This week, I had the pleasure to interview RDI Program Consultant, Sarah Wayland

What is your background? How did you find RDI?

Sarah Wayland RDI Certifed Consultant

Sarah Wayland, PhD, RDI Certified Consultant

I have a PhD in cognitive psychology, with a specialty in psycholinguistics (how people understand and produce language). I have worked with people who have stroke-related language processing challenges, designed voice user interface software systems, and studied human-computer interactions.

Meanwhile, my kids came along and had their own language processing challenges. My older son could read before he could speak; he communicated by putting magnetic letters on the fridge. He was eventually  diagnosed with a language delay. Later, both of my sons were diagnosed with ASD. Our local public school system started offering RDI to families with kids on the spectrum. My husband and I were blown away by what we were seeing in our 9 and 13 year old kids.

What is your favorite part of being an RDI consultant?

I’ve been a consultant since May of 2014. A lot of parents come to me feeling like they can’t parent their kid; at some point during the process they start to feel like they can. I love it when I see them make that shift to feeling competent. Instead of me sending them ideas, they are asking, “What about this? What if I tried that?” It’s so exciting to see them looking to themselves, realizing they have the power & knowledge.

What is unique about the way you work?

I support families who know that “something’s up” and don’t know what to do to help their child. RDI perfectly complements my other role of special needs care navigator. I give parents the power and information to do for themselves what they need to do for their child. I want them to learn how to go and figure it out on their own.

I also run workshops for parents of challenging children. Parents will sometimes take other parenting classes and feel like failures because those other approaches don’t work for them. The curriculum for my class was created by a developmental pediatrician who emphasizes the need to customize your approach. Together we’ve updated his curriculum to include many of the principles I’ve learned through RDI.

Is there a moment you especially treasure about working with an RDI family?

I had a family who had a child had a major feeding disorder. Eating together is so important for families, and when you have a child who has trouble eating, it profoundly disrupts family life. I was having them eat together as an RDI activity and I asked the parents to very deliberately, slowly eat without placing demands on the child. The mealtime completely shifted! The child went from fighting them about everything to loving to eat with them.

I had never seen the power of the guiding relationship during mealtime before. It was such an amazing thing. I realized, watching the family’s videos, that that is why the guiding relationship was such a big deal. The child was overcoming his other major challenges because he was so excited about eating WITH his parents.

Tell me about your perfect day.

I’d go to a cabin in the mountains with no electricity (but a comfortable bed and a dry roof over my head) – just me, my family and a big pile of books, and nothing to do but cook and putter around and go hiking.

What else do you want people to know about you?

While I was getting certified I was also working on co-editing a book called Technology Tools For Students With Autism. I’m seen as an expert in technology because of my background in software engineering. I believe in the transformative power of technology. I’ve seen incredible things happen when previously nonverbal children are given assistive communication tools. But, to be honest, I have really conflicted feelings about it because so many people are forgetting the human connection – which is where it needs to start – because they are drawn in to the technology. Technology has the power to transform our lives, but it also has the power to disconnect us from each other. I think this reflects a larger struggle in our society as a whole. I love RDI because I believe in the transformative power of connection.

Sarah Wayland:

Vicki Parnell lives in Burnaby, British Columbia with her husband, Jeff, and their two marvelous teenagers. She is an avid cook, a distance runner, a voracious reader, and she travels whenever she can. As an RDI consultant, Vicki wants to empower parents as the experts on their own children, and restore a sense of hope and confidence to families affected by ASD. To contact Vicki, visit



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