RDI Training Day – Growling Tigers, Sand Bracelets and Strange Websites!

Today we travelled to Peterborough for a training session with our wonderfully supportive Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) consultant.  We have face-to-face live sessions every three months or so in which we discuss our progress and undertake some activities with Ellen under our consultant’s guidance.

Ellen decided to go and hide when we arrived (a favourite activity), so that gave the adults an opportunity to talk through the areas which we feel we need help with.  For Richard (hubbie) this was slowing down his communication and focussing on commenting rather than questioning.  For me, I need to practice using gesture for experience sharing rather than simply using it to replace instructions. I also need to try and increase my experience sharing communication generally – aiming for 80% of the time during interactions – gulp!

One of the most important things that Richard and I need to remember is that the activities we do with Ellen are not ‘tasks’ they are experiences and our only task is to enjoy the experience with her.  This is a great message and may explain why in the past the activities which have a less defined ‘end’ (i.e. play dough) have been more effective than others (pumpkin carving).

Our consultant had organised two creative activities for us to do with Ellen; sand bracelets and sewing.  As Richard was gallant (or naiive) enough to give me first choice, I chose to do the sand bracelets.  We spent time talking through how we would go about approaching these tasks with Ellen and then went to find her. We found her ‘hiding’ in the living room, happily curled up on the purple bobbly rug she had discovered and very excited to be found.

It’s approximately a year ago that we first started RDI with Ellen.  During our first session at the consultant’s house, we spent about 90% of the time dealing with ‘resistance’, i.e. Ellen determined not to do the activity that our consultant was trying to model for us.  Well, what a difference a year makes!  There was no resistance at all, and despite Ellen spending the first couple of minutes more interested in talking about where we had found her than the task, she very quickly got involved in both activities.

With the sand bracelets, she chose the colours which were to make up each bracelet and took a turn at pouring in the sand.  I think if there had been more than three bracelets she would have happily continued on with this activity and afterwards she looped the bracelets happily on her arm.

Richard had the more time-consuming sewing task ahead of him.  Ellen decided that she was making a ‘growling tiger’ and Richard’s stomach intermittently growled in agreement.  For Richard this was a brilliant activity and he let Ellen lead the way in ‘tiger design’ and elicited some lovely communication from her ‘another eye please’ and ‘triangle nose please’.


We came away all fired up with enthusiasm and determined to visit Poundland to snap up all their bargain crafting sets!

As a funny aside, we were talking about having a ‘project’ which we could do over several evenings with Ellen and I thought it might be nice to make a nativity scene.  If you type in ‘craft nativity scene’ into Google, the first website which appears in the listings is tamponcrafts.com – ‘for any time of the month’.  It appears their nativity scene has caused serious offence and has been removed, but the instructions for Christmas Lights are still there if anyone’s interested! http://www.tamponcrafts.com/lights.html


Yes it is possible to spend 3 hours in Tring!

Today Ellen and I took the bus into Tring.  We caught the 11.46 am bus (which came and left 5 minutes early, unlucky for anyone not at the bus stop) and arrived just after mid-day, due in large part to the bus driver’s ill-concealed ambitions to be a racing driver.

The main reason for our trip to Tring was to visit Tring Natural History Museum.  http://www.nhm.ac.uk/tring/index.html .  For those of you who don’t know it, this is a fantastic – free to enter – little museum containing Lionel Rothchild’s personal collection.  Ellen loves animals and it doesn’t seem to matter whether they’re alive or dead – at Tring Museum they’re all dead (stuffed), the bonus of that is that they don’t move and they’re really close to the glass so you can get a good look at them!

Outside Tring Natural History Museum

Outside Tring Natural History Museum

First we made the obligatory stop at the gift shop to find the toy who wanted to accompany us around the museum.  Today it was a whale, who not only looked at all the exhibits with us, but also helped to fill out our gallery trail questionnaire – The ABC trail which meant we had to find all the letters of the alphabet in the galleries.  The alphabet contained the weird and the wonderful including ‘pacarana’ (a rodent) and ‘hellbender’ (a giant salamander).  Ellen has an incredible memory for animal names and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she starts talking about gerenuks and thylacines, I just hope she doesn’t spot any of the latter out of the kitchen window!  There was a pigeon called a ‘topknot’ pigeon whom Ellen was particularly taken with as he had a topknot like the Fimbles, although disappointingly no stripes.  She also loved looking in the cabinets at all the disgustingly creepy spiders, cockroaches, beetles and scorpions and indulged in her every present love of massive crabs.  Fun all round.

