This guest blog post was written by RDI® consultant Jo Fokkes.
Do You Spend Much of Your Time Entertaining Your Autistic Child?
It’s the ‘easiest’ way to live with your child in the short term. You take him out and do the things he likes as you try to avoid him stimming, nagging or even throwing tantrums. So you give in to his demands or pander to his preferences and do his favourite things. He might like to go to the local park to watch the cod swimming in the pond, he might like to go to the library to skim through books, even the same ones each time. Perhaps it’s the local train bridge to watch the trains or the sushi shop to buy his favourite food. For many, it’s playing the same games over and over on the iPad. He enjoys them, so why not do them? In fact, why not do them daily? Life then develops a pattern, where any time parent and child have together is spent doing entertaining activities because the child is ‘happy’ and it causes less conflict.
Take a minute to ask yourself what your child is getting out of these experiences.
Is he learning to connect with people? Is he learning to understand the World? Is he learning to be an independent, problem solving thinker? Is he learning that sometimes, in this World, we have to do what the people in charge decide?
If you have a neurotypical child, or know one pretty well, you will see how they connect with others, even when they are tiny babies. You will see how they watch others to see how they do things and often imitate. You will see that they develop the ability to solve problems and to recognise that there are limits placed on their behaviour by their parents.
Autism Remediation Begins with the Connection Between You and Your Child
Neurotypical children seem so easy to parent compared to your child. But perhaps that’s the point. Autistic children have difficulty connecting with us and do not easily learn how to learn from their parents’ modelling. They often seem to be holding everyone at a distance. Developing connections is what they need our help with initially. To do this our involvement needs to be much more than simply keeping them happy by entertaining them.
In fact, entertaining your child will not help them develop any of the skills they will need to cope with life in a constantly changing world. It will tend to cement their rigidity and encourage them to seek the same things over and over again, so that they feel safe and in control.
Children with autism tend to focus on things and repeating patterns, so in RDI®, we start by establishing a connection with the child. There will quite likely be resistance because this is not the current pattern of the relationship, but you can start with little things and expand from there. I am not suggesting you try to interfere with activities they already feel they own. It is better to find some interesting activities that might attract the child to join you in what you are doing. For different children, this will differ markedly. One child might be attracted to you knocking over some blocks and join you when you build them up again. Another might play Row-Row-Row Your Boat and you can add in some pauses where he might look to you and wonder what you are doing. Another might stir the batter if you hand him the spoon while making his favourite cake. The important idea here is that the child decides to join you, you don’t tell the child to join you – you invite, ideally non-verbally.
We want to build on this connection and eventually have the child feel good about doing something he has never done before. This can be the beginning of connecting with your child.
Your RDI® Consultant Guides You; You Guide Your Child
Your Consultant will help you on your journey, showing you how to use your time with your child, not just for entertaining, but for helping him grow into a person who can be the best he can be. We call this establishing a Guiding Relationship. Our ultimate aim would be for your child to be resilient and flexible; not a rigid thinker and, for him, to be someone who can cope with life, rather than retreat from it.
As you and your child progress through your RDI® journey, you will see that connection and learning are possible. Your child can be more trusting and more flexible and can be happy with what life throws at him, rather than seeking protection in the sameness of repeating things over and over. After a while, he will want to join you in activities and want to do them together rather than trying to do things in isolation. Even stimming is likely to reduce as the child becomes more emotionally connected to those close to him and finds those relationships satisfying.
Within this trusting Guiding Relationship, you will be able to teach your autistic child in the same way as you teach your neurotypical child. It will take a more concerted effort, and will demand that you are aware of your interactions with him most of the time, so that you can interact in the most effective way possible. Rather than pandering to his every wish, you will be able to assume the guiding parental role. This will be extremely satisfying for both of you. The first steps are the hardest and having your Consultant’s guidance helps you get through this barrier.
You can be instrumental in helping your child grow, rather than spending your time entertaining him!
Think about it.
Want to Learn More about RDI®?
Interested in learning more about the Guiding Relationship and how you can re-establish yours with your child? The RDI® program focuses on improving quality of life for your child, and on setting your child on the path to future independence, and this all starts with the Guiding Relationship. Schedule a free chat with a Certified Consultant today to learn more.
Jo has many years experience working as a Speech Pathologist. In the past she has held lecturing positions in Speech Pathology and has been the leader of a disability therapy team within the State Government. Over the last 15 years she has honed her skills in working with children who have autism, initially as a Speech Pathologist attached to a general Speech Pathology clinic, then in a behavioural intervention clinic, until, in 2005 she undertook training in Relationship Development Intervention® (RDI). For many years Jo ran social skills groups for children with Autism and Asperger’s. Later, having become aware of the potential of RDI®, Jo undertook training with the Connections Centre and began running her own clinic offering RDI® to families and Speech Therapy particularly to children with autism. As a Speech Pathologist, Jo is especially equipped to help address communication, language and speech disorders that are sometimes associated with Autism. As well, as an RDI® Consultant, Jo is able to offer a broad range of support to autistic children and adults, and their families, encompassing many areas of their lives. Jo can act as a guide to those who are learning to guide their loved ones who have autism.