Why RDI and What is It?: Part II

Autism: A New Perspective
Autism: A New Perspective
Why RDI and What is It?: Part II

So there’s this incredibly important relationship that I call the MindGuiding Relationship.

The MindGuiding Relationship is an essential relationship that is typically a parent/child relationship built during the first years of life (and ongoing).

Over the years this relationship evolves and develops with the apprentice (child) taking on more responsibility for the continuation and maintenance of the relationship.

This is an evolutionary process where the child grows into adulthood becoming more self-guiding, with the ability to be able to experience that both personal and interpersonal agency.

This relationship, the MindGuiding relationship is what is missing in autistic individuals.

For some reason, it does not develop.

With RDI®, it is possible to re-establish the Guiding Relationship and nurture the growth mindset in your child.

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Kat Lee: Welcome back to ASD: 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, Dr. Gutstein continues his series, Why RDI and What’s is It, with part two. Let’s listen in.

Dr. Gutstein: So what do we know? We know that… Okay, so let’s look at it that way. So we know from developmental psychology that it’s a years-long, gradual developmental process or gradually… And it can be a very respectful process, it can be a very collaborative process where both parties are engaged in wanting the same thing, developing the mind to develop brightness, increasing their agency in the world, their ability to influence their world through the use of their mind. That’s what gives human beings their edge. It’s not our physical process. We can’t run faster than jaguars. We can’t climb trees better than ants. What we can do is use that part of our mind to improvise, to use experiences in the past and rapidly match them to what we’re dealing with, knowing that we can then look at what’s the same and what’s different. That flexibility, that mental flexibility, that mental agility that we have, that’s what gives human beings the evolutionary edge in the world. That’s why we have succeeded and continued to evolve. And in this century, in the 21st century, as we see, that’s become an… It’s just gone through the roof in terms of the need for it.

Dr. Gutstein: There’s always gonna be a need for what we might call the traditional side of intelligence, there’s always gonna be something real, but more and more, that’s being taken over by artificial intelligence, those abilities, where you have the tools right there to get information that you don’t have stored in there, and it’s become… At each decade, it’s just less and less valued, less and less necessary, and there are fewer situations where we can get by with it. And we have more and more need for what I call Dynamic Intelligence.

Dr. Gutstein: So what to do we know? Let’s go back to autism. So there’s this incredibly important relationship that I call the MindGuiding Relationship. Other people… There’s all kinds of terms. One of the things about these fields, and I’m talking about across a number of different fields, from anthropology to education to developmental psychology, etcetera, etcetera, is everybody has their own names for everything, but I think straightforward and MindGuiding Relationship makes the most sense to me. Mental apprentices and MindGuides makes the most sense to me. Alright? So this MindGuiding Relationship is an essential over the years and it evolves. It has to evolve, it has to develop. The apprentice has to take on more responsibility for it. Have experiences, bring them back, process them on their own, start to use peers to do that over time, etcetera, etcetera. There’s an evolutionary process where you become more self-guiding, never necessarily losing that need for others, whether it’s when you’re married, whether it’s having good friends. They help you with that. There’s never… The goal is not to become completely independent but to be able to experience that both personal and interpersonal agency.

Dr. Gutstein: So anyway, let’s go back to autism. So what do we know? We know that people with autism don’t develop this complex dynamic operating system that I call intelligence. But the other thing that’s not controversial… And we now refer to what we call the infant/toddler research on children who have not yet been diagnosed but then are followed through more retrospectively with that would wind up… Can go on to develop autism. Of course, we have many, many, many studies of that, hundreds of studies now. And again, what do they tell us? Just like with autism, there’s enormous diversity in these infants, and you’re not gonna find one vulnerability, and people tried so hard. It’s this sensory, it’s motor, it’s… They weren’t able to do it. There isn’t one thing, one cause of autism. It’s a, what we call a pathogenetic problem where a number of initial potential vulnerabilities can combine in different ways to form a common loss of developmental pathway, we’re talking about the loss of the pathway of development. In this case, their loss of dynamic intelligence pathway.

Dr. Gutstein: And the one thing that is incontrovertible, that is meeting all that diversity is that these children, these infants, these toddlers are unable to contribute what’s needed. It’s a mutually contributing relationship so that parents can form with them a mommy and daddy relationship but were never able to do that. And again, a unique quality of autism is that parents, by and large, can be excellent, can have great success with their other siblings who don’t have this problem, can do everything they… Initially, ’cause eventually it gets very distorted, but initially… All the things you would ever expect from a parent and still completely fail to form this MindGuiding Relationship with a child who isn’t providing their part of what’s needed in the relationship. Their part being, one, the growth… What we call growth-seeking motivation, and what we mean by that is the desire to try out for new experiences, to encounter novelty, to explore in a productive manner, to continue to try to do more.

