Last Updated on July 16, 2013

Our most recent homework assignment from our Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) coordinator is to journal our strengths and weaknesses as guides to our autistic daughter. (The term “guide” is most easily explained as the person—usually a parent—who leads the child through life.) I’ve given this a lot of thought and talked to several other special needs parents about this issue.

When Rachel was little, I fell into a trap of pacification to keep peace. She didn’t like certain textures, so I didn’t force her to eat them. She didn’t like crowded places. I avoided them. She only ate Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets. I carted them to any restaurant where the rest of us wanted to eat. And then she didn’t like sitting at a table to wait for food. I stopped taking her out to eat. She was fussy during the night. I kept her quiet so the rest of the family could sleep.

What I wound up with were some major health problems from exhaustion and a family situation where we felt trapped. I believe RDI is helping us out of this trap, and one of the areas in which I have the most to learn is positive authority. I don’t have to be afraid to make Rachel upset. Some days, due to my health issues, I have little strength to deal with a tantrum, so I fall back into the old patterns. But as a whole, I am trying to take charge of the situation and move from a “child directed” approach to interactions to a “parent guided” system.

Being a positive authority has challenged me this last week, since a new school schedule started up. I’ve had to drag Rachel to class several days in a row, dropping toys, shoes, blankies, and clothes on our way. But I’ve stuck to my guns. I also left her in her room in the middle of the night when she kept banging to get out.

I don’t want to sound as if I’ve been a pushover. I haven’t. Ask my other child. But I have tried to take the easiest path and picked my battles … with the result of not wanting to pick many battles. Of course, after a 30-minute battle to get her into her car seat and making my other child tardy for school, one can understand why I wouldn’t want to fight another battle about leaving blankie in the car.

I have failed the most this week in my patience. Hormones and child rearing mix about as well as mud pies and fine china. I try to keep my voice even and positive, but today I caught myself sounding grouchy. I had to step back and take a breath. “It’s just a mess, after all. Carpet can be replaced.” (That’s what I  tell myself every day.) I also took a nap earlier while the kids were at school, since I didn’t feel well, so at least that helped me think well enough to step back before I starting snorting like an angry buffalo.

As for my strengths, as this is part of the assignment, I would have to say that I keep trying. And I’m fun. I may cry about the carpet sometimes, but most of the time I do my best to get in the mud, play on the trampoline, sing songs, and allow family time to take precedence over cleaning up messes.

And my best parent strength of all is that I keep praying. And I pray specifically. Every morning before school, I pray with the girls. We pray for my eldest to respect her teachers and for her teachers to have wisdom and love for the kids. We pray for her friendships and that she would show Jesus’ love to others. We pray for Rachel’s current goals—to connect emotionally to others, to have a desire to communicate, and to go potty. We also pray for their daddy, and we pray for me. It’s one of my favorite times of the day.

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  1. A lot of us fell into the “child directed” life when a child regressed into autism. It’s a wonderful coping mechanism when you don’t know what else to do.
    PRAISE GOD for RDI(r). We’re an RDI family, too.

  2. Love it when you do an RDI shout out. 🙂 The battles will become fewer!! Hang in there! This is the hardest work right now!

  3. jennifer d says:

    You have no idea how much you have encouraged me tonight. I often check in with your posts, as we are new to this whole special needs area, and I haven't even had time to find any other blogs or places of encouragement and support out there. Our son Luke has been on this "developmental delay" path for about five months now. I feel like my head is spinning so fast it is going to fall off at times. Luke is our fifth child and first boy. We waited a long time for a boy, 12 years. I can't even put words to my thoughts, emotions, prayers, and fears of the last half year……as I am sure you can imagine.
    Anyway I often pray for you and am encouraged by you, and wanted you to know.
    Hang in there….I think this must be a hard week all around.
    To encourage you and make your messes seem less,,,, may I offer this crazy week that we have had up for laughter and prayer… just gotta laugh!
    My husband and I finally got away after about 20 months of not doing so….which is long for us.
    We came home about 13 days ago. Since then we have had a broken arm and surgery with pins (5 year old)two days in Children's Mercy…..the swine flu then hit,,,,,,and just when I thought that everyone could maybe go back to school tomorrow….the temps are back up and we are back to the docs…hopefully not with pnem……
    Then yesterday,,,,due to our own flu induced craziness we left the keys in the car the night before last and it was stolen from our driveway.
    I had tried (unsuccessfull ) to leave for awhile to escape to a book store- so I packed the car, with my precious Bible…including everything I have noted for 28 years (this is THE thing that I would grab in a fire, I love it….it's beat up, but it's mine), my new laptop, new diaper bag, cell phone, wallet and makeup…….
    Hope that the robber or someone else needs Jesus, and maybe a diaper or some wipes!
    My husband now has the flu and is apparently going to die from it…..he is tough, but this one is bad…
    So if you all have not experiened Swine flu…..hang on and pray hard.
    and lock your cars!!!!!
    Tell me more about this RDI, I am interested. Although Luke does not seem to anyone to be on the Autism spectrum…..I am just trying to learn about it all right now.
    Keep posting a lot please….some days you keep me sane and make me laugh…….
    Sorry so long….that's what happens when you get a mom who has been caught up in the house for months on end, with only therapy appts…………..those poor therapists!!:)
    Hang in there, sounds like you are a terrific mom to me and I only hope to do as well…
    Lean on Him and laugh….what else can you do.
    Jennifer D.

