Stage 1 -- emotion sharing
This is the first in a series of 6 posts on the first 6 Stages of RDI and how we worked/are working on them, although there will probably be various posts between each of them about significant things I discovered about RDI along the way that might be pertinant to understanding our work in each subsequent Stage. Afterall, we are talking about 2 years worth of work!
The photos accompanying the posts will be of Jacob at the time we were working on that stage. This particular photo is of Jacob in January, 2005, at age 4 yrs, 3 mos, about 2 months after starting work on Stage 1.
Stage 1 is entitled "Emotion Sharing". I'm not going to bother with the technical details of all the stage objectives, but the overall goal is for the child to develop the desire to share experiences with the parent. So in our interactions while doing various activities together, it was my job to spotlight those moments where we both enjoyed shared excitement over something.
A lot of what I did in this stage revolved around lap-riding type songs and games. Jacob needed his activities framed initally so that we were in physical contact with one another, and I already previously mentioned that he needed me to work with him in a very non-distracting environment (our modified living room, see my post entitled "framing"). Not all kids need this sort of extreme structuring, many of them will do just fine in everyday activities like unloading the dishwasher or sorting clothes or taking out the trash. It doesn't matter WHICH acitivities you do, what matters is what you spotlight when you are doing them.
Here's an actual example from our early work in Stage 1: I would lift him into my lap and do a rhyme such as "Trot Trot to Boston" while bouncing him on my lap (which is also a very good regulation activity). Full lyrics to the rhyme are:
(bouncing child on your lap with your legs closed)
Trot trot to Boston,
Trot trot to Lynn.
You'd better watch out or you might fall in!
(on "in" you open your legs and let the child fall thru them, holding onto him so that you can lift him back up into your lap to start over again).
The exciting/uncertain/challenge part of that rhyme is the drop through my legs, so I would hesistate and take a deep breath before saying "in" and exaggerate the word when I did say it -- this would both get Jacob's attention on me and would spotlight that moment of shared anticipation and excitement. Then we would laugh together. Then I'd repeat for a few verses. And that would be about it. That's about as much time as I could expect him to attend to me in those early days.
We mastered Stage 1 in about 6 months, which seems to me to be about the minimum amount of time a family starting RDI works on this stage, a year seems to be pretty typical, and I know families that have worked on it diligently for 2 years before reaching mastery, probably there are some that take even longer. I credit a lot of our good luck with moving somewhat quickly through Stage 1 to having practiced an Attachment Parenting style with him long prior to discovering that he has Autism. Jacob already had a pretty tight connection with me, thanks to extended breastfeeding (he self-weaned at about the same time he mastered Stage 1), co-sleeping with him (allowing him to sleep in our bed with us until he wanted to sleep in his own bed), and slinging him (carrying him against my body everywhere we went) for the first 18 months. Not only did he seem to need that type of close contact with me/us during his early years, but I think it also laid the groundwork to want to connect with me on an emotional level. I can only imagine how much harder this would all have been if we'd encouraged him to detach from me early on. Fortunately we had been in a position where I didn't have to leave my needy baby to other people to care for, so he already was fairly dependent on me. That's a GOOD thing in terms of development of a healthy attachment -- once we started work on that kind of relationship, it was an easier trip for us from our somewhat unhealthy attachment (caused by Autism, NOT by Attachment Parenting!) to a healthy attachment. Much easier than it is for folks to journey from detachment to healthy attachment, the monumental task that a lot of parents of Autistic kids are facing, even those that also practiced Attachment Parenting. Our kids are all just so different, just because Jacob developed attachment to me from that parenting style doesn't mean that all kids with Autism will, nor does it mean that kids that were not parented in that manner won't. They're all such individuals. But in our particular case, I think it made a big difference.
Not that our parenting style was flawless (by any means!!!), and as we got further along in RDI I could see where we had gone awry in many ways. More on that in another post. The things you wish you knew back when you needed to know it!