The title art for the RDIconnect podcast "Autism: A New Perspective." The subtitle reads "The podcast show to understand what's going on in the mind of your child and encourage you that growth IS possible! Hosted by RDI Certified Consultant Kat Lee."
Autism: A New Perspective
RDI® and High School

In this episode of Autism: A New Perspective, Kat Lee talks with special guest Dr. Sarah Wayland, an RDI® Certified Consultant and parenting coach, about raising autistic teens, RDI® and navigating high school on the spectrum.

Preparing for Adulthood Starts Before High School

The Importance of Life and Work Skills

Are academics important? Sure, if your child struggles with reading, math, or other academic subjects that can seriously impact their lives, then yes, they will need help. And if your child struggles with communication and it impacts their life, then yes they will need help. Whether it’s through speaking, writing, or augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), or nonverbal communication (gestures, body language, posture, etc.), they can learn to communicate effectively, even in high school or later in life. But what’s often more important when it comes to preparing your child for life after high school are life skills and work skills – and learning these skills start in childhood, at home and at school. These life and work skills include:

  • Hygiene
  • Chores
  • Taking care of a home
  • Health care
  • Showing up on time and doing as you’re asked
  • Work tasks
  • Work environment

The older your child gets, the more important these skills become, and starting earlier makes it easier for them, and for you.

Find What Your Child Enjoys and Does Well

The earlier you help your child to figure out their unique interests and talents, the easier the transition to adulthood will be for them. Something that someone enjoys and does well can lead to a more fulfilling life, and sometimes it can also be pursued as a career. Your child’s talent or hobby could be:

  • Athletics
  • Hobbies
  • Music/instruments
  • Art
  • Cooking
  • Something else

Lay the foundations for these things as early as possible. Promoting growth-seeking through the Guiding Relationship is key.

Little Things Lead to Big Things

  • No matter how small the moment of independence, let your child have it
  • Set goals of just-noticeable-difference in different areas of independence. A small difference can still lead to growth, and can increase feelings of competence in your child
  • Don’t wait. Start today
  • Solving little problems leads to solving big problems – guide your child in solving small problems
  • Creating just the right amount of challenge is important – allowing your child to experience challenges will help them to develop a resilience for challenge, and to be prepared for adulthood

If You Get Stuck, Start Again!

Make a new list of goals, ask for input from your child’s teachers, and start fresh. Behind every obstacle is a possibility.

Autism: A New Perspective is available on iTunes!

Full Transcript

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 special podcast, we have a special guest, Dr. Sarah Wayland. Dr. Wayland is a parent and an RDI consultant and in this podcast she talks to us about RDI and high school. Let’s listen in.

Kat Lee: We’re talking about high school and beyond RDI in your child, and preparing our children for adulthood and I could not be happier having Dr. Sarah Wayland. Sarah is amazing, many things but also an RDI consultant and a parent with two lovely boys, and both of us have boys that are older. My son’s gonna be 30. I always feel like I’m some kind of time machine.


Kat Lee: And my gosh. And then Sarah has two boys. Sarah, why don’t you tell us a little bit about you? 

Dr. Sarah Wayland: I’m Sarah, and I am an RDI consultant as Kat said, and I live in Maryland outside of Washington, DC. I’ve been a consultant for almost 10 years now, and I have two boys. Mine are 20 and 24, so we’re navigating that transition to adulthood for both of them, and they’re definitely both in the transitional stage, so this talk is near and dear to my heart. So I have a business called Guiding Exceptional Parents. I co-founded an online training platform called The Behavior Revolution, and I just finished writing a book called, Is This Autism? A Guide for Clinicians and Everybody Else.

