This post was submitted by RDI mom and consultant, Kathy Darrow.
“That’s pretty much all there is”, was the sentence I heard from a professional as I was trying to figure out where my then 7 year old was going to attend school. He was *kicked* out of 1st grade at his home district because of his behaviors, and routinely caused disruption in the classroom with his aides. There were a few times they restrained him…and when they came home and told me that they needed to discuss restraining techniques, the huge pit in my stomach just stayed in the coming days and weeks.
I was thrilled to have made it to the summer and knew that I needed to change placement to a school for children with autism. With that choice died many dreams I had for my son. We live in a small town, and I was PTA president at one point before I became pregnant with him (his older brother was 4 the year my second son was born).
Funny thing is I did not really know all that I would be dealing with. Before autism you just assume your kids will go to school, make lots of friends in the neighborhood, and graduate. Because our town is small, I knew all my older son’s friends and that is sort of how you network as a parent, through the school and your children. So this was the agonizing choice that I needed to make. I had to come to grips with the fact my son, Noah, would not be going to the school in second grade. No parties for him. As the kids in the neighborhood became closer through the few years, no one knew my son because he went to a different school, and he had autism. I tried to reach out to a few, but it just seemed to never work out. Noah was in a school just for kids with autism.
During that first year, my third son, diagnosed with Severe Infantile Autism, was not progressing in his home program. To be honest, knowing that I supposedly did everything *right* with Noah (40 hours of therapy) and yet he still struggled so much, made me wonder if there was not something MORE I could do. The sentence “That is pretty much all there is” was the sentence I came back to.
Was it true? A few months later I was introduced to RDI by a friend…and I instantly thought it made so much sense. I was cautious, but hopeful. I went to a 2-day conference with two therapists and we immediately starting implementing RDI strategies.
My younger son started to respond immediately and we were all blown away. With this, the more I researched the more I knew that RDI was something that my now 8 year old also needed. Sure I heard things like, oh he is 8, its too late, and frankly I was growing tired of my life being about therapy. But the more I looked into RDI the more I realized it was a perfect fit for my family. Bringing everyday activities into *therapy* …and creating a space to help me regain my empowerment as a parent. By this time I had 4 children and I needed all the empowerment I could get! I learned how to slow the developmental process down for my two children who missed out on that because of their Autism. By being very deliberate in my *framing* of everyday activities, I was creating in my son the ability to be flexible, to enjoy when things are changing around him, and to have true meaningful back and forth conversations.
Noah is now 15 and starting his sophomore year in high school. By starting RDI with him when he was 8, I changed the course of his life. I did not listen when I heard, its too late, or he is as good as he is going to get. These comments frustrated me because no one would ever say that if Autism was not in the picture…my children, ASD or not deserved a chance to master their development and move forward…as a continuous process.
Since I believe a picture is worth a thousand words, or in this case video too, I want to share with you some snippets of this incredible journey with my son.
This first clip is my son at 4 and 5. You will see some teaching, and then you will see us as a team trying to teach him how to talk. If you listen closely, you will hear him repeat the word Say when asked to Say *it*. He had no idea the WHY of speaking…just repeating. This was one of the first things we had to help him with when starting RDI. Then you will see that he is rigid with getting a reinforcer and the supervisor acknowledges this. Then you will hear how he talked to us for a few years, simply repeating words or telling us what we are supposed to say, since Noah was all about controlling everyone.
This next clip, after we started RDI, I was bringing our RDI objectives into our daily activities. These are just a few samples of the many milestones we worked on…each year we were able to gain a good two-three years in development and catch him up to his peers! For 8th grade, he returned to his town school, no aide, no help, eager to learn and able to make friends because Autism was no longer an obstacle in his life.
This third clip shows Blue and Gold night at his school in 8th grade. His grade won as they had to loop a hoola hoop through each student without letting go… The noise, the demands, the teamwork…no problem. Then there is a clip from his birthday party last year and a picture. Then there is a picture of the snow court (his peers elected Noah as one of the most popular 5 boys)…then 2 clips from a recent camping trip with friends. The last clip is Noah getting his Citizenship award at graduation…recognized for getting along with others and being cooperative in the classroom. This is a long way from being kicked out of school in first grade! To end, a picture from this summer in his football uniform.
Now Noah is a teenager who can navigate his social world… because of our decision as a family to continue to press forward and know there is so much more for our kids…I am thankful to have had that friend tell me about RDI over 7 years ago!! Ill never forget the moment I sat in the audience for Noah’s graduation to go off to High school….because I just did not think it would happen. I watched him build friendships with kids that he went to 1st grade with… I watched pictures flash on the screen of fun times and I got to drop him off at his graduation party where he pulled an all-nighter. I now walk though the neighborhood and get waved to, either by my older sons friends or Noah’s friends…the first time a teen came up to me and said Hi Noah’s Mom my heart jumped for joy.
All this was made possible by giving Noah that second change at typical development!
Kathy Darrow has over 10 years experience with autism and six years in RDI; first as a parent and three years as a consultant. She has a passion to help families with children on the spectrum and is excited to watch as children and young adults involved in the RDI program become increasingly competent and resilient in their social world as they progress through that *second opportunity* for development! You can email Kathy or visit her website.