RDI is like magic. It really is. Play a few games, go for a walk, toss a couple rags in the laundry basket, read a story, put books back on the shelf, and then next thing you know, your son is sharing experiences and referencing like crazy. And why? Because you asked him to? Because you wrote a story about it? No. Because he learned it through moments with his mom and his dad that lasted, on average, three minutes. And how did he learn it? Really? I don’t know. By magic. That’s the only explanation I have.
Now, Fluffy was always, what? I dare not say high functioning because it’s a misleading and quite possibly, meaningless phrase. Fluffy has lots of language. That’s wonderful. A real strength. He also uses it to control and hide and it ends up largely pushing others away and confusing them rather than using it as a bridge to connection, an avenue to genuine communication with others, especially his peers. But no matter. I’m not worried about it. We’re lucky that language came easily for him and the rest, the understanding and awareness and nuances of conversation as a two way street–will come. He’s also always had the desire or need to be WITH another person, mostly me. He was never off playing on his own. Never. As a neurologist told me, I WAS his frontal lobe. Only in this last year have moments of independent play bubbled up through water, each holding a twinkling good witch of the north. I’m sure this comes from the RDI we’ve been doing and how it’s helped Fluffy self-regulate, calm, and feel the ease that comes from his growing confidence in navigating his world, both the smaller more controlled one in his home and the larger more unwieldy one out his door.
Now hear this: The RDA was a huge success! Fluffy was a star! The goal was to see if there were any holes from previous stages and gather ideas and information about the next couple of stages. We played bean bag crash, obstacle courses, hide and seek, grocery store, toss and roll the ball, team ball kicking, team dancing, Mrs. Midnight, blocks, bean bag mountains, and much much more. There were many breaks and no pressure and it all confirmed Fluffy’s mastery of (1) Experience Sharing–his genuine desire to connect WITH another person and (2) Social Referencing–his ability to get information of various types FROM another person.
What this means is, Fluffy wants to play WITH another person more than he wants to play with a certain THING. He cares about having fun but he also wants the other guy to have fun. The referencing he’s doing is about getting information from the other person, what they mean, feel, want, what they’re talking about or referring to. But it’s not rote or mechanical; it’s really remarkably fluid. For example, he was telling Lauren, our consultant, a story and she asked a question he wasn’t sure of, so he turned to find me, looked directly into my eyes and made a questioning face. I shook my head yes, since the answer to Lauren’s question was yes, and he turned back to her and said, YES! For those of you with typical children, this will seem quite ordinary. For those of you with kids on the spectrum, you know this is MONUMENTAL!
The first day was the Mommy and Fluffy show. Lauren came in and out with new games or little notes giving a new direction to the game and then retreated to the other room where she and Dave watched our progress on the video monitor. We moved through the games that tested objectives of the mastered stages and then on through games in stage 3 and stage 4. Predictably, this is where things began to fall apart since it was unchartered territory and up at the edge of his competence. But still! He hung in there!
The Lauren and Fluffy show was the next day and that got off to a rough start. It wasn’t about the games, it was about getting used to a new person and anxiety about what she was going to ask of him. He’d go along to a certain point and then zoom back to where Dave and I were watching and give us a blow by blow, We’re making an OBSTACLE COURSE! We’re jumping OFF CHAIRS! Once he was assured of our presence, that he wasn’t free-falling through cold dark space, he’d zoom back and reconnect to Lauren. That was the biggest thing about this whole experience. Fluffy was breaking connections here and there as we all do, but he noticed it and always came back, he always made repairs, he always reconnected.
On the last day, we all played. Lots of partner things: flying our space ships together, pouring soup into pots together, taking bites together, dancing and stopping together. It was fun but it was also hard work. Play is work. It really is, and you see it so clearly in RDI. Not because it’s unpleasant, no no, it has to be engaging. Kids don’t learn when they’re not having fun. But fun is not the biggest motivator–competence is. The need and drive to build competence is the biggest motivator for, frankly, all of us. How long will you keep at something if you don’t think you are making any progress? Learning something? Getting better? You will give up and so will our kids. The more I get RDI, the more I see it as not a therapeutic program or even an intervention. I see it as a way of being mindful in parenting, mindful of what our children find confusing, mindful of how to frame and spotlight things so they can come into focus.
And things are coming into focus for my guy, little by little, like magic. Last weekend, I invented a crossword puzzle with words from the weekend: Long Island, Ferryboat, Aunt Susie, Uncle Steve, etc., Fluffy asked, Is Beegu one of the answers? I said, maybe! And he said, Mommy, I knew by the look on your face and the sound of your voice and the way your eyebrows went arching up that the answer would be yes. Yes Yes! I said, You were reading my face!
By the time we pulled into the driveway late yesterday afternoon at the end of our third day, we were all fried. There were McDonalds wrappers stuck to our foreheads and ketchup splattered everywhere, like a kiddie Peckenpaw flick. Thankfully, the town beach is five minutes away. In no time at all, we were frolicking in the waves, rolling in the sand, and generally flailing about with wind slap-slapping the hair around our heads like wild caterpillars.