Kat Lee: Well, Sarah, I said that you’re an RDI consultant and a parent and many other things, and boy, was I right, including a…


Kat Lee: A world famous author. So thank you. This is such an important topic, and I think it’s important to hear about from as well as consultants, but also parents who have been where you may be, or you’re going to be. But one of the things I wanted to start with, Sarah, was that RDI is literally worldwide. We’re really excited about the take off of RDI throughout the world in so many countries. And for that reason, it’s really important for us to tell you that we are not telling you what to do, or how your child’s life should be. We are thinking about how to live a best life, and the independence for your child, whatever you think that should be, whatever you think is key, so this is not us telling you what your child should have to be independent. This is us trying to help you where you are for what you want for your child. And I know from my parents, Sarah, that that really varies from family to family, and I have families in many different countries, and they have different visions for their children, and that’s what we want to help you meet. Wherever you are, start there and go from there.

Dr. Sarah Wayland: Yeah, and I think it’s also important, like you said, because it’s worldwide, the kinds of opportunities that are available worldwide are really different, and the kinds of support families can get and so on, and that kind of stuff varies so much. So it would be silly for us to even talk about it here, but so I like the focus on, “What’s your vision, and what do you… What kinds of things do you want your child to be able to do, and how do you get there?”

Kat Lee: Well, and we’re also talking about high school, but really, this is a good discussion that applies to all ages. So much of the time when I’m talking to parents, particularly new parents, and they may have an older child, or even an adult that needs RDI services. We’re not really talk about age, we talk about where one may be in the guiding relationship, and where has one been, what is the history? There’s just so much there. So we’re hesitant to talk about age, but we know that schooling is a part of bringing up children, and as they do age into high school and beyond, this is a discussion, and one that parents need to discuss.

Kat Lee: So we wanted to acknowledge that to you, and then we… We would love to see across the world principals of schools, teachers, everyone embrace what we want to do with RDI to our independence, but we know realistically that what we’re talking about today will mostly be done starting at home. That being said, we always encourage you, we encourage our clients to talk to our schools, or help you with that, about the potential of implementing these principles at school, because it is there, but we do find that this generally does start at home, don’t we Sarah? And then we just have to work within our particular schooling framework, and that is very true in across the world, so that is something all parents seem to have in common, trying to figure out how to have these principles transferred, Sarah.

Dr. Sarah Wayland: Yeah, and the idea that what we’re trying to teach our kids, is how to think flexibly, and problem-solve regardless of what the world presents to them, and that’s really the foundation of what we’re trying to get across here, is how to help our kids be dynamic and flexible thinkers.

Kat Lee: So as we visit this time, we’re not going to spend a lot of time on academics, but, we wanted to say that they are certainly important. And if your child struggles with academics, you know that that will impact their lives, and of course, they need help with that. I know in my case, my son definitely needed help with that. But one of the things that I wanted to encourage parents with was, if you have an older student who has struggled academically, to try to work with your school to continue their learning in the basics, the things they need to be able to get by, reading, writing, basic math, those things. And sometimes, and I know so many of my clients have talked to me about this, and friends, that when their teenagers get to that age, so to speak, there stops being an emphasis on that. So I believe that progress can continue to be made, and so we didn’t wanna leave academics behind, because it is important. We’re going to go on and talk about things that are going to be really important to moving your child forward, but we didn’t want to not talk about that. You could actually spend a whole hour just on applying RDI to academics. But I did, for those who had that question, we wanted to answer it, Sarah.

Dr. Sarah Wayland: Yeah.

Kat Lee: And the other was communication, another thing Sarah and I could just talk about. And hopefully will at some point, but if your child struggles with communication, and we listed some things here, speaking, comprehending what’s being said to them. In my son’s case, that’s been an obstacle that he’s been overcoming throughout his 30 years, and still is doing that, which is fantastic, but we’ve had to continue to work on that. So we understand if you have an adult, a teenager who’s having trouble with these things, so these are things that you feel passionately about, they feel passionately about, then it’s a good thing to want to continue to work on them. Why am I saying this about academics and communication? And the reason Sarah, I wanted to talk about it first is, sometimes my parents are really discouraged by… I know, well, many people who just think that they need to know that, “Well, if they’re not at this age doing this, or this age doing that, well, they probably just can’t learn it.” And I have definitely found that is not true. One of the things I love about RDI, is the individualized approach, and I have found amazing things have occurred when these things were pursued. So we wanted to start off that way, so you knew we knew these things were of value, Sarah.

