Today I brought out my old binder containing all the notes I kept from a therapy we highly invested in from 2007-2008, called Relationship Development Intervention (RDI). We had a consultant from Gainesville, Florida named Bruce Carroll. Bruce is one of the nicest guys we’ve had the pleasure to work with in this autism journey. Bruce also has a son with autism and was very much like a mentor. Over the two years, we met with Bruce and his wife Pam twice for workshops and regularly dialogued every two weeks as we would send video clips of us working with Philip and receive his feedback.
RDI was a nice piece of the puzzle in helping us have a closer relationship with Philip. We learned to incorporate more declarative language and less imperative (in other words fewer commands). We tried to build a sense of competence in Philip by having him help us in chores like putting away silverware and doing laundry. We played games that built in patterns and then introduced variations to help him be able to handle change. We also worked on activities that naturally made him pay attention to our facial expressions and body language. An example would be hiding a piece of candy and playing a hot/cold kind of game by smiles and nods if he was getting closer or frowns and head shakes if he was getting colder. It was during this RDI time that we had family circle time daily and our family as a whole grew closer. All the kids have fond memories of family hide and seek, obstacle courses, and singing the Barney song as we gave each other hugs and kisses.
What made me think back to RDI was a worksheet we filled out during one of our workshops with Bruce. It was a “Mission Preview” of our hopes and dreams for each period of time in the future. The Mission Preview was to serve as a motivator, roadmap, and reference point for future progress. Here’s what I wrote:
Preview 1: Short-term (within the next 2 years)- Philip participates in dinnertime conversation with the family.
Preview 2: Intermediate (within the next 5-7 years)- Philip has a friend he plays with.
Preview 3: Long term (more than 10 years from now)- Philip goes to high school and participates in extracurricular activities. He gets a job as an adult.
There was a time when I thought none of those dreams would come true. Today made me think it is now possible.
Our family has started doing “after dinner conversations” with Philip. This is because I think Philip still needs minimal distractions to do this. Eating and lots of voices all at once is probably too much, but I think he will get there. Each person gets to converse one at a time with Philip while I hold the letterboard (hopefully this will transfer to the others too, but for now, he does best with me holding it even if the kids are speaking directly to Philip).
The conversations went like this:
Me: What question would you like to ask Carlos?
Philip: WEAR (misspell for where) THE ARSENAL FROM?
(This is a relevant question because Carlos’s soccer team is called Amherst Arsenal and we all watch his games at least once a week. Philip also knows Carlos is into watching soccer on TV and likes the professional Arsenal team.)Carlos: They are from London. Do you know where London is?
Carlos: Actually it’s in England which is a country in Europe.
Me: Yes, remember we learned about England when America wanted to become free from English rule.
Carlos: Do you like soccer?
Lia: Why do you like to twirl things?
Philip: IT FEELS GOOD. ACHIEVE PEACE.
Me: Do you want to say anything to Lia? It can be anything, even a question.
Philip: YOU ARE TALENTED
Me: in what?
Sam: What was the best part of today? (This was over the weekend)
Philip: BEST IDEA IS A DAY TOGETHER
Me: What would you like to say to Dad?
Philip: ISN’T IT A MOST AUSUME (awesome) TIME?
Sam: Yes it is!
I’ll have to amen that! It is an awesome time to start seeing the puzzle pieces coming together (relationship, communication, learning) and we can begin to see Philip more and more clearly each day.