This week in “The Heart of RDI®”, Dr Steven Gutstein talks about Guides being the key to success and the importance of parents focusing on themselves, as Guides, first.
Kat Lee: Hello, and welcome back to ASD, A New Perspective. The podcast show where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child. And we do encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m [Kat Lee 00:00:24] and we continue our series the heart of RDI. In this podcast, Dr.Gutstein and I continue to discuss parents as guides being key and the need for parents to focus on themselves first as guides.
I always tell parents, you know we all have different personalities. I can get organized, I can pre plan and prepare, I can check off all those kind of administrative checklists, but this checklist is so much more important than that in the process sense.
Dr. Gutstein: Of course, and as a parent you have your own checklist about yourself too. Am I feeling less anxious about activities? Am I feeling less worried about the child withdrawing from me? Am I feeling more excited about what we’re doing together? Am I feeling more at ease about it? Am I looking forward to it more? Right? Those are wonderful items on the checklist that you can have as well. Absolutely. That it really is nice to think of it that way and just think, “Well, if a checklist helps you, it’s great to be able to do that in your mind.” Or on paper, you can put it on paper too.
Kat Lee: Absolutely, it’s so key, and it’s something that you and I had discussed talking about, which was, you have these checklists for your child, but your child can be ready to move forward. But as a parent, if you’re still feeling that anxiety when you go into engagements, if you’re still feeling all those feelings, we’ll just kind of put them in a bucket.
Dr. Gutstein: That’s right.
Kat Lee: You need to think about yourself and that’s not a bad thing, it’s a critical thing.
Dr. Gutstein: Actually, and you need to see what…you need to be able to define success for yourself. If success is every time you move a step closer initially to becoming a guide, that’s when you’re successful. And every time you learn something that’s going to help you, even if it’s a mistake, even if it’s something that didn’t work out, every time you learn something that you can apply to help you to move closer to your child being as I said, the engine, the active apprentice, and you being a guide, that’s a way to feel successful. I think we need to help parents. We need to keep pointing those small things out and help parents to proceed that those are good critical steps they might want to check off as well. “Hey, you know, I’ve learned something.” Even if it was for a mistake, which we all make, many, many times. Sometimes that’s the best way we learn. For something that didn’t work out, we learn, “Okay, now I figured out another way I can do it next time.” Or something, “A new way I can go over my mind.”
I think the most important thing is your mindset, that’s the checklist we’re talking about is, can I keep focusing my mind? What’s important here in the long run? Can I take a step back from the urgency, or the desperation of having to achieve a behavioral goal today? Or having to see something in development checked off. Can I take a step back and see in the long run how, if I can establish this relationship, it’s going to be the key to our growth together, tonight. Feeling competent as a parent to this child. Feeling confident into, ultimately their mental growth – and your self growth. I think that’s the key, it’s about which checklist.
You talk about it versus a ‘process versus a product’ checklist. And the guiding relationship is a process, so the first goal that we have in our program on the road to dynamic intelligence is the process. After that, once we start to then have a guiding relationship, we’re still focused on the process, but we start to get focused on mental processes. And we start to get focused on transferring these mental tools to our children, so that they can have access to that. So they can learn to use their minds in these very effective ways that we refer to as dynamic intelligence.
It’s still a process, but now it becomes a different process. So the product is the process. But if the first process is establishing that guiding, and remember the word is guiding. What does it mean to be a guide? It means you are to step back. It means you have someone you’re guiding. Guiding means you got someone there, you’re with, you’re in a relationship with who is very motivated to do something and is basically equivalent hiring you as a guide, sees you as their guide to do something. You don’t hire a guide if you’re not interested in something. If I go to another country, I’m going to pay money for a guide if I don’t care to learn something, or if I ask something.
Kat Lee: A tour guide to go nowhere.
Dr. Gutstein: A guide to a new culture, or a guide to teach me something new. It really is recognizing that’s where you want to be. You want to be in the position where your child is aware that you’re a guide, whether they used to mean or not, is not important. But functionally is seeing you in that essential role that their learning to function in a culture that they don’t know yet, and it takes a long time to know how to function. And they need a guide to learn how to use their own mind. In that culture, in that environment, it gets more and more complex, and more and more unpredictable, it’s stressful. And how do I use these tools in here? How do I develop some tools to be able to do that? They’re hiring you in a sense of their time, their energy, their excitement, not necessarily their money. And they’re petitioning you to do that for them.
The more you feel like you have to make that happen, or direct that to happen, you’re on the wrong track. If you can start to say, “Wait a minute, that’s not my goal. My goal isn’t to make something happen, make them, allow me into their life, or make them learn. But my goal is for them to petition me to see, come on, come on, let’s do some more. Come on.” That’s what it feels like to be a guide, and you’re saying, “Okay, I value you and I will guide you.” It’s a different contract.
We talk about renegotiating that, whereas in typical development, you don’t have to renegotiate because it starts out that way from the very beginning. And by the time a child is nine month, ten months, whatever, they are in a relationship. They are trying to take your time as much as they can, as much as their energy to guide them. They’re out there trying to figure things out, make sense of their world, to find meaning, to become more confident. They definitely know they need you for that, and they want you to hurry up and be there for them to do that.
