One of the most challenging parts of parenting a child who has autism can be figuring out how to relate and connect with your child, when he/she may prefer engaging in repetitive behaviors and not have the language and communication skills to connect with you—or anyone else. It is heartbreaking and frustrating—I know, having been there—to reach out to your child and not be able to figure out how to break through.
Enter RDI—a cognitive-behavioral therapy started by psychologist Dr. Steven Gutstein. RDI stands for Relationship Development Intervention and is a process that teaches parents the skills to create a process of “co-regulation” between parent and child—which means a way to start with simple steps to engage your child in the natural back and forth process that occurs between typically developing parents and their children.
One aspect of the RDI process that is unique is that rather than a therapist coming in and doing the work with your child, a specially trained consultant works with you, the parent, to educate you in the co-regulation process and to then help you work with your child on a number of developmental goals. It is then you, the parent, who works on the goals with your child. The RDO consultant provides support through meetings, phone calls and through watching video observations of you and your child, but it is the parent who becomes empowered to connect with your child while helping him/her to build dynamic intelligence.
When my husband and I started RDI with our four-year-old son George (around the same time that we had started the GFCF diet), our RDI consultant suggested that we try cooking as an activity that could help us work on co-regulation and I write all about our experience cooking with RDI here. My GFCF children’s cookbook “The Kitchen Classroom” talks more in depth about our experience with RDI, as well. Now that I create videos of my son George and me cooking together, parents often marvel about how related George and I are—how we work together, communicate with facial gaze and have a natural back and forth pattern. This relationship is because of the work that my husband and I put in to our RDI program—and the result, as many can see—is that despite my son’s communication challenges, we are able to relate and connect. I feel like I have tools that I need to parent George, even though his developmental skills are quite uneven.
Another essential piece of the RDI process is the emphasis on dynamic intelligence—giving our children opportunities to think through problems and come up with solutions. This ability is essential for a person to grown into an independent person. So much of our education and therapeutic emphasis for children with autism focuses on memorization, repittion and categorization and while these skills play a role in learning, RDI asserts that our children, when given the opportunity, can think in more dynamic ways.
RDI is not for every family. You need to be a parent who wants to jump in the game. You need to be humble and acknowledge that you have a lot to learn. But if you are willing, RDI is an opportunity for engagement, connection and fun—for both you and your child. And I know there are families who began the process when their children were in the teen years or even as adults, so it is never too late to start an RDI program.
About the Author
Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer blogs about food and family at www.kitchenclassroom4kids.com. She loves to lead workshops for parents, educators therapists and families about cooking with kids of all abilities.