This weekend I have spend some time reviewing and cleaning up some of my computer files. This blog is probably over 9 years old and chronicles my earlier journey moving from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) therapies. I think it is fitting to share as I think about my family and friends in the USA and their upcoming Thanksgiving celebrations. I hope it helps you as your reflect and share time with yours.

“RDI Empowers Parents”. This is what I wanted to sing from the roof tops when we became an RDI family. You see, previous to discovering RDI, we were an ABA/VB {Verbal Behavior} family. At one time we had employed a staff of 6 comprised of 1:1 therapists, a senior therapist and a supervising psychologist. I supervised them all from the sidelines, but handed the direct 1:1 discriminative stimulus {SD}, because I just wanted to be MOM.

I got my son’s leftover time – when he was tired between excessive hours of therapy. I sat on the sidelines day after day, answering the door 2 to 3 times per day to let in a therapist so they could go downstairs and work/play with my son.

Sadly, I thought this was our only hope to help him. Every well intended professional I met told me this is what we must do. I missed him so much! I will never get that that time back. Completely dependent on the therapist to “cure” my son, I’d pray; “Please God, see them home safe so they can come back tomorrow and help my boy.” While my son had almost completed the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills {ABLLs}, he had not yet developed the intrinsic motivation or ability to carry on a spontaneous reciprocal conversation or desire to play with other children. Yes, he had developed many skills like sitting for circle, knowing his ABC’s, shapes, colors, even opposites, but he was NO less autistic. He often zoned out, requiring prompting to stay on task, unmotivated to learn, unable to make good appraisals or observations, incapable of maintaining play with peers, etc. While he could “get by” at this early age, my gut told me not to give up, that his future depended on it and I knew intuitively that we were missing something BIG.

So, I decided I’d better take a closer look at this new therapy I’d heard about RDI. Initially, we fumbled our way through attempting to implement a RDI program without a consultant in between ABA drills (Ugh, What a Flop!). Somehow, I knew there must be more to RDI and that we just needed better direction and understanding. One of the reasons I was compelled to seek out RDI was because the founders, Dr’s Gutstein and Sheely, had long term perspective in the creation of the RDI program. They looked at long term quality of life outcomes for individuals on the spectrum as well as what employers and universities recognized where critical components to success in the real world. As well,  the core developmental deficits of individuals with Autism, they put into place a program that works to remediate those core deficits.

So we packed out bags and traveled across country to receive our first Relationship Development Assessment {RDA}. That’s when everything changed. Remember how I’d pray at the doorway for our therapist safe return? WELL… upon our return, I had a new outlook and it was “don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”. Finally, I was empowered! I knew that we could make the BIGGEST difference in our son’s life. Yes, ABA/VB gave my son many skills, but RDI provided us with the tools to help him develop motivations to master new challenges and independently engage in this world without 1:1 support, compensations and prompting.

My son now functions independently at school; he plays with other kids in he neighborhood and at church. He is able to do these things unprompted and unscripted. He’s developed a wonderful sense of humor, learned how to lie (only a parent of an Autism Syndrome Disorder (ASD) child could be proud of that one) and an amazing ability to care for others.

One day a close family friend took my son to the local outdoor farmer’s market to look at the farm animals, browse the various vendors selling food and crafts. I had given my son $10.00 in case he wanted to buy something to eat. Once there, he stopped to look at some jewelry on display and he decided to buy me a ring! Once he picked the perfect ring, he insisted that they leave the market right away, eager with anticipation to present his gift to me. When he gave me the ring the look on his face was priceless. He was so proud and happy because he was making me happy. That’s it – that was the only reward for him….. making me happy! We stared at each other for a long while drinking in the moment. And of course, I needed to get a tissue. I still wear that ring to this day.

I cannot put a price tag on what RDI has done for our family, but the actual cost of the program was one tenth as much as we paid for other programs with 100 times the return. Thank you Dr. Sheely and Dr. Gutstein from the bottom of my heart!!

Included resource:

A short video hosted by Wendy McDonnel, with myself and a client Carol chatting about why parents are best suited to make a difference in their child’s intervention.

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