Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Slow Down!

We actually started the first step of RDI before we even started RDI. One of the main reasons we decided to homeschool was because we wanted to slow down. Before homeschooling we had the typical schedule: rush, rush, hurry, hurry, go to bed, and start all over the next day! We just knew there had to be a better way.

For us, homeschooling was that better way. I immediately gained over an hour just by eliminating the driving time to and from school. I gained at least 15 more minutes by no longer having to pack lunches (Yes, they still eat, but everything doesn't have to be packed "just so," and I don't have to clean spilled tomato soup out of the lunch bag). I gained another 15 minutes that would have been spent ironing clothes that fit the school dress code. That adds up to an hour and a half of extra time each day. But I also gained countless hours that before would have been spent in meetings with teachers and administrators about how to deal with Ryne's autism. And best of all, no more hours spent fundraising for the school. Of course, I'm not the only one who has gained time. Homework is now replaced by work at home, so the kids now have real free time in the afternoon.

How did I replace those hours? Well for starters, for the first time in my life I've been able to keep a fairly regular schedule of reading my Bible in the morning. What a difference that has made in my life! Second, I have been able to spend time with the kids in a relaxed atmosphere. Our school room is also our guest room, so we have a queen size bed set up in the corner of the room -- perfect for curling up with the kids during our reading time.

Slowing down sounds like a goal we should all have, but what exactly does it have to do with building relationships in children with autism? Why does RDI place such an emphasis on slowing down? To answer this it is important to first explain that RDI is a developmentally based intervention. RDI maintains that children with autism are either stuck in their developmental process or have gaps compared to their neurotypical peers. This results in the child having certain core deficits which we collectively call autism. I will talk about these core deficits another time. What RDI does is attempt to tackle these core deficits by giving the child a "developmental do-over." The RDI model is broken down into 12 stages, and every stage contains individual objectives (the full program contains over a thousand objectives). Each stage roughly corresponds to a typical child's development (e.g., a child working on Stage 1 objectives will be working on things a child would learn in the first year of life). The parents then are trained to guide their child through the developmental steps they missed the first time.

With this in mind, one can see how important it is to slow down. Think about how a mother talks to her infant. The speech is slow, exaggerated, and interactive. A mother wouldn't talk over her shoulder while folding laundry, saying, "I'll feed you in a minute, dear!" More appropriately she would be within close proximity to the baby and say with great expression, "Are you hungry? Is it time for some yummies?" Everything about her interaction is purposely slow. This communication has very little to do with the actual words being spoken, but has everything to do with building their relationship. Pretty soon the baby will start picking up on all of mom's gestures and expressions and realize that they are just as important (if not more so) than the words themselves.

For a child with autism it is crucial to slow down. We need to slow down our interaction with them so they can learn the basics. In an earlier post I explained that Ryne didn't understand we could communicate with him by just nodding our head in a certain direction. Once we took the time to slow down and work just on that one thing, he picked it up pretty quickly.

We also need to slow down in our expectations. We can not expect them to "act their age" if that is not where they are at developmentally. This has really helped me in regards to homeschooling. It's so easy to have expectations of what a child should be capable of learning, but when you consider it from a developmental perspective it suddenly doesn't seem so important if your child is not working at grade level (regardless of whether the child has autism!).

One of the biggest obstacles to slowing down is simply having too much going on. We all know how activities can take over our lives. Sports. Church events. Scouts. Therapies. Doctor appointments. Multiply that by the number of kids you have. Yikes! Individually they all seem wonderful or just plain necessary, but collectively they can mean less relationship-building opportunities with your child. Less time for that "do-over" in development. What is truly important for your child in the long-term?

With RDI I've learned that I need to be selective about what we do and don't do. The good news is that so many activities can be adapted to be RDI-friendly. This is where it is helpful to participate in a RDI community. You learn from more experienced parents how to turn your everyday activities into activities that will further your child's development. Grocery shopping, working on Cub Scout requirements, making the bed, swimming lessons -- these activities can all be modified to fit in with your RDI objectives.

It is so neat to look back on our personal experience and see that God was preparing us for RDI a full year before we even started the program. He caused us to see that our lifestyle was not beneficial for any of us, but especially not for Ryne. Through homeschooling we took a big step in slowing down, and I believe just that one step helped Ryne tremendously.

I do not, however, want to paint this idyllic picture that our life is chaos-free. If you've read any of my past posts, you have seen that slowing down is something with which we still struggle. Some people seem to be more naturally RDI-inclined. Marc and I are not really in that group. Usually as I think about the day, I realize we missed several opportunities to be more relational. Nevertheless, we have made great improvement, and we will continue to work on

s l o w i n g

d o w n.

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