Rod Smith and the Mercury Newspaper!

I am not a great one for keeping up with the daily newspaper, however, when I do read it, I always go straight to the column written by Rod Smith. I enjoy reading his words of wisdom and also get a kick out of some of the stories that are shared!

Rod Smith is a family therapist who lives in the USA. He used to live in Durban; and in fact he is my friend's cousin's wife's uncle! ~ sorry Sandi, I just couldn't resist adding your comment in! :)

My mum (who is visiting from New Zealand) passed me Monday's Mercury and said "read this, he talks a lot of sense!" (Out of interest, I left home at the age of 17!). She was right, it does make a lot of sense ~ but, it got me thinking! Sure, I can relate with all that Mr Smith said ~ but, what happens when you have a special needs child? On the spur of the moment I sent him a quick email, without telling anyone in my family! I did think to myself  "I wonder if he will write back?" and then promptly forgot all about it!

Today, late afternoon, I was pottering around in the kitchen, sorting out Nick and organising supper.  My mother comes into the kitchen waving the newspaper in her hand......... she says, "Oy, this sounds like you!!"

Well, would you believe it, the dear man had published an edited version of my letter and replied! Oh my word, that man put a big lump in my throat and some tears in my eyes. Thank you so much Mr Rod Smith for your meaningful words, they are truly appreciated.

Here is Mr Smith's original post....

The Mercury
August 29, 2011

You and Me
by Rod Smith

It's a frequent theme in my office and in letters: "He'll always be my baby" or  "Once a mother, always a mother," and, "A mother's work is never done."  This is usually sighed rather than said. It usually precedes a story of a successful man or woman who seldom visits or contacts his or her mother.
These sentiments deserve challenge. There is no question that once you are someone's mother that is a fact - but mothering does end.
I'd suggest the healthier the mother, the earlier in her child's life, perhaps beginning around 16 and culminating at around 22, she plans to have worked herself out of a job.
It's replaced, and the transition is of course gradual, with becoming a respectful friend of one whom she has successfully mothered.
I know this is an unpopular thought.  I know so many women are defined by their role as mother. I know I am challenging something primal.
But, successful mothering ends.
Healthy adult men and women want mothers to be friends, first. They don't want an adult who needs to be a mother in order to exist.
If the sighs cease and the lamenting ends perhaps adult sons and daughters will find staying in touch a whole lot more rewarding and meaningful.

Rod Smith is a family therapist who lives in the US. E-mail questions to

Here is my email to Mr Smith.....

Dear Mr Smith
I read with interest your article in the Mercury Newspaper, dated August 29, 2011. You wrote about mothers and stated that successful mothering does end.  I fully support all that you said and I feel that I am doing a great job with my 15 year old son. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my son, however, I am beginning to let go. I am excited about his future and the role that I play in his becoming an independent young man, who will one day in the near future leave us to spread his wings.
However, Mr Smith, I have a little problem! I also have a 12 year old son with severe autism. I also feel that I am doing a great job with him; however, this young man will not be spreading his wings. I am worried about his future and I am not sure that my mothering will end. We don’t have the facilities in South Africa to accommodate my son. I really don’t think it is going to be possible to work myself out of this job.
Do you have any advice for me?
Best wishes
Di Maitland
South Africa

Here is Mr Smith's column in today's Mercury newspaper!

The Mercury
August 31, 2011

You and Me
by Rod Smith


"You wrote that successful mothering does end.  I feel that I am doing a great job with my 15-year old son.  I adore my son, however, I am beginning to 'let go'.  I am excited about his future and the role that I play in his becoming an independent young man who will leave us to spread his wings.
However, I also have a younger son with severe autism. I also feel that I am doing a great job with him but this young man will not be spreading his wings.  I am worried about his future and I am not sure that my mothering will end.  We don't have the facilities in South Africa to accommodate my son.  I really don't think it is going to be possible to work myself out of this job.  Do you have any advice for me?"

Your letter moved me deeply.  It shows once again that there are always exceptions to general measures of emotional and family wellness.  Your letter also reveals the diversity and the beauty seen in families.
As your younger son grows up, and as you develop the support and community you need for your own support, you will all train each other and strengthen each other for the difficult and beautiful road ahead.


Welcome to Kids First!

Six years ago I was in a quandary, I had come to terms with the fact that Nick would never fit into mainstream schooling BUT what to do?

