Join Dr. Rachelle Sheely, co-founder of Relationship Development Intervention as she talks about her recent trip to present RDI in Africa.
Kat Lee: You’re well traveled in RDI, specifically helping parents all over the world, and I thought it was a good topic for people to hear of the commonalities that you see in moms and dads because I know there have to be some even though you’re seeing, of course, cultural differences and living differences. I imagine you see parents who have all the same questions and fears across the board.
Dr. Sheely: One of the things at the Pan African Congress For Autism that impressed me and really didn’t surprise me was that parents and professionals alike had the same concern when they were thinking about the individuals that they deal with who were on the spectrum and their families.
Dr. Sheely: The thing that concerned them, whether they were living in a rural area or whether they were living in a very urban area like Nairobi, was who is going to take care of my child when I’m gone? Is my child going to be able to be independent? How do I know what my child’s potential is so I can get him there? Then how do I get him there?
Dr. Sheely: A lot of the focus surrounded this area of not where is this cute little two-year-old or my charming 10-year old but what’s going to happen at the age of 21?
Kat Lee: I feel that’s just such a common, no matter how young or old the child, it’s what’s going to happen? You know, as a parent you can feel like you lose your way. Does that make sense? When you’re wondering what’s going to happen, then you don’t see a path sometimes.
Dr. Sheely: You don’t see the path and you find yourself going down bunny trails. Instead of thinking, “What are the skills that are necessary to have a job in the 21st Century?” Instead of thinking about that you think, “Oh, I better work on handwriting” or, “I better try swimming with the dolphins.”
Dr. Sheely: No, I’m not against poor handwriting and I would love to swim with the dolphins but the point is if you don’t stay focused on where you want your child to be you will go down bunny trails and you’ll lose time.
Kat Lee:: So true. In thinking about … I like what you said about what do you need as a person to move forward in the time we’re in? I think that is so key.
Dr. Sheely: It is key. I mean, there are a lot of sites out there that talk about the important things that are necessary in the 21st Century and what employers are looking for. Those things are all available but the things that RDI addresses are the things that the employers are looking for.
Dr. Sheely: They’re looking for an ability to be flexible, to be resilient, to work in a group, to think creatively, to turn on a dime. These are the kinds of things that we work on and those are the things that the employers are looking for.
Dr. Sheely: It’s really important for us to keep that in mind and keep it at the forefront of the parents that we’re working with. When I think about Kenya and I had the experience of being both in Nairobi and also at the Bomas Cultural Center, which is pretty rural and it’s not that far outside the city but given the traffic there it was a couple of hours. It should have been probably about 20 or 30 minutes but it took a long time to get there.
Dr. Sheely: One was kind of more of a rural setting and one was this urban setting. The kinds of jobs that are available all still require that people work together, that they think, that they are dynamically able to change course when asked to do so by the person who is employing them.
Dr. Sheely: That’s what RDI says. What is it that you need to do? What do you like to do? How do you help your child become a good apprentice to you? Across the board people were talking to me about, “Well, I can get him to sit down for five minutes” or, “I can get him to do this, I can get him to do that.”
Dr. Sheely: What they were missing was the importance of the guiding relationship and the child taking on his own learning and saying, “What are you going to teach me today?”
Kat Lee: I think it’s very difficult sometimes … I think this is something you and I revisit, which is sometimes the world, so to speak, is telling us other things are more important. Do you know what I mean?
Dr. Sheely: I think the world is telling us that and it’s telling our parents that but what we know is that parents are equipped intuitively to foster a guiding relationship and so are children unless they have autism. That’s where the breakdown occurs and that’s the beauty of our work.
Dr. Sheely: One of the things that I put together for the presentations I was doing in Kenya was I put together a list of names of people that I’m still in contact with. I came up with about 15 names of young adults who are positioned to be independent.
Dr. Sheely: They’re either at university or they have a job now or they’re getting married, that kind of thing, so by pulling that presentation together and showing examples of people who had taken advantage of the guiding relationship with their parents it gave people hope.
