This family story was written by a parent who works with RDI consultant, Nerida Maclean

Last year in June, 2014 there was a big change in our lives. Daniel, 6 years old, moved to a new school and we met our RDI consultant. I didn’t know what RDI was at the beginning. On the first day we started RDI, our consultant gave me lots of information which I had no idea about. For example: the differences between dynamic and static intelligence and the different components of communication.

For us, communication was speech. I wanted Daniel to speak and had no idea speech is only a small part of communication. I let Daniel repeat the words I said, but it was often unclear and without him understanding the meaning. He would stutter too. We were happy to hear his words with no meaning in them. We just wanted him to be verbal.

My consultant wanted Daniel to develop other components of communication, non-verbal parts like gestures and facial expressions without using speech. That was the very first thing I found difficult to start with. Daniel didn’t respond to my gesture. It was very frustrating. It was very difficult even to get his glance. He was mostly in his own sensory world. Today, Daniel is now using gesture and other non-verbal strategies to communicate with us. He is also learning to ‘speak’ with the help of technology (LAMP on his iPad).

The second most important part of RDI that our consultant introduced to me, was Emotional Referencing. Referencing; another new word for me. All I knew was eye contact. We could train Daniel to look at us, but eye contact was far different from emotional referencing.  We trained referencing with play.  In a little while, we noticed Daniel referencing us when he was unsure or when we were anywhere outside of home or in the supermarket.

Let me share a little moment when Daniel started at his new school last year. I visited his class to see his teacher. Daniel came out of the class smiling, but ran past me without giving me a glance. He knew I was coming and he was excited, but he didn’t know how to show me. It was painful to see your own child run past you without a glance. This year, on sports day when I went to his class, Daniel came out of the class with a big smile looking straight to my eyes sharing his excitement and joy.  It was a breath taking moment for me that other parents could just take for granted. Thanks to RDI and my consultant I can see and feel his emotions even from a distance, anywhere- in a supermarket or on the slide. We know he can see and feel emotional sharing with us.

Related: A Relationship with My Daughter

Another essence of RDI we worked on was co-regulation. I remembered our consultant brought some video clips of other families working on co-regulation. When I watched them, the first question in my mind was “would Daniel be able to do it?” We started with Daniel walking with me. I took Daniel to a big driveway in front of our home. I held Daniel’s hand and walked. When I suddenly stopped he was gazing at other things around him. I knelt down and cleared my throat but he was still very much in his own thoughts. He didn’t bother to look at me. I was very sad and wanted to cry aloud. I took him back into the house.  I didn’t want to do it again. How could I get Daniel to reference me and help him to feel co-regulated with me?

I made some changes when I repeated this again. I took him to the back yard where there were fewer distractions. I held his hand, walked again, and stopped. When I knelt down and cleared my throat he gave me a glance. I nodded my head and said ‘run’ with a smile. He ran with me. I was very happy and teary again, but this time with tears of joy. That was my first walking experience together with Daniel. We used co-regulation, the sense of you and me, in everything- during playtime or household chores. Daniel is very willing to help me with household chores now as he’s got the sense of ‘you and me’. I think Daniel is simply happy to be around us.

Daniel used to do a lot of humming when we were in a crowd.  We took him out in his stroller and even when we ate out we had to hold him all the time. He hopped a lot and was a bit restless whenever we were outside. After a year with RDI, Daniel could walk with us in a crowd with almost no humming. His strange sensory seeking behaviours were much, much better. He is calm and easily manageable when we’re outside, especially at a restaurant or a tavern. We can enjoy every moment with him. He is with us now rather than in his world and sharing beautiful emotions with us. That’s priceless. These are a few of our wonderful experiences doing the RDI program.                       

The practice of co regulation teaches him how to get feed back from us to manage every challenge he faces in the real world. I think the connection and trust he has developed with us makes Daniel capable of self-regulation too.

Daniel has become a new person with more awareness of himself and others. Daniel’s teacher from last year commented on how she noticed Daniel now showing a higher degree of social awareness.

Every step we make in our RDI journey is not very easy, but I will never, never, never give up.  In fact nothing in life is easy. Although I may break down and get depressed or even angry at times, Daniel’s little steps give me strength to go on.  I have a non-verbal autistic child who has helped me become a better person.

Nerida Maclean is a Speech Language Pathologist and RDI® Consultant who works at The Connection Zone in Brisbane, Australia. She enjoys working with children with Complex Communication Needs, supporting parents to become empowered as guides to their child’s social, emotional and communication development. Nerida is a member of the multidisciplinary consortium Connect and Relate for Autism Inc

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