From Imitation to Creative Collaboration: A beautiful journey

As I watched Vishal work on creating toppings for his sandwich, bygone memories from the past found their way into my thoughts.


A young (er) Vishal being left alone in a room because he had become aggressive…
A basket of easy to do stuff that would not trigger him in any way was always by his side.
Offering simple activities – way below his competency, in order to not create any kind of challenge and to reduce his distress.


I brought myself back to the present moment.
Here I sew a smiling young man, who was proud of his achievements.
He felt the thrill of being challenged.
And he stood up to the challenge to create something that nobody had to ‘teach’ him.


It was his own ingenuity and creativity.
Take a look…


We were working on the objective of creative collaboration, on the RDI Program.


Co-Creative engagements will always have some internal element, as we are expecting both parties to contribute their own unique ideas. However the co-creative ‘product’ can be external (e.g. a completed LEGO structure) or internal (A name for our newly created pastry).


-Dr Steve Gutstein (founder of RDI Connect)


From the adolescent who imitated everything, to the young man who now creates his own recipes and comes up with fancy dishes- how did this journey happen?


1. We introduced co participation


We moved from being instructors, to co participating in activities.
This created an immediate shift where our students don’t feel ‘on the spot’.
The guide taking on meaningful roles, helped them to focus on their roles and build interaction between guide and apprentice.


Viji, Vishal’s mother, became a co participant. She took on an active role in activities, along side him.


This built a back and forth feedback loop, an emotional connect between them.


From ball play to going for walks together to cooking together, each taking on varied responsibilities- both mother and father co participated with Vishal.


2. We introduced mental challenge


The aim was always to challenge Vishal mentally.
Which human being does not enjoy being challenged? Every human being wants to grow.


As parents or professionals working with autistic individuals- it’s our duty to expose them to situations that make them ‘think’.


For example: Viji gave Vishal time to think through problems and find a solution. She stopped prompting him.


While they cooked, Viji would not keep the wok or chopping board in sight. Vishal was made to think about what he needed and to retrieve objects that he needed. If some ingredient was not present- he was made to problem solve and come up with a solution or a substitute.


3. We Presumed competence


This one is a favorite.


Do you feel your child knows or gets it? Or do you not believe in their competence?


If you believe, then you will give time and scaffold appropriately, rather than jumping in with a prompt.




4. We worked with his learning style


Vishal is an auditory learner. We worked with his learning style and simultaneously build up the visual channel for him.


In the early years, he could not look at a screen.
We built it up slowly and systematically. Today he’s happy to look at a screen and no longer shies away from looking at books, newspapers, television etc.


Infact, Viji just commented the other day about how excited he gets as he watches chefs creating fusion delicacies.




5. Consistency is the key


Vishal’s mother, Viji has consistently, over the years put in quality time to support Vishal.

This day to day effort has compounding effects- all of which have benefited Vishal.


Here’s what Viji had to say about the video above:


I was a bit apprehensive when we were to do ‘Creative Collaboration’ as l thought Vishal might imitate me ( which comes easily). But when I did the first framework ( biscuit toppings) I was surprised that he came up with his own version. So I planned another framework wherein we made ‘Bread toppings’. This we did over 2 days. The first day the regular toppings( savory) which he happily did and the next day ‘ sweet toppings’. I saw that though he was excited, he was also a bit hesitant initially, as he has never seen or eaten one before. I could clearly see his thought process- he went about looking for and collecting ingredients required to make a ‘Sweet’ ( he had done an ‘ open ended framework’ 2 weeks ago) but was unsure. Will this be good on bread – seemed to be the question on his mind. But when I said- you got the perfect ingredients, he was all charged up and went about making his topping. He didn’t even bother to see what I made. He was so happily making his. I showed him the Chocolate version ( he was super excited)- just to let him know the different ingredients that can be used and he added his own ideas( the garnishing) and we came up a super yummy topping. He was very happy and excited throughout. We had a great time coming up with the different toppings. The novelty of the framework and the opportunity to be creative made it an enjoyable engagement for both of us.
Working on ‘ Creative Collaboration’ has also helped Vishal become more accepting of my inputs and suggestions while we engage and collaborate in the kitchen daily during our Lab Time activities.


– Viji Srinivas


Yes, Vishal has come a long way.
We continue to have some challenges in the form of anxiety and health issues.
But keeping the above 5 points in mind, we shall overcome.


A message to every parent who reads this?


Don’t give up.
Have hope.
Go after your dreams.


Please remember, each individual is unique. To dig deep in order to support them is respectful. It’s the way to go.




Kamini Lakhani

Kamini Lakhani is the founder and director of SAI Connections. She has been providing services in the field of autism for more than 25 years and is the authorized director of Professional Training for RDI in India and the Middle East. She is also the mother of a young adult with autism.


  • Dilip kurani says:

    Excellent, I am always of opinion that children whether so called normal or otherwise, our focus should always be on developing life skills like.
    Problem solving
    Doing house hold and domestic work
    Organization skills self and environment
    Time management
    Money management
    Enjoying company of self
    Team work
    Communication and interactive
    Perseverance and persuading skills
    Using of Transportation

    You are doing great job. Keep it up
    With regards

  • So wonderful to hear from you, Sir.

    Indeed, each category you’ve mentioned is so important.

    Thank you for your kind words.

  • Raman N R says:

    Gr8 Vishal..God bless you and Viji n Srini…Ramu mama n Meena mami. Thank you so much Kamini madam

  • Thank you for the encouragement.

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