The Gallery Trail Questionnaire

The Gallery Trail Questionnaire

Then it was lunch time and we eschewed the finer eateries of Tring and made our way to Ocean Fish and Chips right in the town centre.  Perfect food for Ellen, sausage and chips plus we were the only ones ‘dining in’.  While we were there, a woman intriguingly came in just for a takeaway portion of mushy peas….another ordered her cod bites and chips and then proceeded to make a phone call loudly telling the person she was talking to how many pills she had left to take (for what?!).  If I ever do a JK Rowling and decide to sit somewhere public to write, Ocean Fish and Chips would seem to be the place.

By this time Tring Library was finally open.  On a Wednesday, it’s opening times are 2-6 pm so we trekked up there and started looking through the books.  We managed to kill another half an hour flicking through some books, before a trip to Costa and back to the bus stop for the 3.15 bus back home.  Amazingly we had managed to spend over three hours in Tring – a feat I would previously have thought impossible!



Art lessons – the outcome

Ellen has been doing Art one day a week at college for the past half-term.  Numerous attempts to prise from her what has been going on in the lessons have been met with vagaries such as ‘I don’t know’ or just ‘painting’.

Imagine the parental excitement, when a carefully wrapped, heavy object arrived home in the book bag last night.  Ellen’s name was fixed to the paper with a sticky label and I carefully unwrapped the treasured item to reveal…..

Ellen's Piece of Modern Art

Ellen’s Piece of Modern Art

Now I have to say there was an inner struggle between the proud parent and the cynic.  I think I’ve taken the photograph showing the object at its finest; allowing natural light to stream through and pick out the nuances of texture and colour.

I think Ellen’s intent must have been to create a modern piece, either that or she was keen to get to the canteen.

The question is – what do I do with it now…?


Play dough leaves and shelf-stacking

The play

This Wednesday it’s raining and horrible – definitely the day for an indoor project!  Because we made sooo much play dough last week and because I noticed that Ellen wasn’t that comfortable actually handling the play dough, I thought it would be good to do another activity with it to try and get her more de-sensitised.

Part A – Ellen and I pick leaves together.  Because of the rain, I decided to do this bit myself, as they also needed drying before we could use them.  But on reflection I think I should have insisted she came out…minus one to me 😉

Part B – Making the play dough prints.  It’s a very simple task – you roll the play dough out, choose your leaf and place it face down on the play dough.  You then roll over the leaf making an imprint in the play dough and finally carefully cut round the shape.

Ellen was very attentive and did touch the play dough much more than last week.  She found the rolling simple, the bit she struggled the most with was actually cutting accurately (or even vaguely!) around her leaf shape.  I don’t know whether this was to do with a lack of confidence, not understanding the task or lack of dexterity but we had a ‘stand off’ of about a minute where we just looked at each other – I was waiting for her to ask for help, she was waiting for me to offer.  In the end, Ellen gestured the knife towards me and pointed at the play dough.  I took this as my invitation to help and cut round all but the final quarter of the leaf.  I then indicated that I wanted her to cut round the final bit and she did – success!  We then piled our leaf shapes and original leaves on plates.  Another beautiful decoration for the kitchen for my husband to admire!

Play dough leaf prints

Play dough leaf prints

The job

Ellen also has a weekly ‘job’ at our local village shop.  It is a community shop and the staff are lovely and welcoming and very happy to have us.  The first week we went was a bit of a disaster.  This was mainly my fault because I had just told Ellen we were going to ‘work’ at the shop without setting in place any structures.  Result – me spending most of the time chasing Ellen round the village and persuading her to go back into the shop, much to the amusement of a delivery man who was having a coffee.  The staff and I then formulated a plan that each week they would ensure a few items on the shelves needed replacing and that Ellen would do the shelf-stacking and then leave.  The plan is to gradually build up the amount of items each week before adding another task.

