Starting an RDI® Program as an Adult

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
Starting an RDI® Program as an Adult

In this week’s podcast, Dr. Sheely talks about the RDI® program for adults. When is it appropriate? Who is an ideal candidate? And how can it help?

Hope for Adults Diagnosed With Autism Later in Life

If you’re an adult who’s been diagnosed with autism later in life, you’re not alone. According to recent data, there are over 5.4 million autistic adults in the U.S.

A lot of times, there is a great sense of relief for an adult who gets a diagnosis later in life, often they say the same kinds of things to us – “You mean I’m not crazy or stupid?” Because those are the two things that keep coming to mind when they look at how effortlessly the rest of the world does things that they struggle with.

Can RDI® Really Help You as an Adult?

Can the RDI® program really help you as an adult? That depends on how you feel about your diagnosis and if you’re experiencing any symptoms that may be making your life more difficult. Some things to consider include:

  • Have you long felt like there was something going on that you couldn’t explain?
  • Did you have a realization that you were “stuck”?
  • What has been hard for you?
  • Do you feel like you’re not being heard by others?
  • Do you feel like you need some help figuring out your relationships, work or school, etc.?
  • Do you currently feel like you’re living an independent life? Do you want to?

The RDI® Program for Autistic Adults

Starting the program with an adult is going to be different, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. Your RDI® Certified Consultant will start the process with you understanding that. They’ll also know that because you’ve experienced more of life, there might be more or different obstacles than there would be working with a child.

Despite these potential obstacles, we’ve seen many teens and young adults take advantage of the Guiding Relationship model and grow in the process. You just have to understand how to implement it and not give up hope.


Autism: A New Perspective is Available on iTunes!

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 encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee, and in this week’s podcast I ask Dr. Sheely what she would say to an adult coming to her for help. Let’s listen in.

Dr. Rachelle Sheely: I think the first thing I would do is ask you, I would ask you, do you agree with the diagnosis? Have you had feelings for a long time that something was going on that you couldn’t explain? What part of this has focused on your life and helped you make sense of it? So I would wanna know kind of where you got stuck, when you realized it, and what has been hard for you. Even though some people don’t look like they’re struggling with anything, they really do struggle and there’s this internal kind of anxious struggle that’s going on all the time. Particularly for someone who’s diagnosed later in life. I’d wanna kind of understand from their perspective where they are with it.

Kat Lee: I wondered if in your experience, and I know you have helped many adults, if they at times feel like they haven’t been heard, that they have tried to communicate that this… Has this happened when you’ve started meeting with adults? 

Dr. Rachelle Sheely: It has, and one of the things that I’ve noticed is for people who were never diagnosed, every now and then, some of those people were actually diagnosed when they were younger, and the parents didn’t believe the diagnosis or thought that the person might use it as a crutch, any kind of… Any number of reasons like that. And so I try to find out, was there something early on that their parents have divulged to them? “Well, you know when you were 4, but we didn’t believe it and you did great. And now I’m glad I didn’t tell you.” But sometimes people feel like there’s something going on within themselves. I’m sorry, I’m coughing. So they feel like there’s been something going on. They’re anxious about it. And because they’re doing particularly well academically, it seems to be the big thing everybody’s looking, they’re doing well academically, you’re okay, just do it.

Kat Lee: So I would imagine that you have conversations where I wasn’t okay.

Dr. Rachelle Sheely: And what did those things look like? When you weren’t okay what were the areas where you struggled? Were there situations that you found very difficult? And so, yes, I do wanna look at those things.

Kat Lee: I think it’s important to know that when an individual, any individual comes to you for help, they’re coming to you because they believe, they know that they need help. What does RDI have to offer if I’m an adult, can I get help? I mean, for whatever I’m feeling at a loss score or that I feel like I need someone to help me? 

Dr. Rachelle Sheely: I think when people come to us and they’re really young, they’re children, we believe in the guiding relationship, and so we’re working with the parents to help them grow their children. But for some of these adults who come to us later in life, they’ve figured out a lot of things for themselves. They’ve also masked a lot of things and kind of brushed them aside, realizing it’s a problem. A lot of times there is a great sense of relief for an adult who gets a diagnosis later in life, often say the same thing. “You mean I’m not crazy or stupid?” Because those are the two things that keep coming to mind when they look at how effortlessly the rest of the world does things that they struggle with.