Dr. Sarah Wayland: Right.

Kat Lee: Now, we are gonna spend a little time here, Sarah, because life skills and work skills are important, and that can start at home and at school. And you helped me, and really compiled this list for us. And when I looked over it, I just thought, “Every one of these things is so important.” How did you come to just pare it down to this, ’cause this is a perfect list.


Dr. Sarah Wayland: I actually went to an assessment. I think it was called the, is it Bay Bass? Or it’s one of these adaptive functioning assessments, and I just looked at the areas on the assessment tool, and pulled them out, so that’s how I did it. But yeah, these are things, and boy, I’ll tell you, as my kids graduated from school, all of these issues became increasingly clearly important. I knew they were important when they were young, but as my kids got older, then I started realizing how important they were. And now that they have both graduated, we’re actually continuing to teach all of these things to help them get better at all of them. And all of them are challenging in their own way. So I do find that, I don’t know what it is, but something about high school kind of brings these into sharper focus, and then as your kids graduate and move into the real world, then it’s definitely important. You notice how important things like taking a shower regularly, or knowing how to load and unload the dishwasher, or how to vacuum the floor, or the healthcare one is definitely one that I neglected with my older son. I did not neglect them with my younger son, because I learned.

Dr. Sarah Wayland: But the idea that he has to go to the doctor, he has to make appointments. And my younger son definitely is not to the point that he makes appointments independently. My older son totally does that, he manages it all himself, manages his prescriptions, manages taking his medications, manages going to the doctor, making the appointments and all that stuff, and transportation to and from. And the showing up on time and doing as you are asked, I actually, I think I grabbed that one, because I have been working on that with both my kids quite a bit, and it’s definitely a challenge to figure out like, “What do you need? How do you show up on time? Why is it important?” My younger son used to get so mad about the bus every single morning, he’d get so mad the bus was there, and he would put everything off till the last minute. Well, now I’m like, “Okay, we gotta go to the dentist,” or, “You have a job interview.” And he is definitely starting to understand that you can’t keep people waiting, like that’s actually a really important life skill. And also doing what your supervisor, or co-workers want you to do, as long as it’s consistent with what your supervisor thinks you should be doing, but just doing what people need you to do, is another really important life skill, and if you’re always arguing with your supervisor, that’s not gonna go well for you. And so…

Dr. Sarah Wayland: Or if you just don’t do what you’re supposed to do ’cause you’re doing something else, that’s gonna be a problem. And then just basic work tasks, the kinds of things we do too… That are important with our job, staying organized, delivering things on time, things like that, and then our work environment, whether it’s a good environment for us, some kids love being outdoors, some kids love… Can’t deal with hot weather and need to be in air conditioned more, things like that, or is it lighting good for some not so good for others. So there’s all kinds of things to be thinking about here.

Kat Lee: And one of the things that struck me when you were talking is each one of these, your child, whatever the age, could be in a different place, like for some of you, healthcare maybe, just being willing to go to the doctor and be examined or the dentist didn’t have a good look. In fact, I know I have friends who don’t wanna go to the dentist. I might be one of them. I have to go to my own friends. So even that, just being able to do that, it can be something that you need to work on that’s been hard. And as a parent when these things are hard, they’re hard, so we totally understand that, but it’s good to just start, even if you have to break it down into the smallest thing, I think. And…

Dr. Sarah Wayland: Oh Kat, the dentist thing is actually so important, I have a client whose son has really big sensory issues, and so she’s been working on getting him comfortable going to the dentist, and so once a week, they go to the dentist, he goes into the waiting room, they wait, they go into the back, and the dentist will do things like smile at him and then walk out of the room, and then the next time they go in and the dentist will just tap his teeth and then they go out of the room, and they’ve been doing this for many months, just to get him to the point that he feels okay about going to the dentist, and that will serve him very well because dental issues are actually a real problem in people with developmental disabilities because quite frankly, it’s a sensory nightmare, so helping our kids cope with that overwhelm on something that’s such a really important part of health care, it’s just one example, we had to work really hard, for example, getting my son being able to tolerate blood draws, and he’s really good at it now, but it was a long road.

