. I always love your story about your boys. I love what it means to your relationship today with your boys. And that was one thing I wanted to conclude here with is it’s not a temporary empowerment. It sticks, right? 

Lisa Palasti: Yeah, it sticks. So just recently, and I’m not sure if this is the story that you’re thinking about, but the other day, we as a family got an infrared sauna. And I was listening to a podcast and I came back from my walk with the dog, and I was sharing just some of the little tidbits with my husband and my youngest son who’s 23. And I said, “Oh, these are some cool things.” And so they started trying to drill me. And I said, “No, both of you.” I said, “You will listen to the podcast. I am not feeding you this information like little passive, little baby birds.” I said, “You have to own your own knowledge and pick out what’ll be important for you,” because they each have different goals with respect to using it. So, but anyway, it was just funny. And it… And that particular story, I think is relevant to what we’re doing in RDI too, because we want the families to own their knowledge and this is a beautiful collaborative process that we engage in with the parents, and they engage in that with their children. But what happens is empowerment through that process. So I think it’s a mindset too, in terms of just helping develop that independence and that ownership of knowledge.


Kat Lee: And thank you for joining us for Autism: A New Perspective, the podcast show where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child and we always encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee. See you next time.


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