In this episode of “Autism: A New Perspective,” Kat is joined by Betty Adkins, M.S., an RDI® Certified Consultant, RDI® parent, and developer of the RDI® Teacher Institute, to talk about RDI® and high school.
How Can We Help Our Children To Succeed in School?
- How can we, as parents, guide our children so that when they go to school, they are able to think dynamically?
- What other small tweaks can go a long way toward helping a child to be successful in school?
Related: Autism & Puberty: Do Sensory Challenges Make It Harder?
How Can We Work With Schools to Set Our Children Up for Success?
- What accommodations can we ask for during the IEP process that will help the child?
- What kind of scaffolds can teachers provide in their classrooms to help?
- What are some ways that we can work with our child’s teachers to set the student up for success?
RDI® Allows Parents and Teachers To Work Together
Teachers want to help autistic students, but are not always taught what they need to know and are often feeling overwhelmed in their role already. Many teachers, speech therapists and others working in the public school system don’t know how to teach dynamic thinking to autistic children. In fact, they are often taught that dynamic thinking isn’t possible with autism.
However, with RDI®, Parents and teachers can learn from one another and work together to set the child up for success.
Ready to see what RDI® is all about?
Autism: A New Perspective is Available on iTunes!
Kat Lee: Welcome back to Autism: A New Perspective, the podcast show where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child, and we always encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee, and in this week’s podcast we have a special guest, Betty Adkins, an RDI consultant and also a teacher who spent years in the field in RDI as a teacher and helping teachers in schools understand how to implement RDI principles in the classroom. Let’s listen in. Well, I’m so happy to be with Betty Adkins who is one of my favorite people, both as a person but also as a professional. Betty, I would love to tell everybody about all the wonderful things you’ve done, but I’m going to let you talk about your background and specifically in our topic, we’ll be talking about high school and RDI. I know you have so much experience.
Betty Adkins: Well, thank you, Kat. It’s nice to join you today. I have been an educator my entire adult life, worked with students with autism spectrum disorder beginning in 1992 but realised that I had some kids who were undiagnosed way back in the late ’70s. Looking back, they were not diagnosed with autism but that’s who they were. Always worked with kids with special needs and loved that population. I became an RDI consultant in 2007? No, 2009. [chuckle] It’s been a while, while ago. But I’ve had a very small practice because I worked for a very large public school system and my goal was to bring RDI into that school system as a way to support parents. And that’s how that started and then it evolved into a teacher training initiative for the last couple of years that I was still employed with the system. That was quite interesting. I’ve worked with kids from infant and toddler age all the way up through high school age. So kind of across the board.
KL: I think as consultants, so many of us have families say, how can I get RDI principals into school, period? But I have an awful lot of parents of high school students who think it would just be so wonderful to just somehow get those principals to teachers to help them guide and interact with their students. I’m sure you and I could talk hours about the kind of things we’re going to talk about today, but what are some of the obstacles that you’ve seen? And I also want to talk in the positive because I know that you have had success with helping teachers who want so much to help our children.
BA: Right. And teachers do want to help. They really do want to help. And many of them are just absolutely overwhelmed, particularly now. I mean, it’s after the pandemic, it’s been really difficult for teachers. One thing that I think that when I’ve had families working with the schools is to think about from the family side of things, really knowing what’s important. And a lot of times our families go into those meetings and they’re so focused on the things that the school is doing wrong, they end up with these horribly adversarial meetings. Well, you’re not going to get these teachers on your side that way. You have to start off with really thinking, what is a reasonable expectation for the school to do, right? And even slowly talking about wanting that your goal is for the kids to be more dynamic thinkers, and how do you do that in a classroom? Just little pieces about how you as a parent guide the child rather than telling them what to do. How do you use that indirect influence first to allow the child time to think? Little pieces like that help the teacher understand that you’re not expecting them to make sure the child does everything right. That you’re allowing that child to make a mistake and to guide them.
KL: How do you in the years that you’ve done this, how do you introduce these little big goals that we have? Are there any that you focus on to help teachers?
BA: I focus a lot on communication, moving away from that imperative communication into using declarative language, allowing the child processing time. That in and of itself takes care of a lot. Really, particularly if the teachers already have in place the type of scaffolds that you see most of our kids need. They need those visual supports in a classroom. They need the structure. They need those things that make a teacher a good teacher to start off with. But once those things are in place, little small tweaks around changing your language style when you’re working with the child, allowing them that extra processing time, those little things go a long way towards helping a child be more successful and to be able to think more. If I go to an IP meeting with a family or from when I was still in the school system side of things, talking to the teachers about modifying the amount of homework, say, a child has, because the real work of RDI, of course, is done in the home with the family. And if they’re spending all of their time doing homework for school, there’s not a lot of time left for guiding. Little tweaks like that, modifying the IP for the child that says that there’s a different amount of homework, which is something that can be done and many parents don’t understand that part of the IP process.
KL: I think that’s amazing information for us. How much do you feel like teachers benefit from understanding our full one step ahead model and understanding when a child is being over-challenged?
BA: When doing teacher training, that’s one thing that most teachers understand very, very well. Most teachers have a good background in child development. They’re required to, so they understand that. You bring up Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development and all the heads start nodding and you go, oh, okay, so you do understand this. So how can you back this up so that the child has an active role in the learning process? Those things, a lot of times the teachers just haven’t taken the time to think that through.
KL: That is kind of interesting because then you can have the students have, you know, either they won’t do the work or they don’t want to do, but it’s because we’ve gotten too far ahead where they feel confident, but it makes so much sense that when you kind of break it down developmentally for the teachers, of course, it speaks to them.
