In the latest episode of RDIconnect’s podcast series, ASD: A New Perspective, Dr. Rachelle Sheely, co-founder of the RDI Model talks about HOPE for your children with autism using examples of children who have gone through the RDI program.
Dr. Sheely: I had an experience last Saturday and I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I thought it might be something we could talk about today. So I thought I’d throw it out too. Anyway, last Saturday I was meeting with a young man I’ve been meeting with, actually for two years, I meet with his parents and I meet with him because he’s an older teenager. The first thing that he ever said to me when he came in was, “You know I fired my last therapist and you could be next.” So he was not happy about being there.
Kat Lee: Okay, there you go.
Dr. Sheely: And I felt like saying, “Well I hope so,” But anyway a very, very involved kid, a lot going on, a lot of things to manage. But this last Saturday, he’s going into high school with no support, he’s really doing well and he came up on his own with six things he’s accomplished. What I liked about the conversation was that these six things show a self-reflection, they show the hard work he’s done, they actually kind of document the guiding relationship he had with his parents. So, anyway, I didn’t know if that was something you’d be interested in talking about today.
Kat Lee: Oh, of course, yes, I know we’ll all love to hear, yes.
Dr. Sheely: So how should we get started?
Kat Lee: I think just talking about him and his experiences and what he shared with you and kind of how you looked at those experiences and then how other people can think of about those vis-a-vis their own children or themselves in case of other students in his situation.
Dr. Sheely: Well Katherine one of the things that I wanted to talk to you about today was a young man where I’m feeling the work that he’s been doing with himself and what the parents have been doing with him have led to some really incredible insights. He’s 15 years old, when I started seeing him he was just 13, or almost 13, and he was a very involved young man. Involved not only with things that were going on the spectrum but with some seizures and some other indicators of incredible anxiety. So the work that we did was a combination of work with both the parent and with this young man. Where he used to have meltdowns over throwing flowers away because he couldn’t stand the change, the meltdown would last for 20 minutes or longer and he would be thinking about it a week later. Or the soccer ball got kicked over the fence and what if the neighbor’s dog slobbered on it. He just couldn’t get past it, literally these meltdowns that went on and on. He just couldn’t rectify them, so when I think about someone who is really successful I think about this family because the parents did the hard work every single day. In the beginning, the work was really hard. He did the hard work too, he wanted to do it. He didn’t have much hope but I think he wanted to do it.
Dr. Sheely: So he went from a small private school with just a few children when I met him to a pretty big middle school. The parents did go to school, they did support him and he had some teachers that he could talk to. He never had help in the classroom but he did have some support from various staff members at the school. A lot of bullying, a lot of things like that. Every day when he got out of the car, his dad said to him, “Who’s my favorite, son?,” and he would say, “I am.” And his dad would say, “Who loves you more than anybody in the world? “You do dad.” And then his dad would say, “And who always has your back?” He’d say, “You have my back.” Every day, there was this conversation he had every day. So you can see that this family put into play everything they could put into play to help this young man.
Dr. Sheely: So, he’s going to high school and he’s very excited about going to high school, excited about driving a car come January, I guess. This last Saturday or last week when he came in, I said, “You know you’re going into high school, you’re ready for it, you’re excited about it. It’s going to be a good year.” “But I was wondering if you remembered when we first started meeting and when your parents and I first started meeting?” He said, “Yeah”. And he remembered actually a lot of things. He remembered some very painful things, he remembered hurtful things, and I said, “I wonder if you can describe for me the changes that have occurred over the past two years?” It’s a hard question, think about it because you’re thinking about two years, you’re dredging up things that you would prefer not to think about and you also have to have the ability to kind of step outside yourself and look back at yourself and say, this is what I think went on.
Dr. Sheely: So he came up with things and the first thing that he came up with was I am okay with change. He said, “In fact, I like change.”
Kat Lee: Wow.
Dr. Sheely: And “I’m excited about going to high school. I like that it’s a brand new high school.” “I like that I’m going to be taking subjects I’ve never taken before.” Then he said, “Do you remember how I hated change?” I really remember because he really did hate change. I said “Yeah.” And he said, “Remember I couldn’t even stand it when dead flowers got thrown out.” I remember that. I said, “Well what else, what else are you thinking about in going into high school?” “Well, I am very responsible for my homework now.” He said, “And in fact, I’m a responsible person. My parents don’t have to tell me to do things because I’m responsible and I go ahead and do them on my own.” He said, “This summer I took an online course in science because when I grow up I know what I want to be and I knew this was going to be a hard course for me in high school. So I took an online course to get caught up on it. I did that on my own.”
Dr. Sheely: Okay, so far I’m thinking, wow, this is great. Then he said something that I think went to the heart of everything that his family has done with him and he said, “I feel like I’m a person with a good heart now.” Well, I think you have a good heart. He said, “Do you remember when I used to be really mean to somebody in my family because we were on vacation and they couldn’t walk as fast as I could walk and we had to wait for them?” I said, “I do remember that.” He said, “Well that person lives with me now and I fix tea for her every night and I take her for walks.” He said, “And because she speaks another language, I’ve learned that language, and I talk to her in that language.”
