Join Dr. Rachelle Sheely and RDI® consultant Kat Lee in the newest episode of ASD: A New Beginning; a podcast show from RDIconnect that helps you understand the mind of your child with autism better. In this episode Dr. Sheely and Kat discuss the fine line between making sure our children receive the support they need, while also making sure they are given the right space to grow, and how we should always be focusing on the adult the child will grow into.
Dr. Sheely: The thing that I’m thinking most about this year, when I think about autism, is where are the people, or autistics, where are they in terms of themselves? And how are they taking on the world from their own viewpoint and what does that viewpoint look like? And how do we come alongside and support that? And when is the support too much? When is it overcompensation? And when is it growth-promoting support? So that’s what I’m thinking about.
Kat Lee: Well I think it’s so wonderful you’re thinking about that and I think that’s where we need to be. But the path to get people in that mindset, particularly where they need support and where is our support maybe operating to a disadvantage, do you know what I mean?
Dr. Sheely: Yes. I mean this is a topic of conversation that I’ve had over and over again for many years now. I could start with having an assistant in the classroom. Because sometimes it is necessary, but often what happens is that the least capable person becomes the assistant to the child in the classroom and that person really doesn’t have the skill to help the person become independent of him. And if you think about RDI, we’re always asking, “How do we create independence? How do we create a learning situation where we’re not always needed?” We do it with parents, we do it with trainees who go through our program, and we want to do it with the children. And so an aide in the classroom may be necessary in the beginning, but the sole purpose of that aide should be to work him or herself out of a job.
Dr. Sheely: And I always have that in mind when I’m using some kind of a compensatory device. I mean there are some where you’re going to use them forever and that’s just gonna be the way it is. I mean if you literally cannot talk, then you need a soundboard or something. But for the most part, when we think about compensations, we’re thinking about them not as long term but as temporary compensations. And I think even in the workplace, we should be thinking about that. If people are going into the workplace, somebody who has autism and is gonna be there for awhile.
Kat Lee: I think it’s a beautiful way to think. I think, and I’m gonna speak on a difficult subject I think, I think that can be hard for parents to think about.
Dr. Sheely: Well of course. And I think it can be hard for any professional working with someone on the spectrum. I have to tell you that I think one of the problems that aides in the classroom have is that they fall in love with the kids. I mean they’re so cute and they adore them, and everything about them is like, “Let me do it for you. Oh the teacher said pick up your pencil, here pick up your pencil. Oh you’re so … ” So it’s not-
Kat Lee: You’re right. Man that just hit me, yeah.
Dr. Sheely: So for all of the right reasons they do wrong thing. And they’re not thinking, I mean you can think a child is cute and adore him, but you can also help him grow. And so the question should be, “How do I help you know that the teacher is telling you to pick up your pencil and write your name without me saying it again? What are the steps in there for you?”
Kat Lee: I think too, and I’ve thought about this like you for a number of years, I think too it is well-meaning but it’s also, if I’m that person, it’s my job. That’s my job, is to be here with so-and-so. So I may not be thinking about, as you say so beautifully, working my way out of a job. You see?
Dr. Sheely: Yeah. And so the issue of training becomes really important because I don’t feel this is an area that we give enough thought to. How do we create independence, not dependence? And are we always focused on where a child’s going to be at the age of 21? Or are we thinking about the spelling test? And if you’re thinking about the spelling test, you may not be giving enough thought to where the child’s going to be at the age of 21. And what becomes really hard is that it’s easier to work on a spelling test than it is to keep focused on independence as an adult. So not only does the aide have to be focused on that, so does the teacher and so do we as professionals. Because it’s easy to get caught up.
Kat Lee: It’s easy to get caught up in, some say, the busyness of the day-to-day. To start realizing that we don’t start thinking of 21 at 19 and a half. We start thinking of 21 really early.
Dr. Sheely: Yeah. And you know we think, with our typically developing children, we do. We think, “Oh he looks like he’s got some artistic ability, let’s get him art lessons.” Or, “I think he might actually want to be a musician, let’s study the piano.” So we don’t often think about it just exactly like that, but we are thinking about the way our children are bent. And there’s a proverb that says, “Train up a child in the way he is bent.” So you’re always thinking about that and then when he’s old, he’ll be good at it. So kind of a paraphrasing by me, but we all know that proverb and I think it’s important for us to really keep that in mind. Because when children are two and a half or three and we’re struck that this child has a difference that we’re gonna have to deal with, we jump in and we look at the difference and we deal with what is on the surface rather than what’s underlying.
Kat Lee: One of the things I love about your work is that you look at the children, compared to their typically developing peers, as the same. I remember as a child being asked by my mom’s friends, “What do you wanna be when you grow up?” Or, “Look, she really knows her animals, maybe she wants to work with animals.” I remember those conversations swirling around me. It wasn’t the sole focus of their conversation, but it would come up. Really young, Dr. Sheely.
Dr. Sheely: Very young, very young. I remember those conversations too. And I even remember being in school when my school teachers would say, “I hope one of you will be a teacher when you grow up.” And I still remember that. I became a teacher, I taught for 10 years, and I went back to see her and I said, “I’m a teacher.” And she said, “You’re a teacher.” But we do, we envision what we think our children are good at, what we want them to be. We have our dreams for them. And so when we think about the field of autism, one of the things I like to say to parents, whatever your dream was, that’s still your dream. That dream doesn’t need to change. You may be getting there a little bit differently, but that dream can stay the same.
Kat Lee: And I tell them you may be getting there at a different time, but the dream can stay the same.
Dr. Sheely: Yeah.
Kat Lee: Time, sometimes to me, is one of our biggest obstacles because people tend to have these benchmarks of when things will happen. And one of the things I love about RDI is that we say this doesn’t have to happen at 21. This could happen at, the ripe old age of 21, as I always say. Life is longer than that and richer than that.
Dr. Sheely: Yeah I think those benchmarks are hard. I think they’re also hard because parents have friends whose children are doing things maybe a little bit earlier and so they begin to worry. They have that anxiety about it. But it is true, I don’t care if you do it at 25 or 30, as long as your feet are going where they need to go and you’re making the progress, don’t worry about the age.