by Barry K. Morris B.ScWk
Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) focuses
on building relationships and developing the social emotional capacities
of children on the autism spectrum.
RDI aims to increase motivation and interest in
social interaction, and provide activities and therapy to become
competent in social relationships. After a child's level of social
skills are assessed, a program is prepared, and therapists are trained
to implement the program and support the acquisition of skills.
Who developed RDI?
The RDI program is based upon the model of dynamic
intelligence developed by Dr. Steven Gutstein. Gutstein studied
the means by which typical children become competent in the world
of emotional relationships. His methods are based upon research
in typical development as well as studies of individuals on the
RDI is rooted in the belief that building dynamic
intelligence competencies is the key to improving the quality of
life of those with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The program's core
philosophy is that individuals on the autism spectrum can participate
in authentic emotional relationships if they are exposed to them
in a gradual, systematic way.
The developers of the program describe it as a
parent-based clinical treatment for individuals on the autism spectrum
or with other relationship-based disorders. The stated primary goal
of the program is to systematically build up the motivation and
tools for successfully interacting within dynamic systems (as in
social relationships), because deficits in this area are thought
to be common to all people on the autism spectrum.
How RDI differs from aba
Proponents of RDI believe that while conventional
treatments such as Applied
Behavior Analysis teach discrete skills, the social outcomes
that result often lack the emotional components of communication
as they rely on scripted and predictable actions. They believe that
such training may result in improved discrete skills, such as eye
contact, emotion recognition (of static images) and turn taking,
but that it does not teach social intelligence.
Instead of trying to directly alter behavior,
RDI focuses on cultivating the building blocks of social connection
- such as referencing, emotion sharing, and experience sharing -
that normally develop in infancy and early childhood. The RDI program
provides a path for people on the autism spectrum to learn friendship,
empathy and a love of sharing their world with others.
An advantage of Relationship Development Intervention
over behavioral interventions such as ABA is the lower cost. Therapy
can be largely home-based and run by parents, interspersed with
checkups by the RDI specialist. Parents in isolated areas can still
use RDI as video of interactions with the child can be sent to the
a basic start to using RDI
While RDI professionals offer a wide range of
training programs and products, they say you can start simply.
RDI focuses on the building blocks of social connection
so a basic start includes these tips:
Ask fewer questions and wait for a response
Slow down the pace of daily activities
Create disruptions to routine that can allow coping
skills to emerge
Share enjoyable experiences together
Look at photos or picture diaries to discuss fun
activities in the past.
Gutstein has published several books on RDI that
include practical instruction and activities for parents to use.
Your local Autism Association should have a list of RDI therapists
in your area. Where this is not the case, some parents videotape
interactions with their child and send this therapists for their
comments and suggestions.
Research on RDI
Preliminary research of RDI's effectiveness published
in Autism Spectrum Quarterly, Spring 2005, indicates that
this approach, which addresses the dynamic intelligence deficit
of people with Autism Spectrum Disorders, may be effective. When
compared to a control group, children whose families had participated
in Relationship Development Intervention showed greater improvement
on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and greater
increases in independent functioning in educational settings. As
with many interventions, more research is required to establish
it as a fully qualified evidence-based
treatment. and research suggests it should be considered as
an adjunct to other interventions which have been established as
effective (Perry & Condillac, 2003).
here to read personal stories of parents' experiences with RDI.
Click here for the full
range of Asperger's and Autism fact sheets at www.autism-help.org
See the Behavior
& Life skills page for tips on developing programs you can
implement at home.
This autism fact sheet is licensed under the GNU