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  • Writer's pictureElisa Ferriggi

Developing Growth Seeking

When you embark on the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) journey you learn about the importance of the guiding relationship between parent and child and how to re-establish this crucial relationship through understanding the dynamics with your child and guiding tools.

One of the things that makes neurotypical parent child relationships feel easy in comparison to parent child relationships with autism involved is that the development of natural intrinsic motivation, growth seeking or personal agency just happens so effortlessly. This typically happens in the second half of the first year of life when infants have more ability, movement, drive and desire to take an active role in interactions. Prior to this the first 6 months the infant is quite passive and cannot really do much in an interaction and the focus between parent and child is striving for stability and regulation as a primary goal. When a child is intrinsically motivated to grow and learn and develop their agency it is motivating for the parent to offer opportunities for growth seeking and as those opportunities are used this is very reinforcing for the parent to see their child take pride, pleasure and joy in their learning therefore increasing more growth providing opportunities as appropriate. The child’s learning, growth and development accelerates as a result of this natural cycle of feedback between parent and child. As more and more of the growth seeking develops over the years the role of the parent to provide growth seeking opportunities lessens because the responsibility to manage learning is transferred to the child and they follow interests, pick up clues, get curious about the world and people, develop hypothesis, and essentially develop personal and interpersonal agency.

For children with autism that growth seeking aspect may not be there as strongly or for some at all and so instead of intrinsic motivation, growth seeking and personal agency we see a strong desire to maintain stability or homeostasis, this is what makes it particularly challenging for a parent of an autistic child to help their child grow, no matter how many opportunities for growth you are offering. Because of this challenge met with strong desire for static stability, the parent child relationship focus is not a guiding relationship but instead based on homeostasis; keeping everything the same or static. The child creates static, repetitive systems and the parent typically goes through phases of adhering to that and then at times aiming to change it (as they know its needed) however without the basis of a good guiding relationship between parent and child the change is perceived by the child as chaotic, too dynamic and a disruption to their comfort zone, hence both parent and child retreating back to static which negatively reinforces the pattern of static stability. Some parents have found that extrinsic motivation can change the cycle briefly but also realise the shortfalls of this approach (sometimes too late) and then have to work to undo the harm of heavily reward based approaches.

This painful cycle is one that parents of children with autism go through and sometimes are unaware that it is possible to change this. It is possible to develop intrinsic motivation, spark growth seeking and strive for personal agency. The way that this is done is not complicated; it is about following a naturally nurturing typically developing pathway. It’s about parents finding their way back to the guiding relationship and establishing the foundations required to develop their intrinsic motivation. This is done by making adjustments in the way that a parent guides their child and this is learned in detail through the RDI programme.

Please contact me to discuss how you can learn to guide your child move from static stability to growth seeking through the RDI Programme at

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