I had a Skype session yesterday with John, our RDI consultant. I took notes as he spoke about the playdates Joseph’s been participating in. Somehow the subject of weirdness came up, so I jumped in with something that’s been bothering me lately:

Joseph likes to be weird.

Howling on the playground

We’ll be walking up to his classroom in the morning, students of all ages around us hurrying along, and Joseph will suddenly stop, look up at a pretend moon, and howl.

At full volume.

Kids turn and look.

I’ll whisper, “Joseph! If you do things like that, the kids will think you’re weird. They won’t want to be your friend!”

Joseph will laugh delightedly and repeat, sing-song like, “I’m weird. I’m weird.”

John listens to my concern, his face imperturbable. Then he tells me that, when it’s a full moon, he goes into his backyard and howls at it. John lives in a suburban neighborhood, and all his neighbors recognize his howls. His wife hates it, his children love it, and every full moon he does it.

Joseph is just weird, he tells me. He sees him growing into a teenager who is funny and smart, who can be really goofy with his friends.

All along I thought this was autism. This ability to happily be different from other people — to try, even, to get them to think he’s weird. John’ says it’s not autism. It’s Joseph’s personality — autism or not.

This is just another reason that I love RDI. Having someone to check in with on the little things and the big things. Getting an expert’s perspective — especially an expert who knows our boy, and our family, really well.

Not just any expert, either. An expert on RDI, which stands for Relationships Development Intervention, and which focuses on development in dynamic real life — not in some contrived, forced situation, like another popular intervention.

For years I’ve been coveting the RDI stage where Joseph could be in a dyad, playing with another child under John’s tutelage. We had to get all the necessary developmental skills in place before Joseph could qualify — how do you play with another person if you don’t understand how to co-coordinate an activity, for instance — and now we’re finally there! There are many stages to a dyad, and John is positive about how well Joseph is progressing through them.

Some people take their kid off of gluten and the autism goes away. Some people use homeopathy, or glutathione shots, or oxygen chambers, or another of the million and one cures for autism — and suddenly they have a neurotypical kid. That hasn’t been our path. A lot of the things we’ve tried have helped to some extent, but on our long, slow route to helping Joseph achieve his full potential, RDI stands head and shoulders above the rest.

The closest analogy I can give for RDI is Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher.  Like Annie, RDI comes right into your life, reaches into a child’s isolated world and gives him/her meaning, connection, and a way to grow.

To stretch this analogy just a little further, RDI actually coaches parents into being their child’s Annie Sullivan. The intervention is parent-based because the parent-child relationship is, or should be, the strongest relationship there is.

This can be frustrating. In many ways I would  prefer to let our RDI consultant, John, do the Annie Sullivan thing. The ego wants the easy way out, after all.

But the soul seeks to grow. Despite all the hard work and the many times I want to give up, I am coming to understand much from RDI about autism and how to help Joseph with his particular challenges. For this I am eternally grateful.

mud hat

I love that John thinks about the teenager Joseph will grow to be. That he sees him having friends in this future time. He coaches us to raise Joseph to be a good husband someday, and I love that he doesn’t limit Joseph from friends and marriage because of autism.

I’m starting to delight in my son’s weirdness. It’s an ability to think and behave outside the box. It’s creative and silly and fun. Like John, I’m enlarging my vision to see Joseph’s future friends admiring his weirdness, enjoying being crazy and funny together. And maybe, further out, a wife and children with whom he can be his own howling self.

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