Fast forward to now…...

We have ‘Kids First’, a small self contained unit/school for children with developmental disabilities. It’s hard to believe that we have been in operation for nearly six years! I have always maintained that for the sake of our kids I will only take a maximum of five children. I have no doubt that I can easily increase our numbers; however, for the kids (and for my sanity) we will continue to stay ‘small’.

To walk through the gates of Kids First on a Monday morning always gives me a feeling of peace. The street is hushed, the neighborhood dogs are sleeping, the house is still and there is an air of tranquility about the place……. Nick runs ahead of me, bag bouncing on his back, a big smile on his face!  My boy is happy to be there!

Visitors are always amazed at the peacefulness that surrounds the school, the lack of noise, the slow pace, the gentleness, the calm.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like that all of the time!  We have a local monkey troop, who thinks it is great fun to run up and down on the garage roof and then jump onto the cars below.  They fight in the trees and run around the garden generally causing mayhem!  We also have some dreadful prehistoric looking birds that made the most horrendous noise (Grey Ibis, although we call them ha-de-dahs) ~ Nick hates them with a passion and their squawking can ruin his day!
Our kids also have their ups and downs and we never know on any given day what that day may bring.  Nick may refuse to go outside; a child may need to jump on the trampoline for half an hour because of sensory issues, another child may suddenly throw a hissy fit! ….. the list goes on!
Regardless, Kids First is a safe and nurturing environment!
It has crossed my mind that I really need to put together a list of ‘Handy Hints’ to give to people before they come and visit us! They need to have some idea of how they can blend in with the kids, how they can interact with them and also be aware of some of our objectives.
So here goes.....
When you say hi to one of the kids, get down to their level and give your greeting ~ and then please wait (and you may have to wait a while!). Usually you will get a wave or “hi” back, however, if you don’t get a response don’t worry about it! Remember, they don’t know you!
Cut back on the amount of verbal language that you use.  We feel that it is important to give each child time to process what is being said. They need the time to hear the information, process the information and then respond.  Should you jump in too quickly with further questions/instructions our kids will either ‘switch off’ or go into fight or flight mode! Give the child at least 45 seconds to respond, although also bear in mind it may take longer than that!
We are also very keen on the power of suggestive/experience sharing language.  Our main objective is to encourage dynamic thinking and all that we do at Kids First is geared towards giving the kids the opportunity to think for themselves with as little prompting as possible!  It is very easy to barrage the kids with questions to which they may give an answer, however, giving a quick answer doesn’t require a whole lot of thinking…. and it certainly isn’t experience sharing!  We try to use mainly declarative statements rather then direct questions and comments.
Our kids are quite capable of referencing facial expressions and body language for information, therefore, you do not need to request that they should look at you. Give them time, perhaps pause in the middle of what you are doing and then wait for them to look to you before continuing again!  The power of the pause is amazing! J
We don’t promote instant reward/gratification for a job well done.  For sure, we may give a big smile, clap hands here and there. We may laugh or make a declarative comment, however, it is all low key!
You will see from our daily routine that we run a structured program, however, if you stay for more than a day you will also see how that program is changed frequently, how we throw in curveballs, how we are flexible in our approach with the children (out of interest, my son now copes exceptionally well with change ~ there was a time when everything had to be the same, including the people in his environment!). 
You will also see that, although we do many different types of activities and spend time on educational concepts, we do place a lot of importance on the interaction between the child and adult.  It is very important to us that everything is meaningful and not totally task driven! 
This is getting a bit long and I have so much more to say........ ..but it will have to wait for another time!!
Please don't hesitate to ask me any questions ~ you can also find me on facebook, just look for 'The Bright Side of Life'!
Well done Australia for winning the rugby today!

There's something about my boy!

I am forever learning...........

The differences between my child and other children on the spectrum
The different experiences of parents from around the world
The different therapies that are out there and that there is no 'one size fits all'
The sense of community
The feeling of respect for others who live autism daily
That writing about autism is healing
That writing my blog shares my story to those people who want to know about it

I am forever grateful......

For my family
For the wonderful people who have made a difference to my child's life
For the friends who have been there for me
That I have never had to deal with negative comments (well, only a couple!)
That I have never been judged for my child's behaviour
That people always ask after Nick..... that really means a lot
That I can always 'make a plan'
That I don't take life too seriously
That Nick doesn't have any tummy issues
That Nick does not have any self injurious behavior
That Nick is the sweetest, gentlest child you could ever meet


Practicing my pausing!

