Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The breakdown of Guided Participation

Guided Participation. What is it and why does RDI focus on the guided participation relationship as a means to restore a child back to their developmental track?

20 + years of research by experts in fields of mental health, development and environment coined the term Guided participation to represent how all societies use this method to guide their young. For a neuro-typical child, the parent immediately forms the connection and the child gives feedback according to that relationship. As early as 6 weeks, there is a role as guide for the parent and an apprentice for the child to learn from the actions of the parent. That baby is learning to be an active participant in their relationship with their caregiver. The parent does most of the work in the beginning and gradually by 1 years old, as the child is further developing theory of mind, both caregiver and child have an equal role and responsibility that consists of a natural flow of give and take feedback.
But what happens when there is a breaking point in that developmental milestone? What happens when a child cannot provide that meaningful feedback to the parent? Quoting page 129 from “the RDI book” from Dr Steven Gutstein- he says “Autism is not dx by the presence of any specific behavioral problems. What is distinctive is not the commission of specific things that the child does but rather the omission, when the child does not do, or is unaware of.”

For my own children on the spectrum, I clearly remember with each of them where I was not receiving that feedback. With my older son, of course knowing nothing about Autism, I did not recognize this until he was almost 3 years old. For my younger son, I knew there was a lack of feedback before he turned 1. Not knowing about relationship development intervention at this point, I desperately looked for ways to get him connected to me. This typically involved a lot of prompting and therapy to try and get my children to look at me, etc. What I tended to do with the lack of feedback, is do all the work in the interaction. Or I would just assume my child was not interested and this resulted in non therapy hours letting my child go off and stim or watch TV. I felt pretty incapable of successfully bringing my children into my world without me doing all the work.

10 years ago Autism awareness looked differently then it does today. This lack of feedback from my son, well, honestly, many people told me I was spoiling him, etc. This caused a lot of guilt for me…a lot of self doubt. I loved being with people but I was getting to the point where I did not want to be around people because as a parent of a child with Autism, I am sure you can relate to what others say who do not live in our shoes. And to that fact, I say that my children have taught me more then I could of ever taught them!
When I learned about RDI, I was floored when the programs description as I researched it explained to me about this breaking point in development. Someone was actually able to scientifically explain to me what I was *feeling* in my relationship with my children on the spectrum. I felt validated! That does not happen often when you are navigating through this journey. Since that point, RDI has proven time and time again to empower me in my jouney with my children.
So I thought I would empower you, the reader, Just in case you are having one of those days…that you need a pep talk! :)
There are different reasons for the neurological breakdown that results in Autism. There is regressive Autism and infantile Autism. I happen to have one of each… Lucky me ~grin~. Genetics can play a role, and triggers from the environment play a role. I believe that there is a genetic disposition and something in the environment triggers that vulnerability within the connections of the brain. One of my children benefits from some biomedical support because he also has gut issues that needed to be addressed to maximize his remediation. No matter what the origins, the end result is Autism. This tipping point, as Dr Gutstein Explains in his book, disrupts the child’s ability to develop the pre- requisites for the basic Guided Participation relationship that neurotypical children exhibit as they are able to continue on their path of development.
So what does this mean for us, as parents, who may feel incompetent when dealing with this breakdown. It means Autism is NOT our fault!!! Personally, for me, it set me up for a vicious cycle of compensation where I was doing all the work in my relationship with my child. I grew tired of the lack of feedback. I kept thinking I was doing something wrong! Think about in any social situation, when you are talking to someone and they are looking around. It is clear to you that their mind is elsewhere. They are not paying attention. They are not giving you the same feedback you are giving them. What do you do? For me, I either stopped interacting or yelled at them for not paying attention. :) When your own child does this to you, it digs down into your innermost *mommy* feelings of failure.
As a consultant, I address this with parents within one of the objectives within RDI. On page 131 of the RDI book, Gutstein reminds us, as parents that it is very difficult to compensate for the vulnerabilities with our children to get them to the point of remediation. He goes on to say that in his experience, the majority family members with an ASD child are among the most capable parents and grandparents, yet because of this breakdown, they struggle to carry over this expertise with their child with ASD.
For me, I felt like it was because I was told I had to teach my ASD child differently than a neurotypical child. I struggled with this for years until I found RDI. Restoring the natural process of development in my ASD child made sense to me…to follow the developmental path to fill in gaps of development in a more slow deliberate manner as a second chance for them.
Having the complete developmental curriculum at my fingertips in the operating system within RDI has empowered my family to know that my children will achieve a quality of life…all my children, ASD or Neurotypical. They are both back on their own developmental track.
Restoring our child’s developmental path is not impossible. You, as parents, have the capabilities to do this. Your child’s Autism, and their continued struggles, are not something that you did, or did not do. The breakdown OF the GPR is the cause. I salute each and every one of you as we go through this journey together!
So promise me that you will feel empowered when you look at your child. I am sure of their potential!


  1. Restoring the developmental path is even possible for older children. Mine is twenty and it is so thrilling to see her be able to share joint attention and enjoy give and take interactions that are unique and unscripted!

  2. Can't wait to check out your blog. I'm looking into RDI and read a comment from you on another blog. :)

  3. I enjoyed your blog. As a special education teacher I am always looking for information to share with my parents and new advice from parents of children with Autism. I look forward to learning more about RDI and reading more of your blogs.