This article was originally posted on the SAIconnection’s blog page. You can read the original here.
I’ve worked for the past couple of years with Dr Renuka Nambiar and her son, Sanjeev, on the RDI program. Sanjeev is a delightful 23 year old, who goes to a bakery college for adults with special needs. He’s working on his Certification.
Renuka shared about a recent occurrence as follows:
I drove back home this evening, with Sanjeev. While at the main gate of the house, I realized the remote for the electronic gate did not function, and I could not open the gate. When that happens, someone needs to open the gate with the switch inside the house. Since there was no one at home, I told Sanjeev to go in through the side gate, find the key to the house (we have a secret place for the house keys), open the door to the house and use the switch inside the house to open the electronic gate. I sat wondering if he would be able to follow so many instructions at one time.
There is never a day when Sanjeev does not surprise me. These were the steps involved.
1. He opened the side gate (the bolt for this is inside, with only a small space in between the grill to open the bolt from outside!)
2. Found the keys to the house
3. Opened the door to the house
4. Opened the electronic gate from inside
5. He closed the side gate
6. Hung the house keys in it’s place
7. Finally, he used the switch to close the electronic gate after I drove in.
Wow! Those are seven steps! Sanjeev had followed these without being reminded or prompted about anything. Renuka had confidence in her son. She waited patiently,while he completed all the steps.
The realization to never underestimate Sanjeev, emerged yet again.
Following seven steps is a big deal. It reflects language assimilation and comprehension. He was definitely not this independent 2 years ago. He would need to be reminded at each step.
What had happened in the interim? What had Renuka worked on? And what you can work on too.
1. Sign up for a parent training course
The change has to begin with the parent. Many parents approach us after several years of trying various therapies. It’s not that other therapies don’t work. Every thing contributes to the bigger picture. But at the end of the day, the child comes back home. It would be a sad state if a parent didn’t know how to deal with his/her own child. Most parents know about their child’s potential. They just don’t know how to take it ahead.
Working on a parent training training program is a great step towards self reliance and empowerment. Renuka joined the RDI parent training.
Keep in Mind: Autism affects the entire family. Not just the child.
2. Work on building a relationship first
The basis of the RDI program is to develop Guided Participation between parent and child. To this end, the parent sets up simple, authentic activities that they both engage in. The parent moves from being a mere instructor to a participant. Take a look at Renuka and Sanjeev in this art activity. Both of them are engaged. Both are participants.
Keep in Mind: Be a Participant, not an Instructor
3. Focus on problem solving abilities
Life is full of challenges. Once the student is regulated, we put him on the spot to solve little problems. In this way, they learn to face uncertainty and become resilient. They are able to take their own decisions in problem situations. Watch young Ishaan with his dad.
Keep in Mind: Challenge his mind actively rather than making him a passive instruction follower.
4. Let your child emerge instead of having a fixed agenda
I encourage mothers to engage in open ended frameworks. Leave a couple of ingredients out there and encourage the student to cook something of his/her own choice. You may end up surprised with what your child creates.
I once left some paint, fevicol and decorative items around for Mohit. This is what he came up with.
Keep in Mind: Let the creativity emerge. Don’t keep everything tight and controlled.
5. View your interactions in a fun and loving way, rather than a chore to be completed
Engage with your child in various situations through the day. Involve him in what you do. Focus on enjoying the moment with your child, rather than treating it as work to be completed. Preparing breakfast together or packing a bag is an activity that can be done together, joyfully. Find these moments through out the day.
Example: Renuka and Sanjeev go for a walk everyday. Sometimes they’re silent, sometimes Renuka comments or shares what she notices with Sanjeev. And sometimes, Sanjeev shares what he sees. This precious, connected time will yield rich dividends.
Keep in Mind: Let your time with your child be joyous, rather than a chore.
6. Keep the bigger picture in mind
Keep your life goals front and center.
-Meaningful relationships and friendships
-Living as independently as possible
-Holding down a job or engaging in assisted employment
At the end of the day, this is what you want, isn’t it?
When you obsessively teach concepts, just like I used to do many years ago- remind yourself of what your goals actually are. Focus on teaching skills that contribute to the ‘Big 3’ above. When you focus on an academic skill that your child finds difficult, such as trigonometry or Statistics, ask yourself, in the rich scheme of life- how much does it actually matter?
Keep in Mind: Be forward thinking. Take a birds eye view of life.
Sanjeev is a well adjusted, caring and happy individual. We didn’t work directly on language and comprehension. But he has a much richer understanding of situations in life today.
We’ve seen similar developments in most families we work with. You too, will see benefits by following the 6 pointers.
Are you willing to teach your autistic child to equip him/her for life?
Lakhani is a, RDI® program consultant and the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI Center). She has over 19 years of experience working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and currently serves as the director of our RDI Professional Training Center in Mumbai. She is the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI Center).