Sessions to help build quality of life
While holidaying with his family in Tasmania, teenager Angus Milne found himself stuck in the middle of a zipline, high above the ground.
For most teenagers without a fear of heights, it would not have been a big deal.
But Angus’s family watched anxiously to see how he would react. Angus, 16, has autism. His mother Donna Milne said putting Angus on a zipline was a gamble.
“We didn’t know how we were going to go because he hadn’t done anything like that before,” she said.
“He was definitely out of his comfort zone. He got into a position where he got stuck in the middle.
“He was in a situation where someone was going to have to go get him, but he was able to think clearly and problem-solve the situation.”
Ms Milne said she did not think Angus was listening when the tourism operator ran through safety procedures ahead of the activity. “But he must have been,” she said. “He got himself in like a ‘normal’ boy would.
“A lot of children with autism don’t show emotion, but he showed emotion on his face when he achieved the challenge, which was wonderful to see.”
Ms Milne said Angus was ‘not like a lot of other kids with autism’.
“He’s really out there and happy and flexible,” she said.
She credits Angus’s demeanour to a family-based therapy called Relationship Development Intervention, RDI.
Developed by psychologist Steven Gutstein, RDI is designed to address autism’s core symptoms.
It builds on the theory ‘dynamic intelligence’ is key to improving the quality of life of people with autism.
Ms Milne said Angus started RDI at eight or nine.
“We had tried other therapies before, but RDI takes a development approach and teaches participants about flexibility and verbal communication skills that kids with autism miss out on,” Ms Milne said.
“They take words literally because they don’t understand tonation or different meanings and they are not good at picking up on body language.
“It’s not teaching by rote. RDI involves setting up challenges and solving problems all the time.”
Ms Milne said although Angus had an intellectual disability and had trouble speaking, he wanted to be able to relate to people.
“He goes to supported programs and the people involved tell me how happy he is and how much he enjoys being there,” she said.
“To see him interact with others is so lovely.”
The Milnes, who live in Mildura, started RDI with a consultant in Melbourne, who would fly to Mildura to meet with clients.
After two to three years, Ms Milne flew to the United States to complete an RDI consultant course.
She said RDI was an involved process.
“It takes a lot of work from parents but the rewards are huge,” she said.
“Now, when Angus is pushed out of his comfort zone, he feels safe with us and he is able to problem-solve and find solutions. We do a lot of things families with children with autism can’t do.
“We don’t not do anything we want to do, and that’s because of RDI.”
Parents or educators who want to learn more about how RDI can help children can attend information sessions at Horsham Uniting Church next month.
Wimmera Speech Pathology speech pathologist Fleta Pohlner and behavioural analyst Christine Chalmers-manton will co-host the sessions.
Both are RDI certified consultants and are members of CARFA – Connect and Relate For Autism – with Ms Milne.
They will host a ‘Parenting skills to help your child with autism’ session on March 2 from 9am to 1pm, followed by an ‘Auditory processing in the classroom’ session from 6pm to 7.45pm.
The sessions will give participants a greater understanding of autism, provide strategies to help parents improve their child’s communication skills and consistent and caring strategies to manage children’s behaviour.
Mrs Pohlner said she had a passion for helping children with autism reach their full potential.
“The sessions will expose parents and teachers to what we can do with RDI,” she said.
“People will go away with ideas they can use with children.
“The presentation to teachers will give them strategies they can use in the classroom.
“Christine is a very experienced and dynamic speaker and I am quite excited to be presenting with her.”
Mrs Chalmers-manton has been working with children with autism since 2002 and started RDI training in 2007.
“It is more beneficial than any other method I have done,” she said.
“RDI is a lifestyle and a mindset. It is not something you do a few hours a week, you build it into your daily routine.
“It is an ongoing collaboration between the family and the consultant.
“We go in with the hope that the family will one day be able to say to us, ‘we’ve got this now. We don’t need to see you as often any more’.”
Spots for the Horsham information sessions are limited.
People can call 5364 2905 or email ballarat@connecting-minds. com.au for more information. Further details are also available on page 18.
SURVIVOR: Angus Milne’s Relationship Development Intervention therapy has been credited in helping the teenager deal with a stressful situation successfully. He is pictured second from right next to his mother, Donna.