  4. Thanks, Jennifer, for sharing your life with us!
    I’m so, so sorry things have been so crazy for the last two weeks. I will be praying for you!
    Check out the RDI website
    I’m going to ask my RDI coordinator if she’ll give a brief rundown of RDI. Maybe Susan or some of our other RDI moms can help with that, as well.
    From what we have learned, RDI is a program aimed at helping individuals on the autism spectrum connect more to their environment and the people around them. Also, we hope to help our daughter navigate in a constantly changing world. We have a coordinator who is a coach to us. She guides us, assigns activities for us, helps us look at our schedule and prioritize, cheers us on, and takes us step by step through the program. It’s tough to call RDI a program because it is so individualized, but it is a wonderful approach to reclaiming a family. We are so, so thankful for the changes we’ve seen in our family in just the last few months.
    Please write back soon!

  5. To the "other Jennifer D" I will pray for you as well and that your family will be out of crisis mode very soon. As far as RDI goes, it is a developmental program originally designed for kids on the spectrum, but I am hearing that it is being used for other developmental issues as well. I have heard Dr. Gutstein, the founder of RDI say that at some point, a child gets off the developmental path- and RDI is a comprehensive program designed to get the child back on the path. With RDI, you as parents learn to turn daily living activities into opportunities to guide their child's neurological development. Through "guided participation," RDI families improve their child's internal motivation, develop thoughtful and reciprocal communication and establish strong, meaningful relationships.
    I am using some language from my consultants website and would be happy to talk to you more… if your child is delayed it might be different that being competely off the developmental path. How old is he? What do you see/feel as a mom?
    Jen Dyer- this is so cool that we have this little network on your blog. 🙂

  6. Thanks, Susan!
    You said it so much better than I did! You are such a special lady. Thanks for encouraging us!

  7. Hello to you all! I am an RDI consultant and just want to echo the words Jennifer Dyer and Susan wrote about RDI. They both explained it nicely and the RDI website if much more helpful. From a Christian standpoint and a therapist standpoint. The reason why this program is successful is because we are fighting for the thing that God created us for. Relationship! This program helps restore the ability to form relationships in children who do not have the neurological capacity to form them appropriately. We are changing brain development. Therefore, if God is on our side…who can be against us. If you would like to talk more you can email me at

  8. Amen Lynne!! That is exactly why I chose RDI. I believe that God created all of us for Relationship… relationship with him and relationship with each other. I rejected the behavioral approach from the beginning because it reminded me so much of a rules based religion where relationship with God is often misplaced. It took me a long time to repent and be free from “religion” and grab hold of relationship with my heavenly father… I felt the same way about behavioral intervention… I wanted my daughter to truly “get it” and not just look good.

  9. jennifer d says:

    Thanks ladies for sharing your thoughts and prayers….It has taken me this long to get back to here, because life is just that busy. My son just turned one last Friday. Everyone was finally healthy and so we went away for a long weekend to a friend’s cabin at Tablerock Lake. We seem to be out of crisis mode,,,,and are now just dealing with scheduling a million therapists appointments around nap and feeding time, and praying for Luke to drink,,,,,he isn’t really nursing much, if any, any more and yet he refuses the bottle and rarely will drink from a cup! We are talking really refuses it. This leads to quite a bit of time offering it to him and hoping he will stay hydrated. (my new prayer request). And sleep,,,,because of teeth, and not getting enough nourishment, he has wanted to be up every other hour for about 3 weeks……
    Did I mention that my husband and I had just gone away to reconnect, plan, pray and focus on Him….and started praying regularly together. I was so proud of my husband, encouraged and excited for the future…..Hmmmmmm wonder why the next three weeks looked so crazy….We are under huge attack for a reason….
    Where we go from here is sooooooo important. Thanks for your encouraging words and prayers. My husbands name is Howard….and I really would love prayer for him and where we go from here…..
    It is late and I would love to learn more about the RDI and your ideas about Luke and some advice, but I must sleep. I will visit again soon, and look forward to learning from you and your experiences. Hearing from other Christian moms, especially with some special needs kiddos is VERY encouraging.
    Here is a praise……Luke has spent the last four days pulling up for his birthday and looking very much like a mobile, driven, determined little boy!……His pt couldn’t believe it when she saw him on Thursday, his first day of all of this….and today he worked on stairs and started cruising on some furniture. He still has a long way to go, but just three months ago, I wasn’t sure if he would do any of this before he was 2 or 3, or if he would be in a wheel chair!……
    Our Father is soooo faithful and so awesome, … day at a time, with Him!
    Blessings, Jennifer Dammarell

  10. Please pray for my 18 year old son. He is scheduled to enter a plea tomorrow morning to doing something that he knew he shouldn't do, but did anyway. No one was hurt, just him at this point. Please pray for him to receive the least sentencing that he can. Please also pray for our strength, as his parents, it is so hard to sit and watch this all unfold. Let God's will be done.

    Thank you