Kat Lee: And wherever you are, it’s good to try to start… I think that’s one of the things we wanted to say is, it’s not too late. It is good to try. I’ve seen people starting chores with their children so young, I mean all their children, and I felt like I didn’t start that earlier enough with my kids, and so… And I don’t know why. I don’t know why I just… I don’t know if I’m too efficient, I wouldn’t be like, I should be having them wash their own clothes, that kind of thing, so we’re all different people, we are all different personalities, so sometimes we have to make ourselves look at a list like this and go, Yeah, I shouldn’t be doing that, I need to be helping my child or to do that for themselves, and that takes a lot of reflection without judgment, because we have so many things to go over, to think about, to study for our children, and sometimes these things just don’t hit the spotlight for us, and so that’s what we wanted to do for you, just to be thinking about them.

Dr. Sarah Wayland: The risk on that, the chore thing was actually the very first thing that I started doing when my family started doing RDI, so we were using chores as the context where we were practicing the various skills that we were trying to learn. And my kids were very willing to do it because I kept saying, you know, when you live on your own, you’re gonna need to know how to wash your own dishes or you’re gonna need to know how to fix dinner, so they were… You’re gonna have to know how to do your own laundry. And they were all in ’cause they liked the idea of being able to live in their own place, so…

Kat Lee: I think that’s so important. And you’re right, so many of these things, we can be focusing on the process and RDI, but still accomplishing things in chores, and I can remember a mom that I worked with very early as a consultant had two boys, and she worked on her guiding relationship with him, and one of the things that she was able to guide them in was laundry, and when a couple of years later when things were much different, I was talking to her, I asked about the way she was, Oh, they’re both folding the… They’re folding the laundry right now, it’ll be all done by [laughter], she had… They had learned this as a skill too… It wasn’t her goal at all, but I thought, these things are true, they can help… We always say it’s not about the dishwasher, it’s about the process, but that can be wonderful and these things. So other wonderful things can be thinking about… When you think about your child’s best life, you want them to have things they enjoy and can do well, that they can go do if they want to do them, and this is such a short list and I could definitely be adding to it, even today, I was thinking of more.

Kat Lee: And before I talk about my son. Because this was the area I wanted to talk about him. In the first 12 years of his life, we didn’t have RDI and we were in behavior analytic work. But really, we started a lot of just guiding without having the guiding principles, but trying to figure out how to do that pretty early with him because we were finding he had a lot of fears of things that as a family we were going to be able to do together. So you just have to take your own time machine back [chuckle] for 28 years. So we got in that and we went back. There just weren’t a lot of services or helpful things where I live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, or I think many places. And so we just kinda had to figure things out for ourselves. So for example, he was really frightened of rides. You know the little grocery store rides that you put a quarter in? Those kind of things, they just terrified him. And we really wanted as a family to be able to enjoy amusement parks. Both Brian and I are adult kids ourselves and [chuckle] we enjoy them. Sorry for those of you who are picturing us childishly but we do.

Kat Lee: And we’d always thought we would do this with our children. We’d already taken our daughter once to Disneyland. But mostly you just know your child can’t function in life if every time wherever they go and there’s a little quarter ride, they’re gonna be scared to death, so exactly. So we started working on that when he was really young. And I just wanted to tell you as part of my tips, don’t exclude permanently those things that are an obstacle for your child, you can work on them with just noticeable differences. And that’s actually what we did, but we didn’t know that [chuckle] at the time. So what we worked on was just like going in the door where there was. When you guys may be cracking up and visualizing this with the little guy. But going in the door and being in there and that being okay, approaching and that being okay, putting our hand on it, not forcing, but just putting our hand on. Putting the money in it, seeing it go, eventually sitting in it without it going. [chuckle]

