Over the past year I've spent a great deal of time, here and elsewhere, celebrating Steve Gutstein's autism intervention program, RDI (Relationship Development Intervention.) The philosophy behind RDI makes intuitive sense to me, and the work that I've done with it seems to have made a tremendous difference for Bud.
But over the past several weeks my enthusiasm for RDI has been dampened. Early this month, Gutstein unveiled "RDI 3.0," a new "operating system" that promises to revolutionize the RDI program, streamlining it, making it more easily understood and easier for parents to implement. The catch? It will be available only to certified consultants, who can then dole it out in small portions to their paying customers.
When I've read criticisms of the RDI program, they have rarely had to do with the RDI philosophy and often with the RDI business. The full RDI "protocol" as outlined by Gutstein's Connections Center, which includes a four-day parent workshop, an intensive initial assessment, and ongoing work with a certified RDI consultant, is expensive. For many (most?) parents, it is prohibitively expensive. However, I have stayed buoyed and positive throughout the past year because it seemed to me that Gutstein had built in provisions for parents who were not able to afford the full protocol. As one of those parents I have, for the past year, pieced together a "make your own RDI" program. I attended the two-day introductory workshop, purchased the 5-hour RDI DVD, read Solving the Relationship Puzzle, lurked on a listserv for parents and consultants, participated in free chats with Gutstein and his wife and RDI partner Rachelle Sheely, purchased the official RDI tracking sheets, and purchased a book of RDI activities called Relationship Development Intervention with Young Children. This was a significant financial investment for my family, but it represented a fraction of the cost of the full RDI protocol.
And it seemed to be working. I watched Bud's progression and compared it to what I saw described on the tracking sheets; to my amazement, the activities I was doing with Bud - the way I was approaching my parenting - was producing exactly the sort of development that RDI told me I should expect to see. So I was excited to hear that the new, improved and more easily understood Operating System 3.0 was going to be unveiled. I watched the listserv faithfully for reports from the conference. I began to read exciting scraps of information about the new system, and then began following a discussion thread about the high cost of RDI, the limiting of information on 3.0 to consultants, and the exclusion of those who are unable to pay high consulting fees.
That's when I got discouraged. I read comments that suggested things like: The only people who are really doing RDI are those who are working with consultants. Those working without consultants are probably doing it wrong. They may believe they are seeing results, but they are probably not. They don't know what to look for, so they are seeing what they want to see. In fact, they may actually be doing more harm than good.
The unwritten tacit subtext that I walked away with was this: Are you really saying that your child is not worth the money?
Again, nobody actually said it. It was probably my own guilty feelings that filled in the empty space. And the comments on the listserv were not made by Gutstein or Sheely - they were made by parents or consultants (the latter of whom clearly have an interest in limiting access and maintaining the status quo.)
Here's the thing. RDI is expensive. If I thought that working with a consultant and paying the extraordinarily high cost would make a significant difference in my ability to implement the RDI philosophy, I would try to find a way to do it. I'm not sure what we would do - refinance the house? max out the credit cards? But, without knowing whether or not working with a consultant would really make a significant difference in the effectiveness of the work I'm already doing, it's hard to think about putting my family in that kind of financial peril.
I'd love to have an opportunity to work short-term with a consultant to try to get a sense of how far off I am in the work I'm already doing - Is Bud really making the kind of progress I think he's making? Am I doing more harm than good? I mean, before I hire someone else to make my chocolate chip cookies, I want to know if she's going to tell me that I've been trying to make chocolate chip cookies with molasses and cinnamon, or if she's just going to suggest that I add a pinch more salt.
But that's not how the two consultants within driving distance of my house work. I had started down the path in working with one, but pulled out when my sixth-mommy-sense said "this is not the right person for us." The fact was, before she had even spent a moment in Bud's presence, before I had any indication of her style, her talent, or her ability to connect with Bud, I was expected to sign a contract hiring her for the "RDA" assessment and three months of contract service; in effect, I would be agreeing to pay several thousand dollars to a stranger, without any sense of how much difference this person would actually make to my son.
So I'm discouraged. But, really, I still love RDI. I love that it's designed to help Bud become a more flexible thinker, a broadband communicator who can "read" a situation by taking in and making sense of several streams of information simultaneously. And I really do think that the work I'm doing without a consultant is making a difference.
Last night my husband was upstairs listening to music and I wanted to let him know that supper was ready. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and shouted his name. He didn't answer. I shouted his name again.
From the next room I heard Bud shout to me, "He can't hear you!"
I walked into the room where Bud was. "I think you're right, Bud. Poor Daddy. He doesn't know that supper is ready."
"I can go talk it him," Bud said.
No big deal, right? Wrong. That brief 20-second interaction involved Bud attending to, interpreting and responding to an extraordinary amount of information. In rapid succession, and often simultaneously, Bud had to think:
Mom is shouting Dad's name because she wants to tell him that supper is ready.
Dad is not answering her because he can't hear her.
Mom is still shouting Dad's name because she doesn't know that he can't hear her.
Mom's plan is not working.
I know this, and Mom does not.
This information would be helpful to Mom.
I would like to be helpful to Mom.
I will give Mom this information.
Dad still doesn't know that supper is ready.
If Dad doesn't know that supper is ready, he won't come downstairs to eat.
Dad will be sad if he doesn't get to eat supper.
Mom doesn't want Dad to be sad.
Mom wants Dad to be happy.
I want Dad to be happy.
Eating supper will make Dad happy.
If Dad knows that supper is ready, he will come downstairs to eat.
Mom does not have another plan for letting Dad know that supper is ready.
Going upstairs and telling Dad that his supper is ready is another plan.
I could go upstairs and tell Dad that supper is ready.
I could be helpful to Mom and Dad.
That would make Mom and Dad happy.
I would like Mom and Dad to be happy.
Mom doesn't know that I have come up with another plan in which I can be helpful and make them happy.
I will tell her.
Flexible thinking. Intersubjectivity. Social coordination. Dynamic intelligence. Regulation and repair. Relational information processing. Broadband communication.
This may not technically be RDI we're doing, but I have to think that whatever it is, it's a very good thing.