Dr. Gutstein: I have a four-month-old grandchild with me now. And I have a four-month-old and I have almost a three-year-old and I have a six-year-old. And it’s really fascinating in different parts. My four-month-old, you have to be still very sensitive, the growth-seeking is starting to emerge. But she still… I talk about these two motivations, one is stability-maintaining, if any of you have been in sufferance of your trauma or crisis, you know that you’re not really interested in growth for a while, you wanna hop into bed and hurt, it’s the same. It’s stability maintaining. If you’ve been with a two-month-old infant, you know that if you pick them up too quickly, if you move around, if there’s too much noise, they lose it. They wanna maintain stability. And yes, they are learning and such but basically, if you’re a parent intuitively you’re experiencing the need to maintain a continuous environment. You’re not thinking about what they’re gonna learn. To feed them, to keep them satisfied, but that gradually starts to change.

Dr. Gutstein: I have a four-month-old now actually, who is in that transitional point because she doesn’t yet have any agency, she can’t really use her hands yet to hold things and explore them herself. She doesn’t feel very competent in the world. She doesn’t wanna be sitting there just bored to death with the same things over and over again, she loves the variation. I could pick her up and say, “We’re flying,” and go up and down, add to the variations and she gets happy and she indicates with her smile, and she’s also more expressive than… With a two months old, it’s very difficult to know… You know that you gotta change her diaper and do this stuff, but little subtle things, there is not much subtly there. You either keep them happy or they’re not happy or they’re upset.

Dr. Gutstein: But with her you can tell there’s much more of a range of expression and communication, even at four months to let you know how you can make an adjustment or if something you’re doing is working to keep going. So we start to see the onset of growth seeking very early and of course that just takes off and takes off later on. The more they have some agency themselves and the more they can use their bodies to move, to hold things the more confidence they have, the more they wanna expand it and master new things and try out new things. And the more resilience they have as well when things don’t work out.

Dr. Gutstein: And that’s my almost three-year-old who falls down about eight times a day and if you took her to the emergency room, they’d probably call Children Protective Services because she’s one big bruise. She grew very fast, her body is bigger than her ability to control it right now at this point in her life, that’s getting better. But at this point, she’s like a mess, she’s like one big bruise. But that’s not stopping her [chuckle] “I need more challenges.” The goal of guiding her is to hold her back from destroying herself, basically, it’s not to push her into anything. But I’ll go into that at a different time.

Dr. Gutstein: So anyway, what do we know? The research is clear. We’re talking about hundreds of studies, we’re talking about lots of research all over the world done by so many groups. By the middle of the second year, it’s very clear that the MindGuiding Relationship has not been formed. That in fact things are moving in the wrong direction in terms of that. That parents are unable, despite how great they may be, and of course, you get a normal range of parents with autism. Having a child with autism doesn’t make you necessarily a great parent, you can be a lousy parent, you can be the best parent in the world, normal range.

Dr. Gutstein: But it doesn’t matter because whether you’re the best or the worst… It may matter, I shouldn’t say that, it may matter to some degree. But in terms of forming my guiding relationship, it doesn’t matter because it does take two people who will contribute. And I always use the analogy of… Which may not be perfect, but the guided missile or launching a rocket into space where you have both a guidance system and you have the rocket engine supplying that raw energy. If you think about growth-seeking that desire for growth-seeking is that energy. And you think about the parent initially as the guidance system. It sort of breaks down a little bit, but it gives you a very gross way of thinking about the fact that you can’t have one without the… If you take away one of them, it’s not gonna work. I don’t care how good the guidance system, is if the rocket engine isn’t operating, forget it. I don’t care how good the rocket engine is if you have no guidance system it’s just gonna be a failure. So I think that’s a nice simple way to explain it.

Dr. Gutstein: And what the researchers show is that there’s a disengagement process, there’s a failure to use parents as guides to learn about the world, that’s powerful. And these are powerful data, these are not subtle. And that’s despite all the differences in the early vulnerabilities. So what do we know? We know that the MindGuiding Relationship… What’s universal is, it’s not forming, and we can see that very early on. We know that it’s essential to develop the type of mental operating system you need to succeed over the years, to learn to succeed getting more and more complex dynamic situation. So that if we’re going to help people with autism to have well-being in their lives, and we are, we have to provide them with the means to be competent, to be successful in what is occurring as the predominant way of operating in the real world.

