Friday, November 03, 2006

Getting Started

Do you know how hard it is to change your whole manner of communication? Well, it is hard. At least for me.

Our first appointment date with an RDI consultant isn't until January and so I have been reading everything I can get my hands on and trying to learn as best I can how to incorporate RDI strategies into our everyday life. The first thing on my RDI to-do list is to reduce the verbal clutter through which Oliver has to navigate. I'm talking less so that there is less to process. Part of this exercise of talking less means that I am concentrating more on using non-verbal communication. This is something I was skeptical of at first. One of the things that is supposed to be true of kids on the spectrum is that they don't pick up things from the environment in quite the same way as typical kids. So would he even notice my gestures, faces and posture? But I gave it a shot and tried to channel a paris street mime as much as possible. To help I started doing completely ridiculous things at random times throughout the day so that he wanted to keep checking out what I was up to. For example I might work up to a big, loud, messy sneeze. Or I might put Oliver's underwear on my head instead of my hat. Neither Sam or Oliver appear to know what to think these days.

And thirdly, I am concentrating on speech actions that don't require a response from him. I comment. I wonder aloud. I exclaim. And only when necessary do I direct him to do something. This is the hardest thing for me. I tend to use a lot of rhetorical questions when I speak -- especially, it turns out, when I speak to Oliver. I wasn't aware of that until I started paying attention. The rule of thumb is 80% declarative; 20% imperative. I think I had it inverted. So about 100 times a day I find myself slipping up. Especially since the verbal behavior program is structured so that we ARE supposed to elicit responses from him. (Which is a real conflict and one that I will have to work out before too long).

Oliver's response to all this was immediate and, well, amazing. He has seemed much more engaged. He is looking at me longer and more often. He seeks me out to play silly little non-verbal games that we've invented. We are connecting again.

Occassionally over the last year I have had epiphanies or insights into the human condition, or MY condition, or motherhood, or whatever -- that have profoundly impacted me. Beginning RDI with Oliver has opened a window for me on my parenting style over that last year since Oliver's diagnosis. Simply by looking at how I structure my language has shown me how much I demand of him. And not just on a day-to-day basis, but minute-by-minute.

In a past post I noted how I have made a real committment to uping the fun ante at our house. RDI certainly seems to dovetail nicely with that goal.

In conclusion I will leave you with this thought: if you try any of these tricks at home don't forget that you are wearing underwear on you head when the doorbell rings.


  1. This is fantastic, Christine. I can really relate. It seems like such a small thing, but it's SO huge. I look forward to reading more about it!

  2. I've been reading your blog for awhile now, but I have to stick my head up and comment about this. We don't have a diagnosis for our son at this point (to get one of those we would have to actually see a qualified professional instead of being on the waiting list for the rest of our lives), but your remark about children on the spectrum not being attuned to their environment rings very true for me. It's subtle - I can't put my finger on how I know this - but it's very clear to me that my son pays very little attention to the sights and sounds around him, especially in comparison to his younger sister.

    Anyhow. Bub has been diagnosed with a speech delay, so I've been focusing on trying to engage him in back-and-forth conversations, which involves a lot of obviously pointless asking of "What colour is that?" and "What animal do you see?" So I find the approach of focusing on declarative remarks absolutely fascinating.

    Are you supposed to seek out eye contact and try to get the child's attention with this approach? Or do you simply DO something interesting and then let the child initiate the interaction? If you're supposed to aim for 80% declarative and 20% imperative, does that mean you avoid the interrogative altogether?

  3. Ha! I'll have to remember that about answering the front door. Seriously, though - I'm intrigued. Can you recommend a good starting-point book I might read to familiarize myself more thoroughly with RDI? Thanks.

  4. that is a riot! and SO exciting ! yipeee!!!