Updated: Nov 1, 2019
Limit setting is one of the foundational skills when starting out in an RDI program. In order to cultivate the Guide-Apprentice relationship, each person needs to first understand what their limits and roles are in order to be successful. Limit setting is not a skill reserved solely for adults of children on the spectrum however; setting and maintaining clear limits are crucial for children of all stages of development and abilities, and is something that paves the way to effectively establishing appropriate boundaries within the context of all future adult relationships. It is important to note however, that limit setting with children is about creating boundaries, and is not about control. When limit setting with a child, there is a careful balance of establishing what the limits are and what is expected of them, while also giving them enough leeway to take control of their own actions and decisions.
In order to effectively set limits, it is first important to understand the difference between limit setting, and Performance Demand. A Performance Demand is something that someone is trying to get you to do.This could be via rewards or bribery, or in a more negative light, threats. The end result of the process is the same: you achieve the behaviour you are aiming to accomplish. For example "Go put on your socks" would be a performance demand. You could use bribes, rewards, sticker charts, countdown from 5, time outs…all might accomplish the demand. However, in this method, the child is not learning the "why" behind the behaviour, which is necessary for building their dynamic thinking process. Placing Performance Demands creates an environment of static thinking, and focus on compliance, which is the opposite of what we are trying to achieve in with creating dynamic thinkers.
Limit Setting, on the other hand, is not about achieving any particular result, but rather setting guidelines around expected behaviours. For example, you might tell a child "I will help you put on your shirt, and pants, but it is your job to put on your own socks". Note, you are not telling the child when to put on the socks, or how to put on the socks, or what colour socks to put on (each of those would constitute a demand), but rather setting the limit around what you are willing to help the child with. The rest is up to the child. In this way, we encourage long term physical and emotional development by being mindful guides, and being intentional and flexible in the limits we set.
Limit setting can be challenging for kids with ASD for a number of reasons, however it is important for the child to build confidence in their abilities, and they do so by knowing what is expected of them. When setting limits, we must consider children's brain processing differences, and what challenges that might pose. For example, are there sensory sensitivities? Delayed processing speed? Distractions affecting the ability to follow the limit? Is there enough time given to comply with the limit? This is a huge part of the RDI program, and is something we work through with families from the beginning. Limit Setting is crucial in helping remove families from the “crisis mindset”, as they are able to feel the confidence again in taking charge of their child’s development, while creating and respecting healthy boundaries for each member of the family.