These last couple of weeks have seen me being mindful about using any opportunity to 'pause' within an interaction.  I mentioned in a previous post that Nick should understand pauses within 'US'. Our consultant is looking for "the challenge that Nick *anticipates* continuing by NOT showing stress within the pause."  I think we are doing OK!  :)

As luck would have it,  a really great article on 'The Pause That Makes All The Difference' was posted on the RDI site this week. Click and read, it is worth it!

So, on that note........... all I have to add are a couple of short clips of me 'practicing my pausing' with my boy!


Dear RDI Consultant!

Dear fellow mum/online friend/RDI consultant
Can you believe how fast these last months have gone by? ......... it is nearly a year since I signed up to work with you! In fact I signed up with you just before you 'officially' became an RDI Consultant! I can still remember when you announced that you were going to start studying to become a consultant! Time flies!

We started our journey on the old platform, which in itself was very useful and full of information (or so we thought before the introduction of the new platform!!).  Wow, I am seriously loving the new site, lots of really great webinars at our fingertips, the opportunity to be a participant in a webinar, the feeling that I am part of a worldwide community, the ability to link up with my RDI mates.  The site looks fabulous and is very user friendly.

My two favourite features are the 'Family Discussions' and the 'Family Notebook'.  The ease with which we can communicate with each other is amazing.  I like the fact that you can send me an assignment and that our correspondence relating to that assignment just flows. The big bonus of the 'Family Discussion' feature is that we get email notification as soon as something has been posted. I can't tell you enough how helpful it is for my husband and also my child's Speech Therapist to receive these emails. They can keep up with what we are doing and then use that information to help them and in turn help my boy. I do, however, miss being able to access the family video archives, as I found that being able to watch other parents working with their kids was incredibly useful... and a great source of ideas! :)  

I also like the personal touch that we have created with our 'coffee corner'.  I like that we are able to have a private conversation, talk rubbish, laugh and connect over stuff that is not relevant to the other members of our team (I can send you a secret message to give my husband a kick up the butt!!). Oh, and let's not forget about the YouTube feature! What a bonus being able to upload my video footage onto YouTube and then onto our family platform?  It is all so incredibly quick and easy!

As we all know, it is very hard to communicate without actually being face to face with the person we are liaising with. We are unable to read those subtle non verbal cues and the way we use our body language to get our point across! Thanks to the smiley face app, we can let each other know whether we speak in jest or with doubt/questions/humor/happiness. We can simply use a smile to inform each other not to take a comment too personally or in the wrong way. Thanks to Skype it is also very easy to get in touch, face to face....... although figuring out the time difference can be a bit tricky!! ;)

Having you on board has helped me tremendously. Having you there to guide me through this parenting process is invaluable. To be honest, I don't think about what stage my son is at and I am not desperate to know where on the program he is.  I am content to go with the flow and just follow you to wherever you lead us. Yes, at times I do find RDI to be hard work, sometimes it is difficult to get to grips with what I am doing with my child........ but you are there to watch what I am doing, to observe and comment, to guide me on my personal journey.  So, if I am battling a bit I can just send you a quick note via Coffee Corner.... and I know that you will answer me within four days!! ;)  You will give me the boost that I need and you will make sure that I am getting the guidance that I need.  

I realise that you put more personal time into me and my family than what I pay you for! I also realise that some months I haven't contributed as much as I should have, therefore, those lean times from me make up for the extra time you give to us.  I like that we have this 'swings and roundabouts' approach. Thank you for that.  

I am sure that you are aware that I am not obsessed about 'doing' RDI 24/7. I am also sure that you are agreeable with this......... RDI is a family lifestyle and within that lifestyle there has to be a balance.  There has to be time for chilling, no pressure, no expectations....... just hanging out!  There has to be time spent away from autism, time spent with my other child, time spent with my husband, time for myself and time with my friends! :) 

Thank you for being a great consultant. I am really enjoying the opportunity to learn, explore and expand the old grey matter. I hope to head your way at some stage, on one of my autism free holidays..... I hear the shopping is good over there!

Take care and chat soon!

Di x

P.S. I don't write my blog until my latest RDI feedback has been sent.... gotta get the priorities right you know haha!!!