Kat Lee: Wow, wow.
Dr. Sheely: Anyway, so we’re to number three and I’m sitting there really in tears, in tears because it’s all true and it’s an every day experience with him. He said, “Well let’s keep going.” He said, “Well a really important thing about me that is my character.” I love the word the character, “I never give up.” And I said, “Well I think that’s true but what do you mean by that?” So he told me a story about he and somebody in his family wanting to bicycle the MS 150 which means you ride from Houston to Austin, which is 150 miles, and you raise money for charity. So the first year he did it, I don’t remember how far he got but I’m thinking it was maybe 30 miles, and then the second year he made it halfway. He said, “But you know, I kept working.” I said, “Yes you did.” And the third year he made it the whole 150 miles.
Kat Lee: Wow.
Dr. Sheely: “I never give up.” I said, “I know you don’t give up.” Then he said, “Another thing that I’ve been working on and I think I’m pretty good at now is a sense of humor.” He gave me a couple of examples where things have been a little bit upsetting to him and he’s used humor to counter them. Then he told me what I think is the best story ever. On Father’s Day, I said to my father, “It’s Fathers Day, shouldn’t you be talking to your own mother instead of playing with these kids that are at the house?” His dad said, “Well you know I’ve devoted my whole life to children, and so I have taken on the way my father was with children when I deal with these children, so that’s how I honor him.” He said, and I thought about that, and I thought wow, I need to do that too. So I went to my grandmother and I honored her on Father’s Day he said, “Because my dad is my role model.”
Kat Lee: Wow.
Dr. Sheely: So I wanted to share that because sometimes we get hung up on the minutia of the problems that our children deal with and how to help them move forward. But when I look at this young man entering high school, everything in me says, he’s good to go.
Kat Lee: I just imagine the hope you’re giving people you know just citing the examples you gave me where he came from and where he was even at his teenage years and look where he is. So many parents feel guilty about where their children are at 12 or 13 and the loss of hope at that point, and look at two years.
Dr. Sheely: In two years so that’s where he was when he came in he was fairly old to be getting started, I mean, I don’t think it’s too old but he was fairly old and older than most kids and this is where he is now.
Kat Lee: So as a clinician, and this is a hotbed question, you don’t have to answer.
Dr. Sheely: Okay.
Kat Lee: Did you picture that inside two years?
Dr. Sheely: No, I didn’t actually because we weren’t able to clear the smoke enough to see what was there. We didn’t know his potential because the meltdowns and the anxiety were just sucking all of the energy out of the room. It was only when we were able to begin to clear the air in some ways that we began to see the potential. What we know about RDI is it’s a remedial program and we don’t always know your potential in the beginning but we know that whatever your potential is we can help you get there. That’s the way I view him and I viewed him that way in the beginning but I had no idea what the potential was or the potential of the family because the family did this work. So I didn’t know because he was just so involved.
Kat Lee: I think about and you said at the beginning, you called it hard work of the family, and I think about how old he was and how they had to, of course, they love him, but they had to make a change in their life. Which is harder and harder as your kids get older, all kids, change becomes more difficult. They had to, this change took really hard work. I think that’s a struggle for people. Not that they don’t love their children but it seems daunting sometimes.
Dr. Sheely: I think it can be daunting and I think it’s especially daunting when you consider that you’re not just going to sit down for five minutes a day and do something. You really are changing your perspective, you’re changing your interaction, you’re changing the environment of the house in which you live. You’re not the only people in that house. But you are changing it and it has to be done if you’re going to make this kind of progress.
Kat Lee: It has to be done and he had to have them do it. He couldn’t do it on his own, he had to have them.
Dr. Sheely: He could never have done this on his own and I think with his father saying to him every day, “Who’s got your back?,” and going through those three statements every day, it was in his mind. You know you could say, oh that’s just a rote thing, but his dad meant it, and he knew his father meant it, and so by saying that every day, it was amazing. It was a set up for what happened.
Kat Lee: I think it was, it may have been a daily thing but it was a daily true thing and he knew it. And I know my daughter, my husband never talked to her without saying I love you, and just because they always make sure they say it doesn’t mean they don’t mean it, you know what I’m saying. They make sure they say it. So I feel guilty if I don’t. Hindsight. Because it’s a thing for both of them and my husband’s always been like that, to say that to people quite close to him, and she picked that up from him. But she means it and I think that had to, you know how they talk about empty and full cups, that helped keep his cup full even when other people…
Dr. Sheely: Because yes it does, doesn’t it?
Kat Lee: Yeah.
Dr. Sheely: I didn’t know that story but it’s a wonderful story to hear.
Kat Lee: So, I mean I can only imagine, I know how this impacts his family but I think it impacts you too. I mean you’re a part of that outcome. How does that make you feel?
Dr. Sheely: What it says to me is that you never give up. You keep moving forward, and if you do it in a sequential straightforward way, and you keep going at the core of what you need to address, and for me the core is always where’s your child going to be at age 21, you keep going toward that and you keep your feet in that pathway, you’re going to get there. You may not know exactly what that is when you start but you’re certainly going to be able to remediate the child’s potential.