Getting to the Heart of the Child

by | Sep 16, 2015 | Basics of Autism, Parenting

This week’s guest blog post was written by RDI consultant, Carmen Augustin.

Tim’s mom and I were about to swing Tim in the parachute again, an activity he enjoyed. We both nodded excitedly with big smiles on our faces, using everything we had to invite him to climb in – except for the spoken word. He looked at us with bewilderment and then took his index finger, put it under his chin, and began to lift his head up and down, forcing himself to nod, and asked, “What does it mean when you are doing this?” He was 8 years old. The quote is exact – he had beautiful language, yet he did not understand a head nod.

A moment can illuminate and transform.

When I glanced at Mom, I could see it was just as revealing to her as it was to me. We were in the early stages of our RDI® work, and it was clear that we were on the right path. We created a small moment of uncertainty that gave her son a small moment of discovery. He could figure things out that previously had simply been too confusing, often resulting in withdrawal from social situations. Not this time. This time he persisted and there was no turning back.

RDI® was developed by Dr. Steven Gutstein and Dr. Rachelle Sheely of the Connection Center in Houston. It is a developmental model of therapy based on typical child development. We empower parents to take on the active role of guide to their children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to create dynamic learning opportunities. RDI® recognizes the extraordinary power of the parent-child relationship. The program restores the typical parent-child relationship, in which parents guide their children through an uncertain, confusing, and challenging world. There is no better person for this journey than the child’s mother or father.

Related: RDI Program Mission

We know that ASD interferes with children’s ability to integrate or retain the typical learning opportunities that begin at birth with parents.

RDI® is an opportunity to invite that process in again with the knowledge that the child has unique challenges in participating in the dance between parent and child.

If we can slow down the music, then we can give our children not just the ability to dance, but the desire. Parents are the catalyst for remediation in the RDI® program through their role as guides. Gutstein explains this role in his recent book:

The Guided Participation Relationship (GPR) is the cornerstone of parent-child functioning in every society on earth. In this special type of collaboration, an experienced guide carefully prepares situations in which a less experienced apprentice can productively struggle with uncertainty and challenge. Guides carefully balance establishing a safe environment in which the apprentice can feel competent, with cognitive challenges that are just a bit ahead of the current level of the apprentice’s understanding and stretch the apprentice’s mental functioning. This creates the impetus for the formation of more complex and more highly integrated neural networks. Learn more

Carmen Augustin, MSW, LCSW, has over 25 years experience working with children, teens, and young adults with autism spectrum disorders and their families. She is a partner in Sweeney, Augustin, and Associates, a private practice located in Skokie, Illinois, providing comprehensive services to children with special needs and their families. Ms. Augustin is a Relationship Development Intervention Program Certified Consultant, receiving her training and supervision from Dr. Steven Gutstein and Dr. Rachelle Sheely of the Connections Center in Houston. She co-authored “I feel like I got my baby back,” which was included in the book titled My Baby Can Dance: Stories of Autism, Asperger’s and Success through the Relationship Development Intervention® (RDI®) Program. Ms. Augustin is on the professional advisory boards of the Autism Society of Illinois. She has presented at numerous conferences on the subject of autism and RDI®.


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