Monday, September 25, 2006

spirituality and RDI

I just returned a few days ago from a four day conference in Houston. It was on Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), an approach for helping remediate the effects of autism. Within the RDI model, there is a big emphasis on repairing something called the "intersubjective relationship" (IR) between the autistic child and their parents.

In essence, the IR is a relationship wherein the parent and child share subjective states with each other -- common points of reference, ways of understanding, etc. This state is fairly natural for typically developing children, but often breaks down with autistic children because the children don't provide the normal social feedback to parents.

Anyway, within RDI, there's this big emphasis on re-establishing the IR, and on creating a "Master-Apprentice" relationship with the child, where the child is willing to give up behaviors they use to stay in control -- in order to be an apprentice to the parents so they can learn mastery of some area.

So all of this got me thinking about spirituality, about what it means to have an authentic relationship with the divine. It is difficult, it seems to me, to sustain an "intersubjective relationship" with a being beyond all comprehension. For one thing, I don't think this kind of relationship can be established simply by reading the Bible. It requires something more experiential than that. The demands, then, become ones of real listening, of quiet contemplation, of seeking guidance. Trying to catch those moments of connection, of inspiration, that cause us to grow in love, compassion, and understanding.

I also began thinking about the importance of giving up the notion that we have all the answers (a sort of false competence) -- so that we can assume an "apprentice" role, a learning role. There's a certain humility that becomes involved, it seems to me. But in assuming an apprentice role, we gain the capacity to learn, to grow, to love more authentically and deeply.

I'd love to hear any thoughts.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

autism, allergies, diet

So I have two sons (ages 4 and 6) who have both been diagnosed in the autism spectrum. And a couple of years ago, my wife and I started using a program called Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) to help them. Long story short, my four year old has done amazingly well on the program, while my six year old seems "stuck" in some of the earlier stages. Actually, we're going back now to make sure he has some of the really basic skills down before we try some of the more advanced stuff again, but that's a story for another post.

Anyway, my wife had been doing this research, looking into the role of toxins and allergies on autistic children. There seems to be a movement (I believe it's called Defeat Autism Now or "DAN") that believes that autism is entirely caused by this kind of stuff. So we take our sons to have them tested -- to see if they have any of these allergies or unusual toxins in their system. And it turns out that they do. In fact, they have a large number of reactions to a wide variety of foods -- including wheat (gluten), milk (casein), soy, corn, chicken, eggs, and a long list of other substances. Plus there are these vitamin supplements he wants us to give them (like 22 of them), some "probiotic" pill to create a healthier balance between healthy bacteria and yeast in their system, etc.

OK, so here's my struggle with all of this. First of all, I'm not sure I really believe there is any link between these "allergies" (none of which have ever caused any noticeable reaction in our children before) and their autistic symptoms. Second, the kinds of intervention being requested (particularly the dietary ones) would require drastic and expensive lifestyle changes. And third, how in the heck are we supposed to get 22 pills down the throats of young boys who won't swallow pills?

Or (to pose the more difficult questions), to what extent is my reluctance selfish? To what extent is my hesitance because I don't want to have to change my diet, or to put up with their tantrums when they can't have their favorite foods anymore? I'd be dishonest if I didn't admit these issues play some role in my thinking.

But of course what I ultimately want is just what is best for my kids. I worry, though, about making all of these changes for naught. I worry about falsely believing that the dietary stuff is causing them to get better, when in fact it could simply be from normal maturation (or the other interventions we're doing). I worry about the stress. I worry about the added financial burden. And I worry about constantly having to check, to be always thinking about whether some food at a restaurant has wheat, corn, chicken, or sugar. Or perhaps better, I worry about having to find foods that actually DON'T have any of these things.

And I worry that somehow not doing these things would make me a bad parent. And there's the brutal, terrible rub.