California is in a massive budget crisis and, as can be expected, the ones who are feeling the pain the most are the elderly, the children and the disabled. I spoke with my coordinator today, and she confirmed that RDI will be one of the things slashed. Out of everything else, this will hurt the worst.

We started RDI (www.rdiconnect.com) when Joseph was maybe 2 1/2. He and another little guy with ASD, Gary, were enjoying an automatic door opener, and Joseph kept looking back at him to share the fun. Gary’s mom said, “He’s emotion sharing! You should get him in RDI.”

It stands for Relationship Development Intervention. We started with a very basic thing: eye contact.

Many behavioral interventions will teach these kids by rote. It’s very common to hear these people say, “Look at me,” “Look me in the eye,” that sort of thing.

RDI is different. RDI taught me to pause within a sentence. I learned to say, “And for lunch we’ll have…..”

Pause — even for a l-o-n-g time — until I got eye contact. Then “…chicken nuggets.” Lots and lots of pausing. I still do it sometimes, when I feel the eye contact is less than it could be.

Eventually we got to the point where Joseph was giving me more eye contact than the cat did. Breaththrough!

Basically, RDI aims to make development natural. Even though it’s consciously cultivated in kids with ASD, it’s done because they see the importance of it, the joy of it — rather than because they’re taught to do it as a static thing.

This is important. When you meet someone and they say, “How are you?” The answer won’t always be, “Fine. And you?” We need to learn, not static ways of interacting in society, but dynamic ones. RDI focuses very much on dynamic communication, dynamic education, etc. It makes a lot of sense to me. And it’s done wonders for Joseph.

Just now we’re working on communicating via gestures. When we got to this objective, I was astonished to see that Joseph didn’t use gestures. Period. He communicated well verbally, and even expressionally, but not with gestures. It’s been a rather steep climb, but we’ve made great progress. This morning he said, out of the blue, “Green juice!” and made the ‘thumbs down’ sign. Then he said, “White juice!” and made a ‘thumbs up’ sign. That’s my boy!

But without RDI pointing it out, I may never have realized he didn’t use gestures. It’s a skill that other skills build upon, so if we hadn’t worked on it, it would be missing in his development. Period.

And our RDI consultant, Kelli. She’s been in our corner from day one, and when you have a child with autism, you really need people in your corner. She’s helped us with every single question we’ve had, every behavioral issue, even things like how to make a trip to Disneyland a success. Time and again she’s held out a liferope when we’ve felt we were drowning. Step by step she’s helped us help Joseph to develop. Whatever will we do without her?

With the costs of the treatments, amazing preschool, and other things we’re doing for Joseph, I don’t think that we personally can afford to take on RDI.

But I’m not going down without a fight. I haven’t been practicing public speaking for nothing. I’m going to approach service organizations, for us and other ASD families, to see what help they can offer. This is far too serious a thing to just throw in the towel.

Start pounding the drums. Yoga Mother is putting on her war paint.

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