RDI stands for Relationship Development Intervention, after all. It is about slow and gradual change. They call it a marathon not sprint. It's hard to trust that at first when we want so much to see progress for our child but the thing is, you DO start seeing progress early on and that builds confidence and the motivation to continue. And then you can start to relax, to let go of the emergency, to rediscover your instincts and ground as a parent.
I know I’ve said a mouthful. I’ll stop now and leave you with this: start with looking at what you already do in your day to day life that you might RDI-ify. Everything can be done in an RDI way once you get that it is a mindset more than anything else. That’s what we did, long before we started doing specific activities with Fluffy. And we could feel the change right away.
Use declarative language as much as possible.
The goal is to motivate the child to connect with and converse with teachers and peers. Imperative language, which does not foster engagement, should be used only about 20% of the time.
If prompts are needed, use indirect prompts.
Use prompts that allow him to infer the information he needs. For example, don’t say _____, clean up your toys; say something like, “________ Oh no, the rest of the room is nice and clean but this corner is still messy!” If child is lagging behind in line, don’t say, “_____, you need to walk faster”;better to say - “Uh oh, everyone else is already outside!” – or” _____, I’m walking way faster than you!”
Use natural opportunities to help him with referencing for information.
If he has forgotten to put his backpack in his cubby, just say, “uh-oh,” wait for him to turn to you to say “what,” and then just use your eyes and head position to indicate the backpack he left on the floor. When he picks it up, he should reference you for approval, at which point you nod and smile (and maybe a high five! etc.)
If he asks you a yes-no question, just give a nod for the answer, following with a declarative if you want. If he asks permission for something that you will allow, sometimes it is helpful to purposely shake your head “no” first, then pause, then give him the nod “yes.”
Use opportunities where he needs to reference you for choices.
If he needs a pencil, offer him two pencils, one in each hand, and with a nod or with your eyes, reference the one he should take. Try this with nods yes or no; e.g., Look at the left pencil, shake head no and frown, then look at the right pencil, pause, shake no and frown, then look at the left again and nod yes and let him take it, saying, “I’m giving you the one in my left hand!” etc. It’s important to vary your nods. You can also do this by just looking at the pencil you want him to take; and when he reaches for it and looks to you for approval, THEN you nod yes. This is a little more advanced since he must follow just your eyes rather than head movements and nods.
Don’t respond to a question or comment from Child unless he is looking at you and his body position indicates he is engaging you.
If you are handing him something or he is handing you something, make sure he is engaging you with his eyes during the exchange. If he doesn’t do this immediately, do not take or let go of the object until he looks at you, then make a comment to him about the object.
Don’t tell child to look at you.
If you’re trying to get child’s attention and he is not responding, use a silly sound, clear your throat, tap him on the shoulder if necessary, and say, ”______, I’m trying to talk to you!” Another technique is to stop speaking the instant he takes his eyes off you, and only resume when he is looking at you again.
Foster episodic memory through productive uncertainly.
If you are pouring water for him, you could say, in a sing-song voice, “gonna pour the water, gonna pour the water,” start to pour, then hesitate, making sure he is paying attention, then pour fast and maybe spill a little, look at him and say “Uh-oh!!!!” in a silly voice. The goal is to heighten his anticipation in the engagement. You can even exaggerate a sneezing episode to engage him: AHHH, AHHH, AHHH, then pause with a pained look on your face, and finally let out a loud one. After the episode, you can help him remember it by saying, “That was so funny before when we were sneezing together!!!” Or ”I spilled that water on the floor before but we did a great job cleaning it up!!!”
Vary voice pitch and exaggerate facial expressions.
Use non verbal cues to help with engagement and group attention.
Foster referencing for vigilance
Practicing having him walk together with you. Use frequent stops and starts to make sure he stays with you. Make sure he is looking at you and you give a nod before you begin walking again. If he does not stay with you, make a declarative comment like, “I’m way back here.” Games like tag and Sneaky Pete are good for this also. You can also purposely try to elude him and hide around a corner or behind an object to see if he seeks you out.
Foster flexible thinking by varying routines and interactions.
Wear silly hats for snack one day. Seats could be changed. Wear gloves in school. Have backwards days” or “wear your p.js days.” When you are singing a song, mix up the words, like doing toes, knees, shoulders and head instead of head, shoulders, knees and toes. Inject silly or absurd references, like substituting the word “banana” for whatever noun you’re about to use.
Use giver-putter activities with staff and peers.
Help build cooperative teamwork skills. Examples would be a block building activity in which one person is the block “giver” and the other is the ”builder”, working with a peer to glue things on paper (one squirts the glue, the other places the item on the glue), cleaning up with a peer where one child picks up the toys and hands them to the other who puts them in the bin. Also use Regulation/Dysregulation/Repair (RDR) techniques to ensure he is competent to repair a situation in which a variation is introduced, e.g. hand him blocks from different heights and allow him to adjust to the change in height, move to a different position to hand him the blocks and let him move to you to take them, etc.
Foster a coach/apprentice relationship with child.
Develop relationship in which the child in looks to you for guidance to gain competence in relationship skills. He should let you take the lead and should learn to accept variations and limits you introduce, but he should gain relationship competence through your interactions. He should not control the encounter or the situation. You are in charge, and he needs to learn engage in a cooperative way.
Allow as little reliance on personal coach as possible.
Teachers and classroom staff should try as much as possible to directly engage child in class discussions and activities. Minimize prompts, use only indirect prompts to encourage attending and participation. If child becomes disruptive or inattentive, Teachers should attempt to handle the discipline of child like any other student, if possible. If child is fixating his para rather than on the group discussion, his para can remove herself, saying something like I’m going to stand in back so you will listen to Mrs. Smith better.”
Facilitate interactions with peers using indirect prompts if needed.
You could say, “______, David takes karate and he has his yellow belt!” Maybe child will tell David he has a red belt or maybe he will ask David if his teacher is Mr. Noodle. Encourage him to say things with indirect declarative prompts. Say, “____, Sydney isn’t playing with anyone. Maybe she wants to go on the swings with you.” Encourage peers to make simple social overtures to child also, and facilitate his response if necessary.