This week we are proud to feature the 50th podcast episode from RDIconnect! In this special episode, Dr. Rachelle Sheely, the co-founder of the RDI Model for autism remediation, talks about what RDI is REALLY about: empowering the whole family!
Kat Lee: When a family with typically developing children have these natural relationships that come about, it just happens. When you have your children, it just happens. They’re exploring and you’re guiding and it’s just… Parents of typical children don’t really think about it. It’s just occurring. And then how families, not when their children get a diagnosis, though that doesn’t help anything, but when that starts going on a different path. Then plus the diagnosis, then plus professionals talking to them. They just stop seeing that family half. It becomes blinded to them and-
Dr. Sheely: You know Katherine I see sometimes that people will say, “Well I don’t know if it’s his age or the autism.” And a lot of times when they’re saying that their talking about something they wish the child didn’t do. And so they’ll say well you know cause the … See, even if it’s the autism, you still have to correct it. It doesn’t give you a free pass. But I hear that kind of, “I would know what to do if I knew why he did it, whether it was the age or the autism.”
Kat Lee: Well it’s like the parental brain gets scrambled somehow. It’s very interesting and almost I see the ownership of parenting seems to change its path. I don’t want to say it falls away. I mean the parents are aware of their responsibilities by and large. They’re aware that they want to parent their child, but I don’t know if it’s all the voices telling them, “Let us do it,” or it’s literally that they’re not getting the feedback from that child so they stop putting themselves out there, or both. What do you think?
Dr. Sheely: I think it is both and I was thinking about that proverb like, “Train up a child in the way he should go.” And so we think about that and it’s like o yeah we train up a child. But in the Hebrew, it says train up a child in the way he is bent. And that reminds me through mother because trained up according to her talent and bent in that way. But if there’s so much noise and confusion, we often don’t know what that bent is or that talent is.
Kat Lee: Well that’s very true and I’m afraid it’s not looked for. Again sometimes I think when we talk like this it almost seems blatantly obvious that why would we stop looking for a bent and why would we not set limits. But something about being in it changes people.
Dr. Sheely: It does. And it changes them in ways that it would never change someone with their typically developing kids. So it’s once that growth seeking gets turned off. The growth promoting probably lasts for a while. That’s what I’m thinking. And when I see parents with pretty young children, I see they’re still trying to do things. But at some point, it’s not working and then they get the diagnosis and they say, “O this is different. So I don’t know how to parent and probably won’t.”
Kat Lee: And then I think about are there, at that point, is this more like just the progression? At that point are they being told they shouldn’t expect to have the family life they thought they would have?
Dr. Sheely: I think they are. I think they’re being told that and I think that the other thing that kicks in is all the noise. And by that I mean the noise that the child makes and not necessarily verbalizations or stimming or anything like that. But the child just comes with such a complicated presentation. And I’m just thinking of that complication and how that is so noisy that you can’t cut through it. Noise is probably isn’t the best word but it’s the word that always comes to mind. But you have to dig through these layers of everything that’s going on to figure out what you’re going to do. And it’s noisy and how do you find your way?
Dr. Sheely: They’re already feeling very inadequate and I feel like that’s what autism does. It takes away your feeling of authority and you feel inadequate. And then you have professionals come in and they say, “Well we know how to do this.” So it’s like, “Well somebody knows how.” And so you have that combination of authority and fear which pushes that red alert button.
Kat Lee: “Let us take care of it and you don’t know,” is kind of the message I think a lot of parents receive. Do you?
Dr. Sheely: I do.
Kat Lee: And so because of that you can see everything from parents like you mentioned stop setting limits, start kind of…in terms of their parenting. Some only with that the child is diagnosed but somewhat their other children too. It just changes that whole core and I what I love about what we do in RDI is we say, “Not only can you have your family, we want you. We want that to resume.” I always think about you and Dr. Gutstein and how did you know that was the most important thing?