Kat Lee: We just work through those just noticeable differences for him and today, the biggest problem I have at an amusement park is do I really wanna go on a roller coaster with eight loops? That’s today, all the years later. But what I wanted to say is sometimes folks feel and understandably because as a mom, I get this, well, they don’t like it, so I don’t wanna make them do it. But what we do in RDI with just noticeable differences is it making. It’s providing those little opportunities, and it really is effective. And that can be in anything. I know I put athletics, hobbies, music, and sometimes I don’t know about you guys, but if I don’t know how to do something, I may not wanna do it. [chuckle] I don’t know. I don’t know if I wanna do that or not. That’s just being a human being. But then once you start doing it and you actually get past that, you can start to enjoy it. And so I really encourage you to try to think of it that way. I have three students right now, off the top of my head who started musical instruments.

Kat Lee: These students all have obstacles in their lives that would definitely make people think they would not be doing this, but they actually are really… The three of them don’t know each other, all doing different instruments, but they are really enjoying it? How? Just step by step, just noticeable differences, getting used to it, and then seeing if it’s something that they’re going to be able to enjoy. Some people don’t enjoy playing instruments, Sarah, and that’s okay. But it’s nice to have that exposure. So I wanted to tell you all that because I do understand how hard it can be if you kinda think that, “Oh, I’ll teach my child this,” and then they have a reaction like my son did to the [chuckle] little rides. But it doesn’t mean we can’t do it, it just means we need to take our time. And Sarah, did you have any thoughts? 

Dr. Sarah Wayland: I do, I always do. [laughter] Yeah, I was just thinking about your example of the musical instruments. I think music lessons are just naturally scaffolded in that just right challenge kind of way. And I don’t know about you, I actually play violin and part of what was so motivating for me about that when I was learning with my teachers, I loved my teacher so much. And I would do anything to make them proud or happy or whatever. And so just thinking about this, like my older son plays piano and his music teacher was just such a wonderful support and a mentor for him. So they really have that guiding relationship and it was beautiful. And cooking, you put cooking on here and with cooking, my kids have been cooking dinner. Everybody in our house cooks dinner one night a week now. And because of that, my kids are really exploring what it means to be the person who’s putting the whole meal together. And something that actually happened recently that I thought was such a good thing, my younger son’s very picky eater. And so we’re always trying to figure out, what can we cook that he’ll enjoy too? 

Dr. Sarah Wayland: And sometimes we give up and we’re just like, “Okay, we’re making you mac and cheese and the rest of us will have something else.” But for him, he wanted to make his brother a dinner that his brother would really, really enjoy last week. And he made this dinner and his brother didn’t actually like it all that much and he was rude about it. [laughter] And he really hurt his brother feelings and then his brother… So then Oliver was feeling terrible and he was really sad, and my other son… It was a teaching moment. I was like, “He worked really hard on that and he really wanted you to like it. And the fact that you didn’t like it made him really sad. So you might wanna tell him that you appreciate how much he tried, even though it didn’t work out.” And it was such a good teaching moment for both of them, truly. It was good for my younger son who’s so picky to experience what that’s like when you’re trying to cater to somebody and it doesn’t work because boy, I feel like I’m doing that every day with him. And then it was also good for my other son to just realize that when people are making an effort, you should acknowledge that even if you don’t necessarily like the outcome.

Kat Lee: It’s just so great because it’s just opportunity upon opportunity just within cooking. So it’s more than just about cooking, so it very wonderful. It’s very great. I think lay these foundations where you can, and if you haven’t laid some of them, that’s okay. You can start now, you can try to work with the school to do this. I did wanna say that the guiding relationship is key. We think Sarah mentioned it in music. We think it’s important to have that guiding relationship in place. So if you’re still in the beginning or still struggling with this for whatever reason, or there are obstacles, then it’s not necessarily about the cooking or the music or the athletics, it can be just about that guiding relationship and that you might need some help with that. And then, of course, in RDI, promoting growth seeking is key. Because if I’m interested in growth as a student, then I’m interested in figuring out and learning about these other things. I can only draw stick figures, you’re probably not gonna get me really into art as much as I would like to be better. [chuckle] I understand my limitations. But being exposed is something and wanting to be exposed is something we work on for growth seeking. And I think that’s one of the reasons at times that students aren’t involved in some of these things is because actually that growth seeking isn’t turned on yet.

