This Guest Blog Post Was Written By RDI Consultant Laura Hynes
Individuals with autism process information slower than we do.
For some reason, the professional community has gotten into the habit of not providing these individuals with enough time to think. They are constantly being given the answer and prompted through everything.
These individuals are also static, inflexible thinkers. They are driven by sameness and routines. This can be debilitating in the real world because it’s just not how the world is. The professional community, again, has fallen into a pattern of providing that very same debilitating sameness and routines for these children, never allowing them to practice being flexible.
A main focus of RDI is eliminating prompt dependency through increasing wait time to allow a child to think.
Anyone who has seen or participated in RDI, knows that this can, at times, feel like an eternity. If we never let the child practice thinking and just prompt them through life, of course they will be prompt dependent!
Another main focus of RDI is to improve flexibility by not engaging in rigid routines and not allowing the child to be controlled by their need for things to remain unchanged.
This moment is a parent’s discovery at how important this concept actually is. Warning: this is not a feel good, make you all mushy inside at the end, moment.
Angela is a 13 year old girl with autism. She’s a very passive and compliant kid who has learned through years of behavioral therapy that she can just wait to be told what to do. It became clear, very early on in her RDI program that not only did she not have any intentional actions, she had even less intentional thought.
Angela’s shower and bedtime routine has been the same for well over a year. Shower, pajamas on in the bathroom (which mom lays out), brush teeth, put on face lotion, brush hair, take medication, turn off light; all of which she does completely independently.
Mom’s assignment was to change the bedtime routine and allow Angela the time she needed to think and figure out what she needed to do. The purpose of this was to address Angela’s overwhelming reliance on routines and schedules.
The only change mom incorporated was that instead of laying her pajamas out in the bathroom, they were laid out in her bedroom, 1 door away.
Angela got out of the shower and mom guided her to her room, where she stood for 2 minutes with a towel, then the towel dropped and she stood for another minute, naked. Mom then handed her her underwear which she proceeded to put on. With the pajamas on the bed, only about a foot away, Angela stood, not knowing what to do. After several minutes, mom looked toward the pajamas on the bed and Angela realized they were there and proceeded to put them on.
Once she was dressed, she didn’t return to the bathroom to complete her routine. After several minutes, mom guided her back to the bathroom where Angela stood at the sink, again, no idea what to do. About a minute later, mom handed her her toothbrush and she brushed her teeth. Once she was done, she went to turn out the light. Mom just shook her head no and Angela became upset. Again, after about a minute, mom gestured toward the lotion and she put it on. She went for the light again. This pattern continued through every single step of her routine.
Her 20 minute shower routine turned into an hour.
Angela has been mindlessly following this routine every night for over a year. Some of you reading this might say, well, she obviously needs the routine or the prompting to be able to do this. Not true. This will only exacerbate the problem. What she needs is more opportunity to think on her own, to learn how to appraise situations and to problem solve.
Angela, as well as all children with autism, need people to believe they are capable, stop compensating for them and to be afforded the opportunity to think, consider and be successful. Sure, maintaining a routine and prompting would have been much easier, not only for the Angela but for Mom as well.
The reality is, the real world changes moment to moment, things rarely stay the same and there is no one to compensate for a person’s inability to manage that.
Laura graduated from Stony Brook University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a minor in Child and Family Studies in 2001. She continued on to New York University where she obtained a Masters degree in Social Work in 2005 with a specialty in children and families. Laura’s post graduate employment was with both they New York City Early Intervention Program and the Committee on Preschool Special Education. In October of 2008, Laura became the only certified Relationship Development Intervention consultant on Staten Island and is currently one of only five in New York City. Laura founded Extraordinary Minds in 2007 and currently serves as it’s president. She is also a Licensed Social Worker in New York and has also completed the clinical training in administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale (ADOS).