Obstacles to Guiding

Key to RDI is developing a Guided Participation Relationship between the parent and child. The GPR is the primary means by which parents raise their children and equip them to deal with life and impart their culture to them. Through a GPR with your child, you work on the different objectives and developmental stages of RDI.

Barbara Rogoff’s book, Apprenticeship in Thinking, provides a thorough explanation of how GPR occurs across cultures and its components. It was an excellent read that made me think analytically about this essential area that my son had missed.

So that’s where we would like to be, but we’re not. Common to many children on the autism spectrum, my son, while loving and social, feels he must retain control of his environment to prevent unpleasant surprises and manage his inputs. It’s probably a bit more complicated than that but that is part of it.

His need for rigid control of us and his environment is incompatible with a GPR with us. In a webinar I attended, Dr. Gutstein, the founder of RDI, described the process of getting to a GPR as putting the child in the most optimal situation for guiding and figuring out what is getting in the way (my paraphrase).

According to our RDI Consultant, my son’s need for control is our obstacle. He cannot interact with us in an appropriate way when he has to control all the action. So that is where we’re at, trying to help him see that he does not need to be in total control all of the time.

He uses lots of energy and ingenuity to maintain this control while playing with me. It’s a little frustrating because he gets angry when you move his toys while he’s playing with them or if you will not play along and repeat the scripted words he enjoys.

I’m learning that I have to separate my emotional response and keep working at it in different ways. I discuss it often with my RDI Consultant and she offers strategies to try. Dr. Gutstein has said that guiding your child gets easier as you go along and I know that this is actually one of the hardest parts so I will buckle down and keep going.

I worked on it twice today with J with an electronic storybook toy. If I push the buttons on it, he keeps turning it off. I held my hand over the power button and we were able to play together. He was a bit annoyed, but I persevered. He liked playing with the toy with me, though. I stopped the play while he was still engaged which creates a good memory for him. Overall, I felt successful even though it was a short session.

Later, when I played with him again with the same toy, he was much less resistant. We did not have the control struggle over the power button. I was very happy with this session, though, again, it was just a few minutes.

A few days earlier, I had a less successful experience. Zip was sitting in a dining room chair with his new favorite PlayMobil elephant. I played with the elephant with him, moving the ears, trunk, feet, tail, etc. He was doing the same and getting annoyed that I would not let go of the elephant. He kept saying, “Elephant!” to me and I would agree that it was an elephant. I kept speech to a minimum, instead, making elephant noises and other sound effects. After a few minutes, he disengaged, dropped the elephant, and stared off to the side. I hate that. I put the elephant back in his lap, but he wouldn’t touch it. I felt disheartened but my RDI consultant told me later that giving him back the elephant was a good move, because he was no longer wrestling me for it.

We just have to keep going, trying different ways of showing him that he doesn’t need to control everything around him. A successful guide allows the apprentice to have new experiences that are just on the edge of their competence, thus building their feeling of competency and resilience. I can’t wait until we get there.

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