Kat Lee: And once it is, then they’re able to think about these other things, Sarah. So we just thought it was important to… When you think about life, and I didn’t put on here things like going to the movies. That’s something that doesn’t seem like a skill to sit there and be entertained by Brad Pitt or whoever, but it actually is. Because there’s sensory issues, there’s food issues, there’s length issues. I don’t like a movie over two hours unless it’s Lord of the Rings. So there’s an issue. [laughter] There is something. Those kind of things also count as well, Sarah.

Dr. Sarah Wayland: Oh, movie watching was actually something we did have to very… You were talking about the riding, the ride outside of the grocery store. Movies were a big deal for us. So what would happen with my kids is they get very overwhelmed by emotional scenes in the movies. They get very… Some big emotional thing. The music would swell and they both run out of the room [laughter] and they wouldn’t come back. And so we had to very carefully choose the movies and warn them when it was coming and talk about how we were gonna handle the big emotions and it took a long time to get them to the point where they could tolerate the discomfort of some big emotional moment and stay in the room with us. And we certainly haven’t done a lot of movies in the theater with them because [chuckle] they do wanna run out and then they’re trapped in the movie theater and that’s not a good thing for anybody. [laughter] We watch a lot of movies at home, but we are carefully… It’s just what you said, you’re doing just noticeable differences and gradually building up on the skills. And I love your tip here, Kat, where you said don’t exclude permanently those things that are an obstacle for your child because kids do grow and change and adults grow and change.

Dr. Sarah Wayland: There are things I do now that I never would have done in my 20s. And so there’s a lot of growth that can happen. And just because it was true when your kid was four doesn’t mean it’s gonna be true when they’re 10 or 15 or 21.

Kat Lee: It’s so true. It sounds like a joke, but it’s actually true. I used to hate mustard and hate onions, and now I can’t do without them. So we change, and that’s like neither good nor bad, but it’s just interesting to me. So we think we won’t like something and then something changes. And so I think it’s a really beautiful thing to think about. It’s actually very encouraging. Very encouraging. So we want to ensure you’re working towards independence. This is a big thing for us in RDI. Dr. Gutstein and Dr. Sheely are passionate about this. And this is a really beautiful side that little things can lead to those big things. I think one of the things I wanna spotlight, Sarah, was that no matter how small the moment of independence, try to let them have that. And that tiny moment can be opening the door to much bigger moment, Sarah. There’s just so much to say about this.

Dr. Sarah Wayland: Yeah, and one of the things that’s important about this is that those little tiny moments of… So I think one of the things that helped me understand this concept was I didn’t really understand that some of the challenges my kids face were just too big for them. It was too much for them to navigate, and they got a lot of feedback that that challenge is too big, and I don’t do well with big challenges. And so they would just give up, especially my younger son. My older son was pretty good about that, but my younger son, if he made a mistake on his worksheet or something, he crumpled it up and throw it away and then he would refuse to do it. And so what I had to learn is that if he was having that kind of reaction and refusing to do something, it might be because it’s not a just noticeable difference, it’s a big challenge for him and I needed to back it off so it was the right level of challenge for him. And it took me a while to really understand that just because I thought [chuckle] it wasn’t a big deal for him, it probably was a big deal because that’s what he was trying to tell me by having trouble doing it.

