Starting when Oliver was very small I got together once a week on Friday morning with a group of mothers and our kids who were all about the same age. There is a park about a mile from my house that has the most amazing play structure for kids. It is a big, elaborately built wooden structure with ladders and slides and things to crawl through, over and under, and they call it the kid's castle. I grew to really hate the kid's castle and was glad when Sam's birth caused me to stop going there with Oliver. I hated it for a couple of reasons. One is because there is a creek that runs nearby, across the soccer field and by the time he was two, Oliver spent the majority of his time trying to leave the castle so that he could throw rocks in the water. This would have been okay in principle, but on Friday mornings I coveted my time with the other Mom's because I seemed to be having so much trouble adjusting to motherhood and it was helpful to hear that others had the same doubts and troubles even though most of their kids seemed to be sleeping through the night. I also hated the kid’s castle because, although Oliver had always been pretty coordinated, the whole place seemed fraught with danger to me. Nik, who had already been through the early years with RT, looked at me with that are you serious? look whenever I started to hyperventilate because Oliver was standing too close to some precipice or other. I will never forget a time when another mother from our play group looked at me with eyebrows raised as if to say: “Geez, chill out!” when I called out to Oliver using that danger voice that mothers acquire at the birth of our first child. Her daughter happened to be standing right next to Oliver and she calmly said to me: “He’s not going to fall.” But the thing is, I didn’t believe that he wasn’t going to fall because it always seemed to me that Oliver had no real sense of danger. I didn’t believe that he had any idea that at the age of two he could not safely jump from the height of five feet. And worse: he didn’t seem to heed my danger voice at all.
One of the things that I like so much about RDI is that so much importance is placed on the art of referencing. Referencing is the ability to get important information from the non-verbal actions of others. In the DVD that lays out the RDI framework, Dr. Gutstein describes the following experiment. A baby, around six months of age, is placed on a table with a glass top. Below the glass is another surface that is designed to visually make the baby think that the surface drops away. The child is placed at one end of the table and his mother is sitting on the other side of the perceived cliff. Typical children will crawl to the drop off point and then look at their mother for information. If the mother nods and smiles and encourages the baby to continue then he will. Isn’t that amazing? Even if the baby’s visual perception is telling him that there is nothing there to support him he will continue forward because his mother has told him (non-verbally) that it is OK. That is referencing. And that is something that Oliver cannot do. So his ABA program can teach him to look someone in the face when it is appropriate to do so, but it won’t necessarily teach him to look there for important, non-verbal information. The promise of RDI is that will help a child learn to WANT to look at his parents to get that kind of information.
If you have a typical child, or a typical spouse, or typical co-workers, just think of all the times this ability has come in handy. If I could only tell you how many times a raised eyebrow has cause RT to stop doing something that he shouldn’t be doing. Or when Sam is unsure of something and feels confident to proceed with just a look in my direction. When I think of the possibility of Oliver developing that ability it makes me absolutely giddy.
We won’t formally begin our RDI program until January but we’ve already been trying to implement some basic activities and to just change how we communicate with Oliver in general. Part of this involves a lot of head shaking. Vigorously. Yes and No. Sometimes I shake my head “No” so emphatically I get dizzy. But slowly, slowly, slowly, it seems to be working. One activity that seems to lend itself naturally to the need for referencing is using the computer. Oliver and I log on to seseme street at least once a day to watch the elmo video about using the bathroom. When elmo or one of the other characters needs to use the bathroom the user is asked to press any key on the keyboard to help them make the right decision. Oliver loves this part and always presses the letter G. Two times. The program gives the user two or three chances to push a letter before it continues on its own. I position myself between the keyboard and Oliver and shake my head NO the first time or two before finally smiling broadly and shaking my head yes and indicate that he can push the button. We’ve been doing this for a few days and finally today he looked at me twice to see what I was “saying” and changed his actions accordingly. It is a small, small step but when he has it mastered I believe the impact will be profound.