This week Ellen found FIVE items to put on the shelves.  Ellen completes this independently in that I stay at the front of the shop and help her identify the items which need replacing.  She then goes out the back to find the items while I stay at the front.  There was even a challenge this week, as the raisins she needed to find were in a box.  Ellen brought the whole box out and I helped her to open it, she then took out the two packets and put them on the shelf – voila!  There was a slight stand off when I handed her the box to take back – but this glad to say I won this one fairly easily – plus one to me.  The staff commented that Ellen was much more comfortable in the shop this week and didn’t seem quite so keen to leave, so now may be the time to think of another task she could complete?

Ellen’s reward for such great work?  A trip to McDonald’s!  The staff in that branch are actually getting to know us now – wish they had a loyalty card….

Ellen shelf-stacking at the village shop

Ellen shelf-stacking at the village shop


Play dough – Mountains and Monsters

I haven’t made play dough for about twelve years, not since the days when a friend and I attempted to run a baby and toddler group whilst the aforementioned babies and toddlers clung screaming to our legs.  Still makes me shudder…!  Anyway things have moved on in the play-dough world since then and I must admit I gleaned a lot of information from the very helpful website The Artful Parent http://www.artfulparent.com/2012/02/39-ideas-for-playing-with-playdough.html and the great recipe on there for home made play dough (I chose the cooked rather than non-cooked recipe).  I was also inspired by this website to add ground cinnamon and glitter to the play dough to achieve a more ‘sensory’ final product (and a lot more mess…)

In preparation for Ellen and I making this together, I got all the ingredients out onto the worktop (including dodgy ancient packets of salt which are ideal for this kind of activity), prepared a list of things that we could make with the play dough afterwards and had a think about how I could meet my RDI objectives throughout the exercise i.e.

#commenting rather than asking questions

#’Stop the Action’ if Ellen stops paying attention

#gesturing rather than talking.

The main problem I have when doing activities like this is of thinking how to throw a challenge into the mix without asking a question.  So it’s a good idea beforehand to try and think of a few things you can say instead of the question e.g.

What shall we make with the play dough? -> Here’s a list of things we could make – I’m going to make a monster.

Where’s the oil? -> Oh dear I can’t find the oil.

This helps me, but I still find it difficult not to either bombard Ellen with questions or stand comically still gulping like a fish while a try and think what to say!  Still practice makes perfect so they say….

How did it go?  Well, after a bit of chuntering on about her Fimbles video at the beginning, I ‘stopped the action’ (stopped turning the tap on and hence filling Ellen’s cup) and after that she was pretty engaged.  Yes she poured in far too much (actually all) my food colouring, yes we had flour and glitter all over the floor but I was actually amazed that the play dough turned out as well as it did considering our measurements were not that accurate!

Ellen seemed to enjoy herself.  I noticed that she didn’t like to actually touch or knead the play dough very much – something we can work on over the coming weeks now we have mountains of play dough!  I gave her a lump of dough and she was pretty creative with it – we decided we were making monsters – well judge for yourselves!



About Us


This is a blog about me and my daughter Ellen (and sometimes other members of the family who wittingly or unwittingly get caught up in the action!)  Ellen is sixteen and has autism.  She loves animals, McDonalds, sequin art and above all her playstation and DVD collection!

In September Ellen left full-time school and moved on to college which in reality means that the Government have decided that she doesn’t need educating five days a week any more and so is home on Wednesdays (as well as all the extra holiday time but no need to go into that here).  There is very very little in the way of organised activities for young adults with learning difficulties, especially those under the age of eighteen and so my several small forays into attempting to organise something formal for Ellen quickly evaporated.  After the initial panic of what on earth we were going to do together, I took a deep breath and started trying to plan fun and interesting things to do on her day off which got her away from her various screens whilst at the same time moving her forward (hopefully).

We have also been implementing an RDI programme with Ellen for the last year, so it seemed good to try and incorporate some of those goals into our weekly “Ellen’s Days” as well.  For those of you who don’t know what RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) is all about, a good place to start is here http://www.thinkautism.co.uk/page5.htm

So this blog is all about our days together, which will hopefully provide motivation for me and inspiration – however small – for other parents who have young adults with autism or learning difficulties and who have days off which need filling…..