Information on Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), Autism and Aspergers syndreome - common Autism Spectrum Disorders


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 autism spectrum.


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 specialist.


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).


Click here to read personal stories of parents' experiences with RDI.


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Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) is an intervention for individuals with Autism and other developmental disorders