Home School Life Journal

Home School Life Journal
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales
painting by Katie Bergenholtz

Relationship Development Intervention, Part 1

This is a program that is becoming part of the fare of therapies that are being talked about and used by people wanting intervention for their autistic children, and for good reason. A great explanation can be found here. The basic idea is that many therapies center on the verbal aspects of autism because it is obvious when a child is not talking, but neglect the other delays such as body language and other aspects of relationship development.
The very first steps of RDI focus on making declarative instead of imperative sentences when talking to an autistic child. We tend to just tell autistic children things, ask them questions or prompt them to do things. This is imperative communication. Communication, however, which we typically have contains 80% declarative communication, and 20% imperative communication.
Declarative communication is what we think of when we think of talking to others. It is true interaction. You share things. So, how do you use declarative communication with a non-verbal person? You can share your thoughts, reflections, even discussion of what you are doing. This feels awkward at first because you feel like you are talking to yourself. You are not, however. Your autistic child is listening and absorbing. It takes the pressure off of him to perform, which is the primary goal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, the other primary therapy used currently.
Also, the use of simpler and slower sentences is encouraged. It has helped us to use the Association method sentences that Alex has learned because they are shorter and simpler in construction. Slowing down speech is a bit harder, especially when you do feel like you are talking to yourself and are feeling somewhat self conscious.
RDI also suggests including the unexpected to peak your child's attention. This goes hand-in-hand with what we are just starting with the preposition work we are starting in the Association method step we are working on. This is called "spotlighting" because you are emphasizing what you are saying in some way. This gets their attention in a world where everything seems to demand equal attention for them.
The most important piece for me, however, is that RDI initially asks you to work hard on your non-verbal communication. I think I have almost totally dropped trying to communicate with Alex non-verbally because he just didn't notice non-verbals. I just dropped them altogether. RDI tells you, instead of dropping them, to teach your child how to follow them. When you teach something like tying shoes or household tasks, teach them by dramatically emphasizing your non-verbal language. Tammy's blog has tons of information and examples of how to do this, including some wonderful videos. Following her example, I recently taught Alex how to cook a chicken dish.
This leads into two more RDI terms, Framing and Scaffolding. Framing is simply to set up situations in which to practice the above and other RDI exercises. My planning to teach Alex how to cook the dish was the framing so that we could practice non-verbal communication as well as other goals...certainly not cooking. Scaffolding is simply providing whatever things your child needs to achieve success and feel that achievement. I will tell you more about this as I blog about our steps and advances. As you can see from the pictures of our cooking experience, Alex referenced what I was doing a lot to know what to do himself. I emphasized what I was doing and used little, if any words. I had his attention and he was successful.

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