Autism therapy: from low arousal to RDI

Low Arousal

The invitation was quite a shock.  Even though I've been writing about all the difficulties I've had in parenting aspie boy, to see it down in black and white from officialdom was a bit different..

We would like to offer you a place on this course: Managing Challenging Behaviour

But it sounded interesting, and perhaps it would be useful too, so a babysitter was booked and I signed up for the three-day course.

And it turned out to be the best autism course I have ever been on.  Just a small group of mums, including a friend of mine, some dads, a slow pace, lots of time to talk around the issues faced by each family, and a wonderful presenter, who has an adult son with autism, and has seen it all.  We learned a lot about her story, how she coped in very difficult situations and she taught us safe and acceptable ways of physically disengaging in case that is ever needed.  Oh and the food was really nice.  And cooked by someone else :)

What was so amazing was that this course supported everything that I have been trying to do since Christmas:  reducing demands on my son, increasing the predictability in his life, making it all easier for him.   Yep, 'rollover' parenting is where it's at.  But sometimes you have to do what works for your family, you have to do whatever it takes to keep things calm, just to get through the day, and get everything done.  I left the course feeling more confident and less alone.


But the low arousal plan only got us so far.  As far as him sitting on the sofa on a sunny weekend happily playing with his consoles and me crying in the kitchen because I couldn't work out how to get myself and Smiley out of the house.

Something else was needed.

RDI = Relationship Development Intervention

And that explanation didn't help me either.  Nor did the websites I found.

But from talking to friends, and watching the progress of one very special boy, I decided to check it out further.

You see I want to have a better relationship with my son.  He's living in a happy little gaming bubble and he sometimes invites me in.  But I'm greedy, I want more than that.  One of the issues facing kids with autism and aspergers is that their social and emotional development is often way behind their actual age - they may look like teenagers but still have meltdowns, broadcast information rather than chat, and play side by side instead of doing things together.  RDI aims to close that gap.  And that brings lots of benefits.   I've seen them!

But I did have reservations.  Where would I find the time to fit an intensive therapy programme into an already busy schedule?  Well, as you may have noticed, blogging time has been severely constricted...  

And I had been told that the parental learning was by video.  Eeeugh.  I hate those 'useful' videos on YouTube that crawl along at someone else's pace.  Wrong.  It's all PowerPoint slides so you can fly though them as fast as you like!  And video is supposed to be part of the therapy programme.  You see the therapy mostly consists of working through various activities with your child, and these are normally recorded on video for your RDI consultant to review.  I just knew that at least one of us was going to have a problem with this idea.  Yep, my son said "no".  But my lovely consultant said "fine".  So we're doing the programme and I'm writing it all up, so my son doesn't even know he's getting therapy, just that his mum seems a bit ditzy at times.... Of which more in a minute.

In RDI land the plan is to encourage your child to look to you for information, advice, leadership and guidance and getting them to respond to emotions rather than instructions.  At the moment we're working on activities that work like an assembly-line, such as emptying the dishwasher.

Previously all the advice I had told me to say the following:

"(child's name) I need you to come and help me to empty the dishwasher now."

According to RDI theory that is just another demand that is likely to meet resistance rather than cooperation.

I'm supposed to say something like this instead:

"Oh dear I'm really tired and the dishwasher needs emptying and I'd love some help."

Much to my surprise, this approach has mostly worked!  And then for the emptying of the dishwasher you're trying to get your child to notice what you are doing, so you hand them one plate, then two, then pause for a minute, then maybe give them an apple and a plate (ditzy Mamma time) and hopefully they will look at you to find out what is going on, and then ask and laugh about it all!

It's early days, and I'm expecting a lot from RDI.  But most of all I hope to never ever again wish that I was a Stepford Wife.  I don't want to be a robot, I want to be a Mum.


  1. Find many of your posts (like this one) of great help and encouragement in thinking about raising children without Aspergers!

  2. really great to read progress. I put something into dishwasher that isn't normally there and my son went ballistic. I think it was the bottle of fairy liquid, and i said oh dear it must have dropped in, these things happen, and laughed. He got used to me dropping bombs in places and after a week was laughing alongside me. That was the best feeling ever

  3. I so enjoyed reading this post and am really keen to learn more about Low Arousal. We had a group called Three Talk (UK) come and visit us years ago and they spoke about Low Arousal and I liked the idea of it. Thank you very much for the mention. As you know, I love RDI and what it has done for both me and Nick. I look forward to hearing more of your RDI stories. xx

    1. Low arousal is basically about reducing the demands on the kids to a level where they don't keep having meltdowns - it is not a strategy that every family needs, but it's what I started at Christmas, and now I'm hoping that with RDI, I can build things back up again slowly xx

  4. Great post and I'll be really interested to hear how you get on. I'm all for the 'apparent' roll-over parenting technique, whatever works and also gets them to participate or behave. I really like thi approach. I must try it here but I fear I'd be left with a full dihwasher...and an over flowing sink!! I may put it to the test though...

    xx Jazzy

    1. Both approaches are non-authoritarian and assume that your children want to relate to you and want to 'be good' and I like that :) xx

  5. oooh sounds really interesting! Might try the dishwasher idea. Currently rely on pocket money bribery and promising (even more) computer time as a reward for helping with the 'demands' placed on him. xxx

    1. I don't know if RDI is for everyone, but my eldest says she sees big changes in him since she went away xx