Dr. Sheely: I’m not sure how we knew it. I know he did a lot of research and I did a lot of videotaping and it sort of gelled. But I was thinking Katherine about this whole how we worry so much about the passivity with the children. That passivity to take on their own learning. And in RDI we believe there is a parallel process between the consultant and the parent, and the parent and the child. So pretty quickly we don’t see that passivity with our parents. But when children have done other things I do see them as being pretty passive. And I believe that the parallel process we get in place is the same parallel process the parents experience when they’re doing something that’s more dogmatic or authoritarian or telling them what to do. They tell their child what to do and everybody’s passive.
Kat Lee: Wow, that’s really scary because if there’s one thing parents aren’t supposed to do is be passive. Be passive with a three year old.
Dr. Sheely: I promise you a three year old will take over if you’re passive.
Kat Lee: They will rule. A two and a half and a two year old will pretty much get that idea as well, you know. If you watch parents with two year … Well actually, honestly, as soon as they start that exploring age and really getting around. What’s going on? They’re exploring and there’s a parent doing the protecting, right?
Dr. Sheely: Truly.
Kat Lee: Explore all you want but not there. And if there’s-
Dr. Sheely: I was talking to a young man today, which you know. And he was telling me he’s graduating college. And he was telling me that his mother still worries about him. If he takes a dog on a walk that she worries that he’s going to the canal and there’s concrete in water. Or if he drives the car by himself into the city, she still worries.
Kat Lee: It’s that impact of the old days that the urge don’t go away necessarily. I mean it’s so understandable but it’s because, and you’ve talked so beautifully about this, that it’s that crisis mode too. So on the one hand you’ve got parents feeling passive and not…But they don’t have the ability. But then you’ve got a crisis going off in their brains at the same time. It’s just a very damaging mix.
Dr. Sheely: And you know I think sometimes we don’t consider enough that the parents come with their our vulnerabilities. And so let’s say you have a biological anxiety disorder in your family, right. Or you have kind of a biologically genetic vulnerability from bipolar disorder. You add these things in and a parent who would be doing great, now these things begin to superimpose themselves over the parent whose child has that same vulnerability. And it’s really hard to sort it out and know where to begin.
Dr. Sheely: That’s what I love about our assessment. Because we really can pinpoint where you’re stuck, where everybody’s stuck. And for the consultant, it gives us that sense of, “Are you stuck too?” So everybody gets unstuck and we start where we need to start and we do it carefully and slowly in a truthful way. And at that point, that natural parenting begins to kick in. One of the things I love about our training program is that we teach our trainees to say to parents I’m working myself out of a job, not into a job. And if you’ve ever hired a consultant you know that’s rare.
Dr. Sheely: But see, we are doing that. And we’re giving them the tools so they can begin to think of their own objectives, they can come up with them. When I’m working with someone in college and now at this point, typically what I’m doing is trying to help the parents not overcompensate anymore. But when I’m working with someone at that level, they begin to write their own objectives. They may not physically write them, but they will say, “This is where I’m stuck, this is what I want to work on now.” And you know Katherine, I love it when that happens. It almost brings tears to my eyes because I know they’re almost there.
Kat Lee: The thing that is so, well, there’s so many things that are attractive to me about what we do. But one of them is the collaboration. So I always say, “I’m not telling you. We’re working together.” That’s what we do. And then secondly, you’re going to be empowered and you’re not going to be afraid of being empowered because it’s going to be genuine. And there’s just nothing like it. I mean… And it’s hard knowing there’s parents who are completely unempowered who need this so much.
Dr. Sheely: And we’re not going to tell them that they’re going to sink or swim, it’s like go do it. What’s the objective you want. It’s not that. We open it up to them in small steps. We talk about just noticeable difference for their children. We talk about challenges for the children. We talk about the same thing for the parents, just noticeable differences and challenges. And once as a consultant, as someone working with parents I realized that I could afford myself the luxury of doing that. And that I didn’t have to run, rush in with the big idea, or something huge was going to change in the next five minutes. I began to be a really good consultant for parents.