This week, Dr. Steven Gutstein continues his series on the Heart of RDI® by talking about the readiness of parents for Guiding and importance of parents’ self-care.
Kat Lee: Hello and welcome back to “ASD: A New Perspective”, the podcast show where we help you understand what it going on in the mind of your child, and we do encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee and we continue our series “The Heart of RDI.” In this visit, Dr. Gutstein and I talk about the readiness of parents for guiding and how important it is for parents to focus on themselves when they’re used to focusing on their children.
I know we’re going to talk about a parent’s perspective knowing if your child is ready for dynamic intelligence, but where I wanted to start because I think so many parents still struggle with either understanding or maintaining the understanding that their guiding relationship is what’s really key to this, not where their child is necessarily, I thought it’d be great for you to speak to that. As a parent, I understand that. In fact, from the very beginning, we’re told about fixing our children from so many professionals. They don’t really talk about fixing us being key. Of course, our program does, but we still wander back to that at times.
Dr. Gutstein: I think the key here is in the term of guiding relationship and what that means. I think sometimes we confused things that we do on the road to forming that guiding relationship with what an actual guiding relationship looks like once it’s been formed. I like to use the analogy if you will of the rocket ship or missile where there’s an engine. There’s two main parts. One is the engine, which provides the power, the thrust, and then there’s the guidance system, which helps to steer it and helps it get to a certain destination. A lot of the things we do on the road to the guiding relationship don’t necessarily look like that. There’s a lot of sharing and co-participating and emphasizing being together, but when we really move to guiding, that means that the parent has been able to take a step back.
That means also that the child has now become very highly intrinsically motivated for growth, for trying new things, for expanding their world, for discovering. The job of the parent then is not to provide that energy but to guide it. If we haven’t gotten to the point where the child has that desire and the drive and that energy, we don’t yet have the ability to guide them. That’s the whole idea of forming a guiding relationship. If you’re a parent and you’re still feeling like, “I have to worry about what activity to do, and I have to worry about motivating my child to do something with me,” then we don’t yet have a guiding relationship. That doesn’t mean you should despair.
It means we have to focus on building that, and a big part of building that is building that growth-seeking motivating in the child. Creating experiences that will heighten that desire that’s intrinsic in every human being, whether they have autism or not, to want to seek out new things, to want to become more confident, autonomous, to want to have mastery, to want to expand and try out things, to really prefer things that are hard, that are more challenging. That’s when we know that you can start to guide, because then you’re guiding that. You’re not providing that thrust, that energy of the rocket engine, you’re guiding it. You’re making sure the child isn’t overwhelmed by what they do. Sometimes they don’t know, and often they’ll pick something that’s too hard to do, or not challenging but impossible. Your job is to step behind and to help to guide.
Sometimes you’re guiding by what we call co-experiencing. The child is interested in learning about their world, and they may be pointing things out to you with words, with gestures, and you’re helping them to interpret, to make meaning in their world in a way that they can understand. You are also functioning as a primary reference point when that child seeks you out. Again, it’s that child providing the initiation, the desire to understand new things, to ask you to help them to understand to make sense of things, that is the key.
A lot of times this process does not get completed. People get involved in RDI, and they get stuck in now knowing how to make that transition from the very beginning where we’re building up what we call emotional attunement and that sense of we together feeling good together and then transitioning to becoming a guide. I think that’s where people get stuck. The most important thing on the road to dynamic intelligence, on the road to be able to guide the development of your child’s mind, is to make that transition so that you really are experiencing what it’s like to function as the guide, not the engine. You’ll know that you’re doing that because you won’t be worry about how to motivate your child to be with, what activity I need to do now. I don’t know what activity. You won’t have all that anxiety about how to energize, how to provide the energy, which is not your job to do.
You’ll be focusing more on what you might want to do to steer it, and you won’t be acting as much or doing as much. You’ll be thinking more about when not to do something and when to take a step back and when to take a step forward. You won’t be feeling that exhaustion having to continually act and act and act. You won’t be directing as much. Guiding is not directing.
I think that is the key transition to make. When we see that that’s been established, then we can use the guiding relationship to develop the mind in all these wonderful ways that we have available to do that through what we’ve developed.
Kat Lee: Back to me looking at the guide, sometimes we consultants will hear, “Well, I need activities because they’re bored. They don’t like this,” but what they don’t understand, and I understand why they don’t, is that wouldn’t be an issue if all that you’re saying here was in place.
Dr. Gutstein: They’re bored because they’re limiting their own growth seeking. They’re still afraid of things, of trying new things. Also, one of the other things that we see is that it’s not about new activities all the time. I talk a lot about myself and my grandson who’s now two and a half and does not have autism, but we don’t have new activities all the time. He wants to do the same types of things, but we keep expanding what they are whether that’s yard work, playing with his trains. He has a set of things to do, and it’s not that we’ll never do new things, but we don’t have a need to because within the things we’re doing he’s always reaching for more. He’s always trying to figure out a way we can make the game we’re playing a little more interesting or varied. If I do introduce something, he’s very excited by that. If I try to control it, he’s not, but if I try to say, “Oh, what about we try it this way?”, he’s very excited in doing that.
