RDI from a Dad’s Perspective

Guest post from Mike, a Pathways dad.

I’m driving back to work trying not to let the car go as fast as my mind is at this very moment. I’ve just found out our first child will be a boy, a son. Maybe he’ll be an engineer like me? You know break things, just so he can fix them again. I’d seen boys at the hardware store wanting to help their dad carry something or try to help them pick out the right size PVC pipe. They almost always did more harm than good, but the desire was there to be just like dad.

A little over three years later, and I’m driving back to work trying to drive through the tears from my son’s new diagnosis, autism. Father’s day weekend is coming up and I have just found out that my fatherhood is going to be very different than I imagined. From seven months old up until the point of diagnosis we had done many interventions for his speech, sensory, physical and other delays, but nothing specifically targeted to help those with autism. My wife and I spent hours upon hours researching various methodologies for helping kids with autism learn and develop. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but in retrospect what bothered me was many of them were more of what we had already done. Perhaps more intense and granular, but the underlying target was still the acquisition of various skills. My son who I thought would never leave me alone is quite happy to listen to symphonies, and pretend to conduct for hours with or without me present. What therapy targets that? What could help him see the value in me, his dad? To learn what having a relationship with us is?

Well fortunately we didn’t have to wait long to stumble across a therapy that was exactly what we were looking for. We discovered RDI through a co-worker of mine and a friend of a friend. So a little over a month after diagnosis, in August of 2013, we found ourselves in Amy’s office. We talked about how Levi had missed out on key developmental milestones that are the foundation for communication, flexible thinking, relationships and ultimately learning through everyday experiences. It made so much sense to me at that point so we dove in.

I won’t say it was easy, especially for me. I had to learn to give him more time to process things, talk less and focus more on the connection between us rather than just getting the task done. For an engineer who likes checklists and getting things done this was hard. But, oh it has been so worth it. The first video was taken when we started our RDI program in August of 2013, and the second just last month.

In the first video you can see that Levi has zero interest in playing with me. I am doing all the work attempting to initiate any type of connection between us. In the second video you can see he is really enjoying being with me. When we clash lightsabers he is looking at me to see if I am enjoying it as well. You’ll also see that after I go down he notices that I am no longer playing with him. He reinitiates the play by first calling to me, and then getting right down in my face to get me up again. This is just a small glimpse of how RDI has transformed our daily family life.

This past weekend we were filling up large gas cans at the station. Once we were done filling I put the first one back in the car, and turn around to find Levi struggling trying to lift the second one just like I had done. Before RDI if he even attempted this he would just get frustrated and quit or had a meltdown. He looked up at me and said, “Daddy, I need help. It’s too heavy for me.” We put it in together, and I smiled while getting back into the car reflecting on how much he has changed in the past two years. Levi still has autism, but moments like this remind me that it doesn’t have him any longer. He still has a lot of challenges ahead, but we have a strong relationship now from which we can tackle them together.

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