In autism, that doesn’t develop naturally so we need to renegotiate in a sense the contract, but they have to become interested in renegotiating it, so we have to give them a preview and build up some motivation of what it’s like if they are functioning in that way, and we are guiding them of how that feels, how great that feels. That activates that drive when we do that enough. We build up enough of those experiences that make sense to them, those memories if you will, then that activates more of the internal intrinsic motivation. We don’t have to keep doing that forever. When that gets activated, then we can change our focus to how do we use that relationship to build their minds? It’s a critical change in emphasis, but the first part has to be emphasizing, activating that universal intrinsic desire for growth that is there. It’s there in every single person.
Kat Lee: I love what you’ve said as being little human beings that are being human. That’s what humans want.
Dr. Gutstein: That’s our humanist, our uniqueness, is that we have the ability, unlike other species to continue to grow through our life mentally. To continue to transcend ourselves. To continue to discover new aspects of ourselves and our relationships. To continue to manage more complex, unpredictable environments. To get better at it. To become experts in our world. Of living in our world. Experts, not only in some special areas, but experts in living in the world that we are in. And that we continue to get better, so we can continue to do that throughout our lifespan. We’re the only animal that can continue to do that and can continue to grow mentally.
That is what makes us unique and that’s what gets lost if we don’t have a guiding relationship. That’s what gets lost if we don’t trigger that intrinsic motivation for growth. The child loses that opportunity and you know the consequences are disastrous, if they don’t have that. I think it’s sad when people, without realizing it, sometimes experts imply that people with autism are so different, and their motivations are so different. The reason their motivations are different is out of fear and anxiety, and not having had the experience, and having to focus on survival and the fear of disruption, but not because they don’t have the same potential as anyone else. It’s just because the experiences they’ve had have not triggered this growth seeking.
Even in typically developing children, the essence of typical development is that there are experiences that activate these inherent motivations. You’re not necessarily born as a growth seeker. You’re born with the potential for growth seeking. But the first few months of life, infants are more motivated to maintain stability. To maintain sameness in their world, because it’s too overwhelming. It’s only gradually that as they feel more confident, and as the world starts to make sense to them a little bit more, we start to see that desire for growth seeking, and the ability to manage the emotions over feelings that go along with growth seeking, because that we start to see that come to place.
When you’re seeking growth, there’s going to be moments where you’re feeling disorganized, where you’re feeling things are disrupted, where you’re feeling like the world is a little bit fuzzy, or it doesn’t make sense. There’s going to be a tension there. There’s going to be any time you’re facing a challenge, there’s going to be a bit of uncertainty. There’s going to be a bit of not being sure about how to proceed. You’ve got to be able to both have, as a child, know that your relationship with your parents can buffer that and moderate it. Plus, that you have your own inner resources to manage that. And also, you have to have memories of going through that, and getting to the other side of it and feeling that excitement when you move from that state of little bit of anxiety, uncertainty, to success, which is an amazing feeling.
Got to have those things in place, and that, in typical development, we start to see that towards the end of the first year of life, and then it grows. So the growth seeking drive becomes activated and gradually comes to dominate. The stability maintaining, stability maintaining is always there. We go through crises, we go through loses, we have difficult days, periods. There are days where we want everything to stop and we don’t want anything new. It’s not like it goes away, it’s just, the balance changes. The emphasis changes. Whereas in autism, it doesn’t, and they don’t progress into the growth seeking being the dominant motivation. In fact, it doesn’t activate for them. But once we do activate it, once we take that potential that every human being has, and we provide the right experiences for it to be activated, then the potential of that child is unleashed. And through their relationship, anything is possible and it becomes quite exciting.
Kat Lee: I like to tell parents, we’re not talking about being super humans. We’re not talking about there’s no mistakes, or no bad days, or days where you just don’t feel like being together. That happens to all children and all parents.
Dr. Gutstein: And that’s a good point to make. We’re not talking about children who are constantly going to be growth seeking. I go back to my two and a half year old grandson, there’s time where he just doesn’t feel right, or he doesn’t feel well, and he wants to do the same thing, or he doesn’t want to do anything. Or he wants to sit in front the TV and watch Shaun the Sheep, which is his favorite TV now, favorite cartoon. And so it’s not, we’re not talking about perfection. There’s times where we’re going to make a lot of mistakes too, but we are to admit is the motivation that’s there. Is the thing that will continue to come back. There are going to be better days, but it’s internalized now to the point, it’s activated to the point where it can’t be lost anymore. You don’t have to worry about it going away, unless there’s some severe trauma, which can suppress that growth seeking for any human being right.
Barring that, it’s going to be there, and it becomes something that just is something we can take for granted and move on and use and take advantage of. That’s what it feels like to be a guide, and I think if parents realize that’s their goal, “I want to feel like a guide. I want to feel like that’s my primary role with my child, and understand what it means.” But again, step back. That child’s providing that energy, where you’re like helping with the guidance system. And again, if you have a neuro typically developing child in your child, you can remember that, or you can get access. But if you don’t then maybe you need to find other ways to understand that whether it’s to observe other relationships with people. Plus make some time with children more typically developing, and see the difference, see what you’re heading towards. Not to despair, but to have the goal of what you want to achieve so you can keep that in mind.
Kat Lee: And 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. And we encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee, see you next time.