Dr. Gutstein: Now, 500 years ago, things were not so… Things were sort of simple and static, if you were a peasant somewhere in Europe or a villager in South America. Things were repetitive, you did the same thing pretty much every day, you could learn… There were some people, who probably had more dynamic intelligence, but there was probably more places with people who didn’t. But now there isn’t any place for you. There are no… Forget assembly lines and forget all the things that robotics are replacing when kids are growing up, there’s gonna be nothing for them. You have to have that mental flexibility, you have to be able to learn powerfully from experience, especially how it applies to you, and the situations that keep changing in your life. It’s not like you’re learning about one situation ’cause you’re encountering new situations where you’re adapting in new ways all the time. You have to learn how to use imagination, not just have one, but use it productively. You have to learn how to be in a co-regulatory environment where things are gonna be somewhat unpredictable and how to be able to rapidly adapt and improvise with people and by yourself.

Dr. Gutstein: So these are not the… If you don’t have… If you don’t develop these things over the years, and again it’s a years-long process, there’s no way you’re gonna have well-being in life. I don’t care how much savant ability you have. And again, yes, I know that people, “Well, they’re happy” and all these things. And the other thing is, you can hear stories where people are artificially supported. They’re dependent on somebody’s beneficence, somebody who provides a niche for them, somebody who provides a program for them. Oh, somebody’s doing an employment thing for Google autism where they’re employing 13 people. Well, that’s really good, but what happens if that person goes out of business? 

Dr. Gutstein: And what happens if… In fact, the reality is that 99% of employers aren’t gonna do that around the world? So what do you do then? You complain and you can get angry and say, “You must do that.” And people with autism sometimes form groups and they say that and their employers say, “No.” They don’t even know about it, but if they did, they’d say, “No, we’re not going to. Too bad.” A few will say, “Yes,” but what’s the odds of getting that and what’s the odds of those people then can easily get stuck depending on them? You’re not fulfilling your own agency. You’re dependent on the beneficence of that person, that environment to provide that for you, and that’s pretty scary. And again, all the vast majority of adults or children are gonna face a world where nobody’s going to do that for them. They may even do things that make it worse. You can’t assume that that’s going to be there.

Dr. Gutstein: So here’s the deal. These kids are not providing the energy. They’re not providing, as infants, the feedback, the information you need, etcetera, etcetera. Finding a relationship doesn’t form over the years. The ability to learn from experience, to co-regulate with others, to learn to improvise, adapt, use your imagination correctly, yada, yada, yada, these things aren’t gradually growing and developing. This is a gradual process to get to a very sophisticated level that we need as an adult. And so what happens is they get thrown out of… They leave school. Some very successful in school, whatever. And they can’t function. And so you see things like the study where… A really important study where they showed that each year that these people with autism were out in real world, their odds of obtaining meaningful employment decreased. Rather than learning from experience and figuring out the system, they actually, by 10 years out, they were in incredibly bad situations. Each year was worse because they would get discouraged and discouraged and they weren’t able to learn from those experiences. They weren’t able to figure out, “How does that apply to me? What do I have to do to adapt? What does that mean? How does that make sense?” They didn’t have those abilities developed over years and years to do that.

Dr. Gutstein: So what happens then is… Let’s go back to the other intervention programs. And that’s why when people say, “Compare RDI to them,” it’s very, very hard because how do you compare it? Because they don’t even intend to do any of those things. They don’t develop intrinsic motivation. They don’t believe they can. They don’t know how. They don’t talk about it or they don’t do it, but it has to be developed. That, what I call their growth-seeking, has to be activated. They don’t understand… They don’t come from a remedial point of view where they recognize that people with autism have the capacity to develop through a MindGuiding Relationship, it’s just they didn’t have the opportunity for the relationship. And it’s not that they can’t form dynamic intelligence, so we don’t wanna give them [inaudible] or very sort of pathetic little skills that don’t in any way resemble what we do in the real world to be successful. Social stories and skills and things like that aren’t effective at all and won’t do anything. We don’t want them to be dependent on the benevolence of their well-meaning peers or employers or family members their whole lives and feel dependent on these people.