Kat Lee: So where do you start? I know you start with finding out… You’ve told us, you start with hearing, listening, asking and then how do you go forward? 

Dr. Rachelle Sheely: Well, I think it’s tricky. I think it’s tricky with an adult, and I think it’s tricky for a couple of reasons. One thing I’ve observed is that when an adult is struggling with autism and has been misdiagnosed or not diagnosed, there’s been a lot of overcompensation that has surrounded them. So what we have to do is we have to look at those areas of overcompensation and see how the person feels about them. And how can we begin to scaffold for them so that they have the same autonomy someone else their age would have? 

Kat Lee: I love that you said autonomy, because I know that’s what’s important to you. I think a lot of times just all of us as people can care so much about what people think about us, but autonomy is what is important.

Dr. Rachelle Sheely: Autonomy is important. And I know that there are different categories where the DSM-V places individuals and there’s like a number one, which is a lot of support is needed. Number three, which is not a lot of support is needed, but I often don’t see that much difference in the kind of overcompensation that occurs. And so even if you would be a number one person, a level one person where it would be assumed that a lot of assistance would be needed, I wanna think about that person as seriously as I think about the person who everybody’s going to assume is not going to needing a lot of support. And so we wanna look at how much autonomy can they have? Can they have a job? Can they get around… We’re in Houston, which is the fourth largest city here. It’s a huge city. Can they get around and find out where they… And go places they wanna go? Where’s their social support? And I’ve found that when we keep focused on what that person wants and how to help them get there, we can have great success.

Kat Lee: I love that you help people who come to you feel heard. I know for some wonderful people I’ve talked to that they wanted to talk to somebody, but they just couldn’t find someone who would hear what they were struggling with. And it sounds like, from what you’re telling me, whether they’re 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 80, that step of being able to talk to you is really key.

Dr. Rachelle Sheely: And to find out where they are struggling, you might see someone who has a job and they’ve done fine with that job. I remember a man 62, who was a teacher and he was doing okay, but he was really struggling in his relationship with his wife. And he didn’t know why he was struggling. He just knew that it really never worked. The beginning of their relationship, she loved that he was always asking for what did she wanna do and where did she wanna go? And she just felt so great about herself with him asking all these things. Then she realized that he was afraid to make the decision. He didn’t know how to make the decision. He didn’t know how to handle it. So one of the ways he had compensated is when he went out with someone, “What would you like to do?”

Dr. Rachelle Sheely: And she was very… She was quite angry about his inability to do this. So he and I just worked on that because it was something that was important to him. We have to understand that when someone is 40 or 50 or 60, that they have things they would like to change with their lives. And we have to help them understand where they are, where they’re stuck, and then scaffold and frame for them the point where we can reduce that scaffolding and framing and then they’re more independently doing the thing that was of concern to them.

Kat Lee: How important is trust at this point for you with whoever you are seeing and visiting with? 

Dr. Rachelle Sheely: No, the trust goes both ways. I really want to feel that the person trusts me enough to be honest with where they are and where they’re stuck. And I also want them to feel that they can trust me enough to share some things that may have been very painful for them. I personally never push someone to talk about anything. I feel if they wanna talk about something, they will. And if they’re ready to talk about it, they will, but it may take a while before they get into an area that’s been really difficult for them, and I honor that. So we start with wherever we can start, wherever we can start.

Kat Lee: Well, I’ve loved visiting with you today because I would always want any individual who was feeling the need to seek help and felt that need to have hope. And from what I feel from you is there is hope at any age. If you’re feeling that need to feel heard, that you haven’t felt heard, that you have… As you said, what is it that’s missing for you? I feel very hopeful.

Dr. Rachelle Sheely: I feel hopeful and I feel excited. It’s really wonderful when someone begins to step out and explore the world around himself or herself, and to feel like they have that sense of agency, that they can have an impact on the world around them, that they can have a mutual relationship with one or two or maybe more people. It’s very exciting and I know that RDI can get them here.

Kat Lee: And thanks 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 encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee. See you next time.


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