Dr. Sarah Wayland: But the other thing that happens is over time, if our kids keep facing challenges they can’t master, after a while, they just give up. They’re like, “I can’t do this. It’s like everything I try to do, it doesn’t work.” But if you have lots and lots of these little wins, then over time you start feeling like, “Oh, this is new and different and I haven’t really thought about this before, but let’s see if I can do that.” And then they can and over time, they build up that sense of, “This is new and different, but I can figure it out,” and that’s such an important thing. And this is for me where that idea of the just noticeable difference really made a big impact because I just didn’t understand the fact that something was big for them, even if it didn’t seem big for me.

Kat Lee: Oh, I think that it’s so important. It’s a just noticeable difference if it is to your child, if it’s a big difference to them, that’s really all that matters, right? Do you ever… When I think back on my son where he is now, I don’t know if anybody else is like this, but I think sometimes I was just doing because I was just trying to get things done. And I think sometimes that led to not promoting independence in areas when he was younger where he could have been independent but I was doing. I don’t know if anybody else is like that out there, and I had to realize, “Why am I doing this.?” [chuckle] It’s that mindfulness. I probably do that for everybody in the family. [laughter] I’m not some kind of very service-oriented person, don’t get the wrong idea. [chuckle] But I do try to be efficient. And if anybody struggles with that, you’re not alone. You’re not alone, Sarah.

Dr. Sarah Wayland: Oh my gosh, Kat. So true, I actually had to work on that with my therapist. Letting other people do some of the work and being okay with the way they did it, that was the other piece. So just being okay, yeah, maybe they didn’t scrub the sink out quite as beautifully as I would, but you know what? They scrubbed the sink out a little bit and it sure looks better than it did before they started scrubbing. And I don’t wanna go in behind them correcting what they’re doing because then they just feel like, “Why bother? Mom’s just gonna do it for me.” But part of what happened for me is I actually kinda hit a wall. I hit a wall of I can’t do all the things. I can’t do all the chores and do all the stuff that keeps the house running. And I [chuckle] think I just cried uncle and said I need help. And so I let them help me. And so it’s such an important thing. I think so often, parents say… What you said, Kat, really spoke to me that something is… You think, “Oh, it’s just faster if I do it myself,” which is true in the short term, but over the long haul, if your kids learn to do it themselves, it’s gonna save you a lot of time over the long haul. And so that’s actually an investment in future happiness, but it is hard in the moment.

Dr. Sarah Wayland: You think, “Oh, I’ll just pack their lunch, it’ll be fine,” whereas you have to get up 20 minutes earlier if you want them to pack their lunch. [chuckle] Because it takes time to…

Kat Lee: Were you here? Were you spying on me in my house or something at that time? I think you were. [laughter] Because it’s exactly right, an efficiency. You have to get up 20 minutes or do this before bed, or whatever the case may be. You at that, and I think ensuring our children are developing resilience, which really is so important in the work we do in RDI, but can be hard because again, it’s where does their resilience break down? It’s analyzing that individual person and realizing that if they’re not having trouble with something, it’s probably not really testing their resilience and how to scaffold that. And if I was to say one of the things that parents I’ve known a while with older children would say is they may sometimes to like… They thought they were working on this, but it still can be an issue. Have you found this to be true? 

Dr. Sarah Wayland: Yeah, for sure, Kat. That resilience is actually something that’s so hard for both my kids because they have high expectations for themselves, they want to do well. And this thing I see in a lot of my autistic clients also, which is that they have very high standards for themselves and they think they’re supposed to be able to do things well the first time. Because when they look at me like, I know how to wash the hand dishes because I’ve washed hand dishes like my whole life. But I have a lot of practice, knowing how to look at every part of it, I actually run my hands over the surface of it to make sure there’s no residual stuff. Just a lot of little tricks that I use to make sure the dishes are really clean. So my kids, when I find a little spot on a dish, they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t do it right.” I just do it again and it doesn’t matter. But getting them to be okay with not doing it perfectly, so you’re living that messier life and then going back and trying again so that you can do it better next time. Just having the resilience, I think is the right word for that, to be able to go back in and say, “Okay, I’m gonna try again and see if I can do better this time.” That is hard for a lot of kids and a lot of adults, frankly.

