Attributes that lead to long-term quality of life

When children receive a diagnosis of autism, parents often start frantically looking for answers. It’s easy to become focused on the behaviours associated with autism. However, it is important to understand the underlying lags in development that contribute to those behaviours.

Behaviours can provide information about missing steps in development. Eradicating those behaviours does not serve children with autism if it does not provide them with the foundations for growth and discovery. In fact, focusing on the short term can become short-sighted. Parents need a long term perspective to help their kids attain quality of life.   

Still, often well-intended professionals take the “more is better” approach. Overwhelmed parents often receive massive amounts of recommendations and information which are almost impossible for parents to shift through, especially early on in the process when they initially receive their child’s diagnosis. How do parents decide which route to go?

I think it is important to keep a long-term perspective and consider what children need for the future in order to have quality of life. Long term perspective helps parents function proactively rather than reactively.  

Achieving a good quality of life has generally been thought to involve three areas:

  1. Autonomy includes the required prospects for independent living and sustaining employment.
  2. “Relatedness” relates to the prospects for friendship and significant intimate relationships.
  3. Well-Being involves good mental health and the hope for future life improvement.

What attributes does an individual with autism need to have in order to achieve independence and quality of life in our ever-changing complex world?

Parents lose sleep at night wondering “what will happen to my loved one when I’m not here anymore?” Therefore, doesn’t it make sense to fully understand what skills individuals need in order to thrive in the 21st century?  

Below is a listing of some of those attributes that support Quality of Life (Q0L). In RDI® programs, we educate and empower parents to “keep their eyes on the prize” with a long-term perspective towards helping their children achieve quality of life. In turn, parents proactively parent their children and also experience a greater quality of life and satisfaction as they take their rightful seat at the helm guiding their children’s growth. 

RDI® does not aim to cure autism, but rather RDI® strives to support the development of the individual’s mind and greater neural integration, moving beyond behaviours.  

Let’s take a look at the attributes below to learn more: 

  • Adaptation: Effectively managing change and transition. Monitoring & altering your actions, attention and thinking to reflect feedback, new information & altered circumstances. Having the flexibility and poise, to adapt in ever-changing environments.  
  • Awareness: Developing a growing personal “inventory” that can be used in making decisions & solving real-world problems. Realistically evaluating your capability and performance to set attainable goals. Developing a coherent sense of beliefs & values. Monitoring internal states. Knowing your strengths and limitations and your preferences and opinions. 
  • Collaboration: Contributing as a capable partner, group and team member to attain common goals. Balancing instrumental goals with interpersonal dynamics. Using effective methods for managing interpersonal conflict through negotiation and compromise, while maintaining respect and fairness. 
  • Creativity: Solving problems in an imaginative, novel manner. Thinking “outside the box.” Creating or perceiving new, unusual combinations, connections & relationships. Thinking in imaginative, speculative & divergent ways, perceiving things at multiple levels and from different perspectives. 
  • Deliberation: Operating thoughtfully & carefully. Approaching problems in an analytic manner.  Functioning with the degree of care, accuracy and thoroughness that the problem requires. Evaluating several approaches before selecting strategies that best meet problem requirements.  Postponing actions that are not appropriate in current settings. Considering what you want to say before communicating and thinking carefully about what your partners are communicating.  
  • Effective Communication: Possessing the skills and tools to effectively access, organize and communicate information in a variety of media. Finding common ground for sharing perspectives, ideas and feelings. Monitoring communication comprehension of self and partners. Adapting communication for less capable and less experienced partners. Using multiple non-verbal communication channels. 
  • Friendship: Maintaining lasting relationships based on shared experiences, emotional coordination, common attributes and mutual concern. Demonstrating loyalty as an ally. Developing a shared history of common, “bonding” experiences. Empathizing and building mutual trust. Successfully repairing inevitable conflicts and misunderstandings 
  • Growth Seeking Mindset:  Maintaining motivation for goal attainment. Demonstrating an eagerness to improve and learn from experiences. Resiliency in the face of failure with an understanding that failure is simply a part of the process necessary to achieve mastery. A lifelong desire for growth and accomplishment. Perceiving challenges as opportunities for learning and growth. 
  • Initiative: Acting autonomously to begin a process when things need to get done and not always having to wait for someone to tell you what to do. Expressing curiosity & desire to know more. Not taking the safe and easy route. Seeking out new, unfamiliar, but potentially rewarding experiences. 
  • Practicality: Managing real-world “grey-area” problems. Making-do & improvising with what is available. Working within limits and available resources and time. Determining “good-enough” performance criteria. Figuring out what is most important in any situation. Determining main points, critical information, appropriate levels of analysis of problems & tasks. Dynamically accessing thresholds and resources in various environments and situations. Asking and accepting help when need, but not without putting forth your own personal effort.  
  • Preparedness: Getting ready for future problems & challenges. Planning for possibilities. Developing realistic expectations. Analyzing problems and tasks to determine optimal strategies and necessary resources. Rehearsing possible scenarios and options. Emotionally preparing for less-than-optimal outcomes. Using mental time travel to reflect on the past to help prepare you for the future.  
  • Regulation: Using your emotions in a productive manner to maintain personal equilibrium. Coping with stress through self-soothing. Managing frustration, anxiety, disappointment, rejection, loneliness & loss. Functioning with emotional resilience to bounce back from obstacles and setbacks. Using emotions as tools to understand yourself & relations with others. Regulating your pace of action to fit the context. Knowing to slow down and get some “distance” when emotions run high (i.e. sleep on it) before responding when need be. Adjusting your behavior to stay within limits. Making ongoing adjustments to maintain states of social coordination with others. 
  • Responsibility: Acting with honesty, integrity & mutuality.  Considering others feelings and needs along with your own. Respecting commitments. Taking appropriate role actions to contribute to the family. Recognizing the responsibilities of community membership & citizenship.  
  • Wisdom: Benefitting from past experiences. Learning from mistakes & setbacks as well as successes. Maintaining a longer-term perspective. Appreciating how progress & change unfolds over time. Carrying out a structured reflection process, to review prior events and extract personally meaningful information for use in anticipating, planning and preparing.

I think we would all agree; parents want to help their children achieve some or all of these qualities to help prepare them for life. Why shouldn’t parents of kids with Autism or other neurological challenges hope for and strive for the same? It is 100% possible!

First, parents need to understand what it is that they want for their kids.

These qualities paint the long-term perspective for remediating autism, far surpassing many of the short-sighted goals often focused on some of the most popular autism interventions today for children. Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) focuses on building their child’s developmental foundations, adding greater complexity as the child develops, to work towards the attributes listed above right from the very beginning! Many families have witnessed the positive growth which occurs when they sit in the driver’s seat.

RDI Program Consultants prepare parents to become empowered and educated mindful guides as they work themselves out of a job. Parents are provided with the knowledge they need to create lasting positive growth in the lives of their children. Let’s raise the bar!  

Lisa is the owner of Mindful Guide Consulting and she works successfully with families across the world. In 2016, she became the Director of RDI Professional Training in Canada and now provides the education required to obtain RDI Professional Certification to Canadians.  She knows firsthand what it feels like to be a parent of special needs children and began using Relationship Development Intervention with her family in 2003. Now young adult men experiencing full quality of lives – they provide me with my daily dose of inspiration!     

Many thanks to the founders of RDI®, Drs. Gutstein and Sheely, for their compassion and tireless devotion to helping families and individuals with autism.