Relationship Development Intervention
1. What is RDI?
Relationship development intervention (RDI) is an intervention therapy that addresses the core deficits of autism – dynamic thinking and social communication. It is developed by Dr. Steven Gutstein, who has been working with individuals with autisum for more than 30 years.
According to Dr. Gutstein most individuals with autism are not able to form long lasting friendships and mature emotional relationships. They lead a life wanting for social and intimate relationships due to their inability to develop the skills required to engage in flexible adaptive thinking which is necessary to deal with the variations in daily life. Even for high functioning ASD adults – adults with normal IQ and language, and lesser degree of sensory issues – the prognosis is not very different.
Dr. Gustein set out to discover how these abilities are developed in neuro-typical individuals. He learned that the brain connections that provide the early foundation for dynamic thinking and social development are formed in infants by age 2. The connections are built through their daily interactions with the parents. These interactions take a form that is equivalent to that of a mentor-apprentice relationship. The parent acts as a guide to the infant’s apprentice helping him discover the basic nuances of communication and relationship. This happens naturally and the appropriate connections are formed in the infant’s brain. In ASD kids these foundational brain connections are not formed thus creating a barrier in development of adaptive flexible thinking. Dr. Gutstein believes that brain is a pliable organ and parents can – through a systematic and methodical way – form a Guided Participation Relationship (GPR) with their child which will lead to the formation of the brain connections necessary for the development of dynamic thinking and social communication.
The RDI therapy provides the tools and training for parents to be able to form a GPR relationship with their child.
2. How is the RDI program implemented?
The RDI program is a parent-led therapy program. Parents implement the RDI program with the help of RDI consultants. There are 2 phases:
a) Parent objectives
In this phase parents are trained by the RDI consultants to become a guide/mentor to their child. Typical parent objectives are:
- · Dynamic communication: Communicate in a fashion that fosters thinking on part of the child.
- · Co-regulation: Establish a reciprocal pattern of attention and interaction.
- · Spot Lighting: Highlight key moments that will create episodic memories for the child.
- · Scaffolding: Provide appropriate level of support and vary it as needed to help the child take more and more responsibility in the task.
b) Child objectives
Once parents have become a proficient guide the RDI consultant will assess the child and create appropriate child objectives. Typical child objectives are:
- · Non-verbal (dynamic) communication: The ability to monitor and interpret the subtleties and nuances of human communications outside of speech. The majority of a neuro-typical child’s social enlightenment is derived from their ability to learn from their peers by observing, mimicking and emulating their behaviors in non-academic settings. By giving an ASD child the ability to interpret these behaviors and understand their deeper implications, RDI empowers the ASD child to learn for himself.
- · Experience sharing: The desire and ability to link one’s mind with another for the purpose of sharing another’s perspective, is the foundation of all human interaction. By giving a child the cognitive skills needed to interact mindfully, we are reducing the child’s anxiety about engaging with their peers, increasing their ability and need to engage with others.
- · Episodic Memory: The ability to link personal meaning (an emotion) to the procedural memory of a particular event. Specifically, RDI gives ASD children to store memories of competence, memories of overcoming obstacles and successfully navigating complex social situations. Over time the child is able to build up a ‘database’ of episodic memories upon which he/she can draw upon to solve future challenges.
- · Creative Problem Solving: The ability to come up with novel solutions to unforeseen challenges. The ability to access memories of competence from previously experienced, similar situations and the cognitive flexibility to modify those previous successes to fit the current circumstances.
3. Does it replace other therapies such as ABA?
No. RDI does not replace other therapies rather it is one more tool – the missing one – to remedy autism. ABA and other behavior modification therapies are required to develop static skills. RDI fills the gap of developing the dynamic thinking skills.