What is Autism?

Key Elements for Early Intervention

Redefining Autism

As a result of our new understanding, we have redefined autism as the result of infants’ inability, due to pre-born, neurally-based vulnerabilities, to take advantage of available opportunities for mental, self & neural growth through engagement in a guiding relationship with parents and primary caregivers. More specifically, infants later diagnosed with autism are viewed as born with a diverse profile of vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities, though differing from infant to infant, have a common impact. They leave autistic infants unable to take advantage of critical developmental opportunities only available through participating in a Guiding Relationship.

Given this redefinition, the lifelong differences that characterize autism – that in the past were regarded as the ‘sine qua non’ of the disorder – those that most distinguish individuals with autism from others, no longer have to be considered as inevitable and inherent in persons with autism. Rather, they can be viewed as the inevitable consequence of the failure of the emergence of Growth-Seeking, leading to the loss of access, from a very early age, to the essential growth-promoting opportunities provided by a Guiding Relationship.

If this is indeed the case, as we now believe it to be, then by teaching parents to carefully construct settings and conduct engagements that provide opportunities for children with autism to experience themselves and their parents in new ways, we can stimulate their Growth-Seeking emergence and provide a second chance for these children to receive the benefits that can only be attained through participating in a Guiding Relationship.

Key Elements to Early Intervention

The RDI® model emphasizes the importance of providing learners with authentic experience-based learning opportunities, based on their readiness to apply what they learn in a competent manner. Learning is viewed as a developmentally unfolding, successively constructed process, in which more sophisticated development is constructed on the foundations of prior, less sophisticated development. Effective learning carefully builds upon the learners prior understanding and experience and each mastered step serves as a foundation for the next step. Students are provided with learning opportunities based on their developmental readiness to understand and apply what they learn. Mindful Guides carefully assess their Students on an ongoing basis to determine that foundations for new learning are in place. In addition, assessment involves learning about the current ‘EDGE’ of Student competence, what ‘one step ahead’ of that edge might look like, and understanding factors that enhance and potentially detract from their forward movement.

Learning as a life-long wholistic process

We view learning as a lifelong process involving our body, brain, and mind, along with those persons who seek to guide us and the potential opportunities we find and are provided with.

Learning requires exploration and experimentation

RDI® Programs operate from the principle that effective learning cannot occur if students experience the threat of severe consequences, loss, or feel high levels of performance anxiety. Productive learning environments provide numerous opportunities to engage with mental challenges in a playful, curious, manner.  Programs are constructed to encourage learners to take maximum advantage of opportunities to explore and experiment with the novel, challenging & unfamiliar, without initially having to worry about meeting real-world performance demands, or suffer the consequences of ‘failed experiments’.

Learners must experience Ownership

Another important part of Engaged Learning is for Students to become empowered ‘owners’ of the learning process, becoming self-auditors and self-advocates for their learning & performance needs

Learners must be Actively Engaged

‘Engaged Learning’, is an educational principle emphasizing that learning must be an active process, where learners actively transform the information they are presented with to construct personally meaningful representations that are integrated with what they already know.

Authentic ‘Anchored’ Learning Opportunities

We believe that learning must be authentic & applicable to learners real-world experience. Prior learning must serve as an experience anchor to make new learning a much more efficient and meaningful process. In order to provide an experience of continuity, we ‘anchor’ new learning by providing a temporally extended, perspective, viewing each new learned piece as an extension, or expansion of prior learning and as a foundation for future learning.

Gradually Situated Transfer

We do not  rush students into taking full responsibility for autonomous ‘real-world’ functioning. Rather the model provides them opportunities to develop a firm foundation of Knowledge, Skill, Habits and Mental States in a balanced, mutually supportive manner. Students are provided with opportunities to apply  their new learning in a series of ‘simulated’ environments, where complexity is gradually increased, until it approximates the learner’s real-world ‘application environment’. Opportunities for safe exploration & experimentation are carefully balanced with transferring self-management in gradually more complex real-world settings, at a pace that is optimal for each student. Guides increase elements of ‘application complexity’ one variable at a time  while students work towards mastery.

Balanced Learning

RDI® Programs try to maintain a healthy balance between real-world application and ongoing development – Applying knowledge, skill, habits and mental states to attain important goals and  learning to look for & take advantage of opportunities for further development

Developing Personalized Experience-Based Knowledge

Learning is re-defined, not as the accumulation of information, but as a lifelong process of developing personally meaningful knowledge.  Students learn that the product of their experience – Personalized Knowledge – has a unique potential to empower them because it reflects their own authentic experience and represents their unique needs. The program teaches Students to function beyond the capacity provided by our haphazard and intuitive memory processes.  Students learn to  intentionally and mindfully construct effective knowledge products that they externally store in personalized knowledge management system and retrieve to help them prepare for new goals and challenging situations. Personalized Knowledge is applicable, extendable, upgradable and can be efficiently retrieved when needed. We define learning, not as the mere accumulation of information, but as a lifelong process of actively constructing personally meaningful knowledge.

Knowledge, Skill, Habits and Mindsets

While Personalized Knowledge is considered central, it will have no value unless requisite Skills, Habits and Mind-Sets are in place. Skill proficiency represents our capacity to apply and implement knowledge often in an unconscious, automatic manner, by turning it into effective action, in real-world situations. While knowledge is not useful without requisite proficiency, students learn that the reverse is also true. In order to become proficient in the most effective and efficient manner they require knowledge to guide the process.

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