Originally published in Autism World Magazine, May 2014. Click here to visit their site or to subscribe.
This article is written as a continuation of the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) series, a remediation program designed to be implemented by parents who aspire to build a closer relationship and dynamic thinking abilities with their ASD-diagnosed family member.
What are the conditions parents have to consider before signing up for an RDI program?
Starting anything new in general is not easy for anyone, because one must leave his/her comfort zone and commit to an unfamiliar territory. And for parents with special needs children, starting a new program often requires even bigger financial, physical, emotional, mental and time investments.
The initial process of an RDI program begins even before parents decide to sign up to work with a certified RDI consultant. If possible, it is critical that both parents meet with their potential RDI consultant and feel a ‘connection’ for a long term partnership in their autism remediation journey.
One of the most important foundations in a good RDI program is a high level of trust not only between parents and their child, but also between parents and their consultant. Thus parents should take their time to learn about the RDI program, and think about their readiness as a family unit prior to starting this new journey.
Two veteran certified RDI consultants, Sharon Bradbrook-Armitt and Lisa Palasti are both parents of a now young adult diagnosed with ASD. They reflected on their beginning journey of their RDI program and below were experiences they shared:
Commitment as a Couple
For both Sharon and Lisa, it was important that the learning process involved their spouses from the get go. This included arranging meetings with their partner’s presence, whether it was face to face or Skype meetings. Just like in any therapies, it is typical for one parent to take on a more active role as an ‘implementer’ at home, but in an RDI program it is critical that both parents understand what the current objective is. Both parents work as a team documenting their observations and input for their consultants to determine the next steps.
Sharon said for both her and her husband, they mentally told themselves that RDI was going to be their ‘best shot’. By believing in this together, they were able to invest time to see if RDI worked for them. In their case, they decided that they were going to temporarily put off other things, such as bio-med invention, in order to focus on their personal learning and making time to practice without getting distracted by other kinds of information.
Thus for many parents, the most important step is to get on the same page by having a heart to heart discussion on their readiness. This includes asking themselves if they could support each other through simplifying the family’s schedule, prioritizing goals, taking turns caring for siblings or giving each other time to have a break.
Setting up a Long Term Vision as Couples
When parents receive a diagnosis with a lifelong impact for their child, it is as if a huge curve ball is being thrown at them. This moment of uncertainty prompts a high level of anxiety in parents and endless research in finding solutions and cure. Parents might feel like they have a short window to try all kinds of treatments options available to their child.
One of the most universal challenges for parents raising a special need child is to set a vision not only for their child, but also for themselves and the rest of the family. Frequently out of crisis, a decision is made without thinking about the effects that may have on the rest of the family. Typically parents end up driving to multiple therapies, and very little time is spent for family quality time.
It is also easy for parents to put too much emphasis on future goals for their special needs child, without realizing that many basic foundations are still missing and can only be developed under the guidance of primary caregivers at home. For instance, every parent wishes that their child can play with his/her friends at school. However, without developing the ability for mutual engagement and communication competence with parents and siblings at home, focusing towards peer relationships at school is a tall order.
In an RDI program, partners are encouraged to set aside time to create or revisit their long term goals; what does their future look like and how do current interventions fit into it? Getting a clear goal as parents for what they want to see happen in their child’s future is critical because it ensures commitment to what parents should focus on in the mean time.
In just about any program implementation, there will be many celebratory moments where parents applaud and take pride in what their child has achieved, but there will also be plenty of moments where progress seems slow or non-existent. Having a mission as a ‘bulls eye’ in one’s mind helps parents to stay true to their short term goals and remain positive during rough times because the undoubtedly see the big picture at the end.
Time Commitment as a Couple
Sharon and Lisa both remembered that making time to learn and practice their RDI parent and child objectives was challenging at the beginning. For new parents (to the RDI program), implementing RDI principles is difficult when both parent and child are mentally and physically exhausted after a full day of rushing through activities. They both recommend using small moments throughout the day to think about a current objective and practicing in small increments.
For new families (to the RDI program), a detailed family schedule showing both parents’, the ASD child’s and neurotypical siblings’ activities frequently shows what can be simplified, what can be delegated or prioritized, as well as pockets of time for quality engagement opportunities.
In addition to allocating time to mindfully practice RDI objectives throughout their day, parents would also need to set aside time to evaluate video clips of their work with their child, as well as using RDI resources available on the online platform for personal growth.
Feeling Empowered as a Couple
Both Lisa and Sharon agreed that having their spouses/partners completely on board with the RDI program goals help them compliment each others work in the program. It is too easy to be critical of oneself, but a spouse/partner can help to put things into perspective when they give feedback or help watch the video clips of RDI activities.
Lisa remembered that RDI was going to be a big deal and life changing to their family, but the hard work needed to start with her and her husband. And that included being kind to herself in terms of her competency levels, as well as being encouraging to each other when things were not going well. It was a big shift to her to work on her own parenting goals, instead of relying on others to develop her son’s skills. She immediately felt empowered that as a family she was going to make a lifelong impact on her son’s life.
As RDI consultants, one of our favorite quotes to share with the families we work with is “Life is a marathon and not a sprint”, which is true for any parents raising their children. Embracing an RDI program as a lifestyle does get easier as parents become more competent, and the rewards of having a child finding a true joy in discovering what the world has to offer is well worth the hard work!
Maisie Soetantyo has been providing RDI supervision and training for families in California and Southeast Asia. She firmly believes that through daily mindful engagements parents can make a difference in their special needs children’s long term outcome. Maisie and her husband, Pete Dunlavey, are both seasoned certified RDI consultants and run destination 4 day RDI parent trainings around the world. For more information or to contact Maisie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.