Dr. Rachelle Sheely is the co-founder of the autism treatment Relationship Development Intervention (RDI®). In this video, she talks about what led her down the path of autism intervention and the journey that led her and her husband, Dr. Steven Gutstein, to start RDI®.
Dr. R Sheely: My training originally was a teacher, and I had a masters in teaching. I worked in an inner city school in New Jersey, and I just loved, loved, loved, loved teaching. And so when we moved to Houston, I had the opportunity to kind of assist with a social skills group. And one of the things that happened was these kids with an autism spectrum disorder, and at that time, I think the incidents was maybe 1 in 10,000. So every now and then one of these children would show up in a social skills group, and sometimes they had the diagnosis, sometimes they didn’t. But they were clearly different from the ADHD kids.
I just loved those kids, and I intuitively had a sense of what to do with them. So, you know, it was kind of pretty neat, so I began to pursue who this group of kids, who are they? And what makes them different? And what do you do with them? So my entire dissertation, all of my graduate work, I got into a PHD program, all of it was around the field of autism and what do you do? I mean I really had a pretty open view of it then because nobody was doing very much, and so I was just curious about what do you do?
And the question that I asked, and then my husband and I began to ask together was is there a way to do a couple of things? Is there a way to reduce the cost? Because the cost of treating autism then was sky high. And is there a way to provide some normalcy to parents? Because autism was ripping parents, couples apart and families apart.
And so we wanted to see if we could do that, and in order to do that, we began to go back and look at typical development. So what I did was I took my video camera to the church I attend, and I said “Could I videotape the kids in the nursery?” And they said “Sure. Yeah, come on in.” And I went to playgrounds and I would say to parents “Do you mind if I videotape your kids?”
So you can see the difference between my husband, who was Steve Gutstein by the way, and me. I’m out there videotaping people, and he’s reading every bit of research there is to read. And then we pooled that together and we began to answer this question. Can we begin to help families feel like a cohesive unit? Can we help these parents parent the children with autism the way they parent their other children? Can we help this child get on a better track so the child’s looking at their parent and saying “What are you going to teach me now?” In the very same way that typically developing children do.
So that’s how I got involved in it. I loved it, and I felt like I was good at it. And you know, sometimes in our lives we have this feeling like that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. And that’s the way I felt about it, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing, and so that’s what I am doing.
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I am the same way. I am drawn to these children and they to me. An autistic child will come up and interact with me at the pool in the grocery store, without me doing anything.
I also know what to do.
And I am good at it.
I don’t even have to think.
It just happens and afterwards I have to analyze why I did what I did and why.
I have been researching and developing my theory and therapy for autism for 20 years.
I call it family focus therapy.
It is similar to RDI in that the primary caregivers do the therapy.
But I see some key differences in theory and application.
At any rate I am grateful that you have helped so many families.
And best to you, too!