Dr. Sheely: If we’re not giving people hope what are we doing? Because hope isn’t some pie in the sky, “Gee, I wish my life would be better.” It’s we have hope and we know how to help you reach your potential. That was what everybody said to me at the end, even though I wasn’t using the term hope, “I have hope. I didn’t have hope before.”
Kat Lee: Well, if there’s one thing that parents can be literally desperate for it’s hope. They’re told all kinds of things about the potentiality of their children fairly early on now, which are not encouraging.
Kat Lee: What I like about what you say, though, Dr. Sheely, is you’re not giving up a false hope. It’s not, “Everything will be fine.” It’s a hope born of the love of the work you will do with your child. It is tangible hope.
Dr. Sheely: For those of us … You have two hats. You wear the hat of a parent and you wear the hat of a consultant, a professional. For those of us who wear that hat of a professional, I don’t believe we could talk ourselves into doing the work we do if we didn’t see the concrete evidence that these kids are moving forward.
Dr. Sheely: One of the things that has impressed me so much with the young people I have worked with over the years is this ability to keep at it. You know, times get very hard. They can’t do it, they meet with rejection, they meet with failure and they keep going.
Dr. Sheely: I’m thinking right now within the last two months of two young men who were looking for a job. One is a college graduate, one is a gap year between high school and college. Both of them desperate for a job because that’s what young men do, right? They have jobs.
Dr. Sheely: They were turned down time after time after time. One of the young men I worked with said to the other, “Look, every rejection is one step closer to the acceptance.” Which I thought was brilliant.
Kat Lee: That is brilliant.
Dr. Sheely: Yeah. They kept going and they kept going. I would say one had 11 interviews before he got a job.
Kat Lee: Wow.
Dr. Sheely: He got the job and the woman who gave him the job commented and said it was the best interview I’ve ever had with a high school graduate.
Kat Lee: Wow.
Dr. Sheely: The other one there weren’t that many jobs in the field that he’s in but he kept going to the internet and finding out where jobs were. He was walking in places cold. He was walking in … They didn’t even say they had a job. He was walking in and saying, “I really loved what you do here. I’d love a job but I would also take an internship.”
Kat Lee: Wow.
Dr. Sheely: He got a job yesterday. You see that ability to keep bouncing back … You know, when we talk about the generation that’s up and coming right now one of the criticisms of this generation is they don’t have that ability to keep trying when it gets hard. Our kids are trying when it gets hard.
Kat Lee: I think the message of hope is so real in the form of moving forward and also not listening, if this makes sense, to timings because timings sometimes tell us, “Well, if you haven’t reached this by this point that’s kind of it for you.” I think that’s the other, so to speak, enemy we have to fight in ourselves as parents.
Dr. Sheely: You know, one of the reasons I feel we see this bravery in the young people that we have been working with is because we don’t wait until they’re ready to get a job and say, “Here’s a skill you need for a job interview.” We start from the very beginning helping them become more flexible, helping them use their minds creatively in situations that we set up for them so they feel that competence in overcoming small failures.
Dr. Sheely: Because we do that from the very beginning by the time they are ready to use what they’ve learned and go out and look for a job that’s all in place for them.
Kat Lee: Worldwide these are concerns people have as parents and these are hopes they can have, correct?
Dr. Sheely: Yes. It is. I have to say that the trip to Africa was probably my favorite trip ever. I meet incredible people. The terrain is gorgeous. I was just so impressed with everything that happened there. The Pan African Congress was pretty amazing in what they pulled off. There were people there from 40 countries in Africa.
Kat Lee: Wow. Wow.
Dr. Sheely: Maybe not 40 countries in Africa but 40 countries.
Kat Lee: Right. 40 countries receiving hope.
Dr. Sheely: Yeah.
Kat Lee: It doesn’t get any better than that.
Dr. Sheely: It doesn’t. It doesn’t. It was great.