Dr. Gutstein: And that’s it. We don’t want that relationship. We don’t want that relationship that’s based on pity or based on their illness. And we want to empower them. And what I mean by that is, I don’t want people with autism to identify primarily as autistics. I think that’s one of the most tragic things I’ve seen, and partly due to the internet, is you see groups of people with autism. And I’m not talking about denying you have it, which is very different. I’m talking about people saying, “That’s my primary identity. Whether I’m a nice tempered person, empathic, whether I hate you, whether I’m a people person, non-people person,” whatever. It’s somehow that this lack of a MindGuiding Relationship is the thing that is the primary in your life. Well, it shouldn’t be. And of course, what we try to do is say, “No.” And we’re not asking you to deny it or to say it wasn’t challenging, but you’re a person who has a unique identity. You’re a person who…

Dr. Gutstein: Rachelle and I talk a lot about the kids we’ve seen who now are adults and they’re as different as night and day in terms of what they’re doing and all these things. They’re just people. And they all know what they’ve struggled, been through. But I have one guy I was just talking with who is in three hard rock bands and he’s formed them. And I hate the music. I hate to hate, but it’s a genre, and he loves it. And he has no idea how he’s gonna support himself a year from now and he’s not worried about it. He says, “I’ll do it. I’ve always done it.”

Dr. Gutstein: Another guy is a banker who just got married in New Jersey. Very solid, banker-type guy. Another guy was working on a classified project out west somewhere working for the Defense Department doing God knows what, highly secret, classified stuff. Another guy is a classical musician here in Houston who does a lot of gigs. Just endless series of things and they’re all different. Some are more people persons and they just love being around people. Some are less. Like anybody else, some are introverted, extroverted and they figure out who they are as human beings. One of the aspects is the autism but really, thinking about the autism being the failure of a MindGuiding Relationship and now they have it, that’s not a really good definition for them anymore. They can think about the vulnerabilities that are still there that contributed to the loss of that. Some people may have more sensory issues and live with those or more this or that. Some people don’t.

Dr. Gutstein: So they look at… But that’s more like what we all should be doing is looking at our limitations, our vulnerabilities, our strengths, which we can do something about, which we can’t. So autism starts having much of a meaning for them. But they’re not denying it. They’ve known if they’re parents… But what is it? And so I think we’re the only ones who try to do that as well and to form collaborations. I was thinking about… There’s a whole group of people who’ve been through ABA now, adults who are really getting angry about it on the internet, Kat was talking about that and other people who were upset with what was done to them. That’s because a lot of these treatments treat them as objects. They’re like, things done to them.

Dr. Gutstein: And what’s different here? One thing you can say for certain is RDI, it’s not that we follow the child’s lead, which is insane. If you’re a parent, you’d think you’re nuts to do that. But… Yes and no. But that we respect everybody. We empower, we try to empower them. We try to provide agency for children, within limits. And we try to build that agency, and we try to build more, gradually, more of a collaboration. And, as much as possible, have the child understand what we’re doing together.

Dr. Gutstein: Now there’s an initial step where we’re having to form a guiding relationship. Sometimes, very often, with children who have formed powerful defense mechanisms through their experience against engaging like that and also parents who are very wounded, who are very frightened of it. But, especially in those cases, we’re not going to assume there’s going to be initial collaboration. We’re not gonna be forcing… You can’t force someone into a relationship like that. We have to write experiences sometimes but we start those experiences, then you wanna be in them, but we need to have them experience it where their can experience how they can have more agency, where they can be more competent as a result of the guidance, a result of the engagement.

Dr. Gutstein: And then gradually, once that growth-seeking starts to kick in, then it becomes more mutual, then it becomes more exciting. So there’s a… There’s an initial stage of having to prepare people to form that relationship, which is probably one of the most crucial stages. Then the next stage, which is learning to use that relationship, and over a period of years to form dynamic intelligence, to form something. And then, a real critical stage where you start to transfer that to the child, adolescent, to become more self-guiding, or you can rely on others to do that as well. There’s sort of different stages as an evolution of this process, which I don’t see… And then there’s a lifelong support that we wanna provide. There’s also RDI, of course, we use things like the online cloud storage for knowledge. We try to say, “Well, there’s certain parts of this process of dynamic intelligence that can be what we call a hybrid, doesn’t have to all be in your head.”

