RDI Magic

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.

11 thoughts on “RDI Magic

  1. So happy for you! And proud of you! You have worked so hard with Fluffy and you are doing a great job. I know how hard it can be with a child on the spectrum. Pat yourself on the back, Mom!

  2. So happy that RDI is making your world magical. I loved what you said about RDI being “mindfull of parenting”, that is how I have felt about things like ABA as well. We don’t do ABA (but have been considering RDI), but have a good friend who is a SLP trained in ABA. When she teaches me things about it, and with my teaching background, to me it is not rocket science, it is exactly what you said…being mindfull in parenting, doing the best we can with logical rewards and consequences and LOVE! So very happy for you.

  3. Congratulations to you and Fluffy on your progress! I had to catch my breath when you described his noticing every nuance of your facial expressions and concluding correctly your intention with that information! RDI is good stuff and I am anxious to visit Jacob’s Journey and learn more.

  4. I am so happy for you, Dave and especially for Fluffy!

    “But fun is not the biggest motivator–competence is.” I agree with this very much.

    I gotta get me some of that magic.

  5. Hi Kyra,

    (I’ve been meaning to comment on this earlier)

    Okay, you finally talked me into RDI. We have a couple of the books and have previously contacted an RDI consultant, who was happy to work with us (and thrilled to work with someone as young as my daughter). But then we ‘stopped’, due to a combination of time issues, IBI (costs only – our IBI pgm has no objections to RDI, and the pgm head has some RDI training), medical issues, a philosophical disagreement (the Bear has rudimentary Theory of Mind, IMO, but due to SI issues has impediments to building upon this base) and plain old inertia.

    The Bear (net-named in honour of Fluffy, btw) has recently turned three and is non-verbal, but she wants to be very social, and now (okay, very soon) is as good a time as any. While I think the Bear has some basic ToM, it strikes me that this is a capability that requires practice and guidance to fully develop (and while we’re at it, maybe I might make some ToM gains too).

    Thanks for sharing your success, it is inspiring.

  6. Kyra, I know you don’t get much time to blog now (with which I totally sympathise!) But, if you ever get time, I’d love to read more examples of the kinds of things you tried in the different stages. Particularly non-verbal/social referencing, since that’s what I’m working on now with my son.

    I’m currently trying this on my own rather than with a consultant, for financial and other reasons, so I’m always on the lookout for ideas that might be worth trying. I’ve read all of Harvest Mom’s blog and it was incredibly helpful, but, of course, Jacob was passive and compliant in nature at the time – my son, however, is much more like Fluffy in his wish to do his own thing, and I just don’t see him sitting down to activities such as picking out which of two shapes to colour in or which of two blocks to pick up. I do have lots of little things to try, but definitely on the lookout for any other tips or inspiration.

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