Kat Lee: I wanna pick your brain if I may because I know one of the questions that come to my mind is, I know you’ve done some work with schools, quite a bit, how challenging is it to get schools to work on these things concurrently with you or to understand these principles? I certainly hear a lot of things from parents of the schools have behavioral problems because they’re not scaffolding, they’re working way, way far ahead than one step ahead. They’re working like… We talk about one step in they’re working like trying to work 20 steps ahead or 100 or whatever. And in your experience, how hard is it to coordinate all that with the schools? 

Dr. Sarah Wayland: I think the first step is realizing what teachers are coping with in the classroom, so they’ve got a bunch of kids and they’re all at different levels, and they’re trying to provide just right challenge for everybody in that room. It’s not easy. It’s really, really hard as a teacher. And also, at least here in the United States, what we expect of teachers has changed over the years, I think there’s more emphasis on… I’m blocking on it, but not dynamic thinking that static skills, so memorizing things and not necessarily understanding the why, but really just focusing on being able to go through the steps to solve the math problem, but not understanding why you’re supposed to solve the math that way and really understands underneath it. What the importance of it is. So teachers are dealing with a lot. And what I find is they’re very focused on kids mastering, whatever, so that they can perform well on a test rather than… And they’re graded on how they perform on state assessments and things, so it can be super, super challenging for teachers because they’re being evaluated on that.

Dr. Sarah Wayland: And so when we try to bring RDI, and a lot of times it’s almost… We had this experience, the last round we did, where we have these two teachers who didn’t know what RDI was at the beginning, and they just really… They did not understand and they did not get it, and it was only through working with us where we were doing things like get a kid ownership, like let the kid solve the problem and feel those little moments, but don’t… Just get them to repeat back to you what you’ve said to them, That’s not learning, that’s memorization. And these two teachers, by the end of the year, they said it had completely changed the way they felt about what education was really about, which is a big deal, but boy, it is really hard and teachers really are doing the best they can, but my heart goes out to teachers, it is just a really hard job, and the things that are driving them are different than Rigo, frankly, and I honestly think that emphasis on static memorization as opposed to learning to be a thinker, it’s just part of the way education is right now in the United States. So I’m hoping it’s better around the world. [chuckle]

Kat Lee: Well, I think you did such a beautiful job of explaining the obstacles for schools, and I know that’s really helpful. As a person who’s grown up literally with teachers in every facet of my life, including my in-laws who were both about teacher hit Math and History teacher, and my mom and music, and my grandmother was a math, was my grade on who I knew very well was a principal. So with my great-uncle, I value teachers so much and I always think about the classroom, and so having so many students who are in need, but one of the things I want to fish with here is if you’re a parent and you get stuck, it’s okay. My son is 30. We’ve been helping him and moving him along for a long time, and sometimes you just have to do what I call the reboot, that’s why I have the laptop here, you make a new list of goals, maybe you kinda got dragged down and just weren’t even having goals that’s okay. Make a new list. You can start a fresh. It’s not too late. You can talk to your school. I really believe that behind every obstacle there is a possibility, I know that sounds very ideal, but I do think it’s true.

Kat Lee: I tell my parents when something happens that is challenging and upsetting, that I know it’s painful in an obstacle, but it also presents us with a lot of possibilities, and sometimes it’s good to know things so that we can figure out how to meet those needs and help our children live their best life, which is what we want to do, so I think our list has really helped think about that, and Sarah, I really appreciate you’re sharing any encouragement for parents? 

Dr. Sarah Wayland: Yeah, one of the things I love about this slide is that I always say like when you run into something, you get stuck or something isn’t working the way you think it is, it’s all data. It’s just all data. Why is it not working? Like figure it out that explore, let’s see what we can do to… That didn’t work. Okay, let’s try something different. We know why it didn’t work. Okay, that helps us figure out what to do differently, so it’s all data. And I do think kind of for me, with my kids, getting them out of school actually has now allowed us to progress at a rate that makes sense for them, and that’s really refreshing.


Kat Lee: 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.


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