What is Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)? RDI is a program developed to address the core social deficits present in many individuals on the autism spectrum. The program was developed by Dr. Steve Gutstein and is based upon extensive research regarding both autism and typical child development. The underling belief inherent in the program is that individuals on the autism spectrum are capable of being part of true friendships and emotional relationships if they are provided with the means to learn the necessary skills and are taught them in a gradual and systemic way. Unlike traditional social skills programs, RDI does not teach children rules and scripts for social interactions. Rather, RDI teaches children the motivation behind why they would want to be in relationships with other people and uses these motivations as a catalyst to build skills and address deficits that are at the core of autism. Some of these areas include rigid thinking, aversion to change, inability to take the perspective of other people, failure to empathize and extreme adherence to rules. Who is RDI appropriate for? Virtually all individuals on the autism spectrum have some delays or defects in the area of social and relationship skills both with adults as well as peers. They are unable to or not interested in engaging in many social situations. Therefore RDI is appropriate for all children and adults who experience these difficulties. Furthermore, because RDI is a developmental model, building off of skills an infant develops, it is also appropriate for individuals at any age or level of functioning. What is the structure of the program? RDI is one of the few interventions for individuals with autism that empowers families to be at the forefront of their child’s intervention. The RDI intervention is guided by an RDI Program Certified Consultant or Consultant in Training. The treatment begins with a parent training component in which the family receives specific training on the principles of RDI as well as strategies to begin to use with their child. The next phase of the program is the Relationship Development Assessment (RDA) which determines both the parent’s strengths and areas requiring additional training and child’s current levels of functioning as they relate to the stages of the RDI program. The RDA also allows the clinicians to identify the appropriate stage to begin the intervention. Once the RDA is completed, families receive training on effective ways to work with their child, specific objectives to work on as well as feedback on how to structure the home environment in order to maximize learning and move the child through the stages of the program.
The family will need to spend time every day working with their child on specific learning objectives as well as incorporating specific strategies into every day occurrences that will promote the development of key skills. Ongoing video review, hands on training, phone conferences and e-mail support are key components in ensuring that the program is tailored to the individual and that they are building key skills. The RDA is conducted every six months as a way of tracking progress and assessing where the child and family are currently functioning.
Some key components of an RDI program
RDI is a parent-based clinical treatment program in which the parents are provided with the tools to effectively teach Relationship Intelligence skills and motivation to their child.
RDI emphasizes the joy in connecting with others and provides a path for people on the autism spectrum to learn how to develop friendships, empathy and how to share their world and experiences with others.
RDI is about changing neurology and is a way for people on the spectrum to become flexible thinkers and creative problem solvers who enjoy the challenges of change and who desire to expand their world.
The program is based on over 20 years of research by the world’s experts on typical development as well as scientific studies on people with autism.
The program is developmental and systematic and focuses first on building motivations so that skills taught, will be used and generalized.
RDI is a program that is realistic. It can be easily started and implemented seamlessly in daily routines and activities in which the whole family can participate.
The program is precise and measures each child’s current levels of Relationship Intelligence. Once children meet the criteria for each stage, new objectives are selected and targeted to further build the child’s Relationship Intelligence.
RDI is effective. Initial studies have found that within 18 months, over 70% of children improved their diagnosis based on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). Additionally the majority of children also moved into less restrictive classroom placements.
What results can be expected?
Dramatic improvement in meaningful communication
Desire and skills to share experiences with others
Genuine curiosity and enthusiasm in other people
Ability to adapt easily and “go with the flow”
Increase in the initiation of joint attention
Improvement in perspective taking and theory of mind
Dramatic increase in desire to seek out and interact with peers
Builds intrinsic motivation to engage with other people
Decreases controlling, interfering and self-stimulatory behaviors
Focuses on remediation rather then compensation
Improves ability to read social cues
Decreases dependence on others for support, prompting and facilitation