BA: Well, right. And as the last year I was in the classroom, I was teaching eighth grade English to students who were reading on a second or third grade level. Some of them lower than that. And some of my colleagues were amazed that I could get to the meat of the curriculum by really making major adaptations in what I presented and how I presented it. My kids were supposed to do a TED talk. You know, these are kids who were minimally verbal, many of them. Their TED talks were amazing. They were three to five minutes long, nothing as long as a regular TED talk, but they had something they were passionate about. They were able to talk about it. And it was that really backing off of the curriculum at the grade level and backing back to where developmentally, where are they? And as teenagers, these guys, all of my students should have been in high school already and they were all not, but they had passions that they wanted to talk about. They had things that they wanted to share their thoughts on. So having them do this format of a TED talk, they could do it if you broke it down enough for them. And that’s what RDI is all about, is breaking all these steps down to where they can have an active role, right? Nobody’s telling them exactly what to do.
BA: They understand that these are their thoughts. And they loved doing this. They went and interviewed the principal about those school rules and things like that. And so having them be active participants at their level was really very important for them.
KL: Well, one of the things I love about you is how passionate you are. [laughter] And I think I’m sure teachers who have been with you have felt that from you as well. I know that we have parents and educators who listen to our podcasts. What would you say to parents? How can they introduce RDI into their schools? What would be the strong points to bring up when they’re in those meetings?
BA: Yes, I think it’s pieces of helping the parent understand. You understand when your child is not regulated and dysregulated and understanding that when they’re not regulated, they’re not able to learn. We know that. And help the teachers to understand and say, my goal is for him to be regulated in school. And these are some things that help him at home. So that when I’m challenging him in a skill that’s a little more difficult, right at his edge of competence, I want to make sure he’s regulated. What are some things he might need to do before he does a math test or before he has to present to the class if he’s doing something like that? What are some steps to take so that they have a good understanding of the ways to help this child stay regulated throughout the day?
KL: And I think we’re dealing with so many precious individual students. We have a high school just at the corner here from where I live. That is a big place, Betty. [laughter] That looks like one of our community colleges at this point. I mean, it’s just huge with a huge parking lot that’s full every single morning with student drivers and buses. So when I think about the number of students that high school teachers are seeing on a daily basis, and that’s why I wanted to visit with you, because I think giving them those tools to helping them help the children, which is why they’re there, is so important. And so I think I’d like to kind of think about if we have an educator watching, what can we tell them about RDI that would really cause them to want to think further about using some of those principles?
BA: Well, Kat, one of the things that we’ve done often, I’ll point teachers and often parents too, to the declarative language handbook and the co-regulation handbook that drawn a complete blank.
KL: Linda Murphy.
BA: Linda Murphy, who is so wonderful, you know, and so those are all based on RDI principles, right? So having teachers read those, that has been very helpful. In our last teacher training that Sarah Wayland and I did, it got interrupted by COVID and we still had six weeks to go. So we actually did a book study and studied the declarative language handbook. And it was quite interesting to see the educators change as time went on through that, just that book study. So you can often get a buy-in from educators that way. Looking at some of the, on the RDI site, the community part that is available for people who are not working with consultants, that has been helpful to some families and to some educators. So I might guide them that way as well.
KL: And as an educator yourself, who you just have worn so many hats and you still are wearing so many hats, what would you say RDI brought to you as an educator?
BA: So when I first started studying RDI, I went to one of Dr. Gutstein’s, one of the two days back in, I think it was in Jacksonville, Florida. And I remember coming back and thinking, this is the missing piece. This is what I’ve been missing. This is why I’m not connecting with my students the way I want to. This is what I need to know. And it took me two years to convince my husband that I needed to do this. [laughter] But I started the RDI training and the whole time my goal was to bring it into the schools. And I remember having discussions with Dr. Sheely and Dr. Gutstein about it and just feeling very frustrated with that. I was in the process at that point, I was a specialist in the school system I worked in and I was designing programs and designing classrooms. I ended up incorporating everything I learned into my teaching of teachers. And you could see the way the teachers interacting with the kids changed. You have to slow down. You have to build that relationship. Just like we often have parents just sitting with their kids with no demand and no expectation, right? In order to build that bond and that relationship, that whole piece of co-regulation.
BA: If you can get teachers to take some time, and I found it usually is the special educators that can do it, the speech and language pathologists that can do it, the occupational therapist, those special professionals that are not running a classroom full-time are the ones that can bring those pieces in. Even having a speech therapist who was trying to talk about memory and talking about having a family send pictures of things they did that weekend so that the speech pathologists could use declarative language to talk about episodic memory and build those things. They’re open to that. The teachers are open to that. The speech and language pathologists often have never thought about doing something a little bit outside of the box that way. They appreciate having parents who actually know a little bit and can help guide them because most of them don’t know how to work with our students. They know ABA. They know how to teach those static skills, but they don’t know how to teach the dynamic thinking. Many of them think that our kids can’t learn it, which is what’s so sad to me.
KL: And they all know that dynamic thinking is so key. It’s key to one’s best life, right? It’s not a matter of not knowing that it is, but understanding that every human being has that potential.
BA: Right. And if you give up on focusing on it, then of course the child’s never going to learn it. And that whole building of independence and building the skills to be independent and those abilities to think a little bit differently. And our kids do learn from their experiences, and they learn to think.
KL: And thank you for joining us for Autism: A New Perspective, the podcast show where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child. And we always encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee. See you next time.