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  • Writer's pictureElisa Ferriggi

From Getting a Response to Giving Opportunities

I’m going to start with my background and what has led me to what I do today. Some of you may know that before I started my RDI journey I was a Verbal Behaviour (VB) therapist. That is how I started working with children with autism, at the time I really enjoyed it and knew that I had found my passion in life to help children with autism. After about 2 years into being a VB therapist I started to struggle, don’t get me wrong I felt very competent at what I was doing and was seeing fast results but was struggling with how the children were being ‘shaped’ and how parents felt unconnected to their child, even if they didn’t say it out loud! I remember on many occasions finishing my session with the child and handing them over to the parents and found it really sad that the relationship between parent and child was not strong and the parents didn’t feel competent in interaction with their own child. The children were robotic, relying on prompts and told what to do every step of the way. I wanted more for the parents and more for the child. This is where RDI delivers for me, I see it as a win, win, win situation (parents happy and more competent, child happy and more mindful and because of this I am happy making the difference by guiding).

For me, the big difference is the SHIFT from trying to get a particular response from the child; either their action or communication, to providing opportunities for the child to learn when they are ready and at their own pace. The shift from compliance to guiding. It takes some learning to get there but it is unbelievably worth it in the end. Here are some steps that are required for parents to become a good guide:

1. Acceptance: Accept that you might not get any response from your child, particularly at the beginning when you stop telling them what to do because they will not be used to this and so your new style is going to be unfamiliar to them. Some times parents find themselves asking questions or giving instructions to ensure that they get feedback from their child. Its really helpful to learn to accept that sometimes you might not get that feedback and that is OK, you shouldn’t then demand it. Think about the lessons you are teaching if you do that.

2. Patience: Oh boy, if you thought you had that, you’ll need even more of it! Having a slow pace is a top priority for many families and just like acceptance takes work so does pacing. Consider autism as an information processing disorder, when you do it helps to realise that your pace has a massive impact on their learning and so to be an effective guide, slow down – you’ll need patience for that.

3. Opportunities: the best learning comes from real life experiences and since the brain is an experience dependent organ opportunities that come up every day are wonderful guiding opportunities. They are useful for you to practice your guiding and great for your child to experience being guided for authentic reasons rather than contrived set ups. Again it takes practice to get familiar with how to capture opportunities as they come up and use them but slowing down really helps you to get there.

Yes, of course there is more to it than just those three points, learning to be an effective guide takes effort, but in my experience if you are able to make the mind shift and implement just these three steps alone it will make a big difference to your guiding abilities in general. These are what I would consider the foundations of developing a good guide. Once these lessons are lived then it is easier to build upon that ethos.

Start to make a change now to be a guide by following these steps:

1. Write down one activity/ interaction where you tend to require a response from your child. Make sure you choose one that will be useful to change and will not compromise your child’s safety.

2. Write down or visualise how you would prefer it to be instead.

3. What specifically do you need to change about what you are doing or saying in order to change the outcome of this interaction so that it is more guiding than getting?

4. Brainstorm at least 3 different ways that you could be in this interaction instead.

5. Pick one of the 3 ways that you feel most confident with.

6. (Optional) Role-play this exact interaction with your partner or friend with the changes you are going to implement.

7. (Optional) Practice this with another child you have access to (family member or friends child).

8. Now, implement it with your own child.

9. Reflect: what worked? What surprised you? What have you learned?

10. Next steps, you can repeat the above steps for any activity/ interaction and/ or you can stick with this one experience and develop it further by choosing to implement another of your brainstormed ideas or moving on from your reflections.

You have all the answers you need and this exercise will help you find them!

If you would like to learn more about how we can work together to improve your interactions and connection with your child then please contact me at or request a Discovery Session here.

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