Dr. Gutstein: And that’s what we’re all doing, by the way. It’s not any different than modern people are doing, like where we use the internet, where we use Google, where we use databases. We use that for personalizing knowledge, which I think all people should do. So there are other aspects of RDI that I think are very creative, very innovative as well, but I think that there’s so much of a difference in the aspect of saying, “Look, just because you have this diagnosis, doesn’t mean that this can’t… We can’t remediate, that we can’t form a guiding relationship that you can gradually learn.” Now, one thing that’s very difficult, one of the obstacles to RDI, you can talk of it to people about that. One is that underlying all this, there’s still a belief that people with autism can’t be… They can’t have remediation. You can give them a little compensation skills, but that you can’t address the underlying what we would call dynamic intelligence issues.

Dr Gutstein: The second issue has to do with the political historical whole front… And that is more related to ABA, to some degree TEACCH as well, where psychologists imported programs that, at that point in time, were limited to people with more moderate to severe mental retardation, which does not mean that… That’s the term that was used, and said, “Well, these are children with autism who have moderate to severe mental retardation.” I remember that years ago, when I was first getting into the fields, and this was early 90s already, Gary Mesibov, who was one of the heads of the TEACCH program under Eric Schopler, said to me, “Steve, one of the things I’ve realized is the vast majority of these kids are mentally retarded,” that again, not the terminology of disability we use now, and he was wrong. He was absolutely wrong, but the fact is he took this program, TEACCH, that had some value, affluence and value with those more significantly impacted kids and just threw it into autism.

Dr. Gutstein: And what the behaviorists did was, they took a program that they were using with schizophrenics in State Mental Hospitals, when they were confined in history, before they develop Thorazine and things like that that decrease negative behaviors and they took that and said, “Well, we’re gonna use it with autism.” So there’s been a history, just like Alan Greenspan, to child psychoanalytic play therapy, which is what floor time is. Believe me, I had intensive supervision in this when I was at record’s medical school during my postdoc year in doing it actually. Not with autism because it doesn’t make any sense. And say, “Well, let’s just throw that into… ” It’s like these kids have been… For many years have been treated like, “Well, you can’t help them anyway, so just try this, let’s try this, let’s try this.” Things like Lego therapy. [laughter] So that’s the other obstacle, is these sort of powerful enfranchised interventions or whatever you wanna call them, that have convinced a lot of people, that have no place in the field. They have nothing to do with what the needs are of this population, but have enormous power.

Dr. Gutstein: ABA has no, no absolute, absolutely no place in the process of developing what we need for well-being. Absolutely none. They don’t even think about developing those things. And yet they are still the predominant intervention. So you have this entrenched power that doesn’t wanna give up like always, for economic reasons of course, all kinds of reasons. We have these implicit beliefs that people with autism are Autisms, not just people, like people with learning disabilities or AD… And so that no one has even tried to remediate it until we did it, form a relationship, guiding relationship and then… So they give them these compensations, or they try to advocate for them and say, “Well, the world has to adapt to them,” which is great for everyone. I wish the world would adapt to me too, but it’s unlikely to happen for most people.

Dr. Gutstein: And I have to think about people in Uganda as well as people in New Zealand who have a great system. People in Uganda, ain’t gonna be no government adapting or around… There’s not gonna be a government adapting to them or you know most of the world. If we’re gonna have a program that’s gonna help. If we’re gonna help these millions of kids or adults, whatever, we can’t assume this past on advocacy for others to do it for them to set up environments for them. They have to develop their own ability. Now, there’s a halfway point where unfortunately it’s not happening, where another big obstacle, which is the way we learn, the way typical children learn through their guiding experiences, is they’re able to be in environments. Parents are able to curate, what I call curate, a set of environments that are just a little bit more challenging than what they’re capable of with the support.

Dr. Gutstein: Once you get past a certain point of early development in our society, people with autism never get, they’re not allowed to do that. They’re thrown into school, they’re thrown in here and there, and the older they get, the worse it is. They’ve never practiced environments, there’s never growth environments, there’s never mastery environments. They don’t get opportunities to gradually develop, and I think that to me is one of the biggest obstacles we all face. And something I would explain to people is we have to provide children, or any child, any child for growth with environments. We have to curate a set of experiences that are challenging, but not overwhelming, that are carefully done, so that there’s a potential for growth, not that they’re always gonna grow or even the way we… But if we don’t, if their day is one of being overloaded, overwhelmed or sort of just given more garbage to do, more static things to do, we’re not gonna see any growth.

Kat Lee: Thank you, Dr. Gutstein, and thank you for joining us for ASD: A New Perspective, the podcast show, where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child, and we do continue to encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee, see you next time.


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