A Parent's Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Awareness

Autism Teaching Methods: Relationship Development Intervention

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI®) is a parent-based clinical treatment that tries to fix the social problems at the heart of autism, such as friendship skills, empathy and the desire to share personal experiences with others. Clinical psychologist Steven Gutstein developed RDI with his wife, Dr. Rachelle Sheely. Their approach takes into account the ways in which typically-developing children learn how to have emotional relationships beginning in infancy.

RDI tries to help children interact positively with other people, even without language. When children learn the value and joy of personal relationships, according to RDI, they will find it easier to learn language and social skills. RDI is based on the idea that children with autism missed some or many of the typical social development milestones as infants and toddlers. They can be given a "second chance" to learn these skills through play, "guided participation" and other activities, according to RDI.

Here's an example of RDI in action: "The adult holds a treat in one closed fist, displays both closed fists to the child, and then looks at the hand that holds the treat. The child is given repeated opportunities to 'find' the treat in the hand the adult looks at," according to the Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disordershandbook of autism (3rd ed.)

Research published in 2007 showed overall improvements in 16 children who underwent the program during 2.5 years, according to The RDI BookRDI book for autism. Dr. Gutstein continues to research the method.

Some families are using RDI in addition to ABA and other teaching methods. The program is family-focused. "RDI  programs teach parents how to guide their child to seek out and succeed in truly reciprocal relationships, while addressing key core issues such as motivation, communication, emotional regulation, episodic memory, rapid attention-shifting, self awareness, appraisal, executive functioning, flexible thinking and creative problem solving," according to the RDI website. 

Considerations: RDI is more often used in homes than schools, though that is changing. RDI-certified consultants can be expensive. More research needs to be done on RDI to determine its effectiveness.

Dr. Gutstein presents an overview of RDI in his latest book, The RDI Book: Forging New Pathways for Autism, Asperger's and PDD with the Relationship Development Intervention ProgramRDI book for autism. His other books include:

Autism Aspergers: Solving the Relationship Puzzle – A New Developmental Program that Opens the Door to Lifelong Social and Emotional Growthautism aspergers RDI book. Dr. Gutstein's first major RDI book explains the new treatment and includes examples of therapy and progress among his young clients.

Dr. Gutstein's RDIconnect web site lists certified consultants, mostly in the U.S.

Relationship Development Intervention with Young Children: Social and Emotional Development Activities for Asperger Syndrome, Autism, PDD and NLD Relationship Development Intervention RDIby Steven E. Gutstein and Rachelle Sheely. Their second major book explores RDI programs for youngsters on the autism spectrum or with related developmental problems. Another book, Relationship Development Intervention with Children, Adolescents and AdultsRDI, addresses therapy for older children and adults.

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