If you’re feeling that need to set up new activities, it means you don’t have a guiding relationship yet, and it means we have to work rather than on activities, we have to work on using the activities we have to create experiences for that child where they can perceive the good feelings that come from mastery, that come from expanding, that come from seeing themselves have more ability in the world, ability to influence, ability to regulate, and that they can capture those experiences. Now, you can create activities, and the child can be smiling and laughing, but they don’t necessarily retain any memories of themselves growing and becoming more than they were.
One of the most important things is to make sure, and we try to work on that very, very powerfully now, to find ways that they can perceive themselves as growing and as becoming more. As gaining. As working towards struggling a little bit, to feeling challenged a little bit, and then triumphing and succeeding and perceiving themselves capable of doing that. See that as coming out of the guiding relationship. Making sure we’re creating those experiences is very important. If we see a child who is still bored all the time or he’s not that interested in being guided or being with you, the reason that they’re needing more and more activities is because they don’t yet perceive that the main goal for them and the main excitement for them is their own growth, is their own development, their own learning from their own experience, their own meeting new challenges and overcoming them and benefiting from them. They don’t perceive that yet. They don’t have that desire for mastery we have to build in.
New activities aren’t going to do that. They’re going to do just the opposite. That’s a cautionary statement, and we haven’t yet seen a child where that’s not possible, where we can’t do that. We want to make sure we’re focused on that. We get frantic. We get anxious. We start worrying about activities. We’re just going to get into a dead end, and we’re going to frustrate ourselves and the child as well and get stuck.
Kat Lee: I think, too, that there’s this almost checklist. You and I, I remember a long time ago, we had a conversation about checklists. You were really kind because you said, “Of course people understandably like to be able to check things off, but when it comes to guiding as a parent, it’s not checklist. You don’t today by Tuesday I have these things that give me the guiding relationship. A process of this nature does take time.”
Dr. Gutstein: It does take time. Of course, it’s not just time. It takes time, and it takes the recognition of what you’re trying to achieve and focus on that. That’s why it’s so important to know that if we need to focus on building that motivation, that needs to be the primary focus we have and not be distracted by so many other things that might be on a checklist and worry, “Oh. He doesn’t have this yet. Let’s do this, this, this, this, this, this, this.” If you miss out the primary goal, then we don’t establish a guiding relationship. Then we’re not going to be able to check off all those very high level mental skills, abilities, and knowledge that we need to function in the real world. Those will never get checked off. The key is we have to focus on that first. That’s a foundation to have, because that is what we know. We know this from years and years of research that that is the key to all these higher level mental abilities. There isn’t any other way that we learn them as a child.
Kat Lee: I think, too, and I understand this as well, inadvertently sometimes parents have a checklist for their child that they can’t get out of their mind. I see this at times with my newer guides. Though they’re understanding what I’m saying, the reality of it is they keep looking for eye contact. They keep looking for these things. They keep looking for those little what we’ve called products essentially in their children. I know there’s a lot of history themselves a lot of times from that, from other well meaning folks who’ve got their own checklists that they share. Nothing worse than having a speech or, not throwing those things under the bus, but those kinds of assessments that show you everywhere that you need to get checked off. This isn’t that, and it can be really hard. The children are so brilliant. They sniff out those demands real quickly if you’re trying to get something from them.
Dr. Gutstein: Now, you can have your own mental checklist. When we’re building this motivation, you can look for certain things and sort of check them off in your head. Is this child more excited to be with me? Is this child more interested in what they can do with their current frameworks or activities than needing something new all the time? Are they complaining less about being bored? Are they initiating more interest in getting help with understanding their world around them? Are they interested in exploring new things?
We can give you a nice checklist, and that can replace the other checklist that you have. There’s nothing wrong with having that mental checklist in your head, because it tells you that you’re on the right track. As long as you can keep focused on that, there’s no reason you can’t do that. Be very specific about, “Does the child remember themselves having something hard that they were doing, and then being able to accomplish it and feel the satisfaction of that, of being challenged and then succeeding? Of seeing that they can do something new they hadn’t done before? Of seeing that they can expand something and continue to grow it? Any activity? Of seeing themselves becoming more competent?” It’s a wonderful checklist to have, and I think we should have those checklists in our heads. Make sure that we stay focused on what we want to achieve.
Kat Lee: It’s almost, for me, like making sure I have the right checklist in my head.
Dr. Gutstein: There you go. There you go. Not checklist of all these peripheral things that are going to distract from what is critical and what is most important.
Kat Lee: Thanks for joining us for “ASD: A New Perspective,” the podcast show where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child. We encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee. See you next time.