Relationship Development Intervention- what does it look like?

 RDI looks at the thinking in any interaction.  Think about yourself.  What are your memories of childhood?  Some of them involve memories of friendships and good times.  We dont necessarily remember what we did but moreso the shared experience!  For our kids, since they are struggling with being very static( Rule based/instrumental) in their thinking, rule based skills are easily taught through behavioral modification.  Unfortunately, This just increases their static thinking.  At first, as they accumulate skills we as parents are thrilled.  With me, it took me about a year to realize no amount of skills was going to transfer to being able to share perspectives with others or theory of mind.  This is why it is common to hear parents echo,  "my son has a straight A average or is on the honor roll,  but cannot make a friend"  II cover friendships in the next blog.  To remedy this,  I turned with my own children to RDI as I realized that I needed to built my sons social and emotional developmental foundation if I indeed wanted to have my son able to have real, meaningful friendships and relationships.  I say all this because in order to go back and equip our children with these crucial milestones, we need to once again look at typical development.  WHen we are interacting with a baby we are interacting at a slower pace, we are very expressive, and limit our language and *turn up* our non verbal communication.  We are not looking for the baby to *do* anything other then their role of giving us simple feedback....and we wait for that feedback before we move on. 

With our children with Autism,  we want to give them that chance that they missed the first time.  We are not going to treat them like babies,  but what we do is concentrate on the thinking involved in the interaction, along with collaberation and reflection.  This process obviously slows the task down considerably.  This can be challenging as we may have learned to compensate for our children by prompting them and in essense doing their thinking for them.   The first thing, as a parent is to learn times in the day where you can do something, anything like wash or baking or washing the car at a slower pace to allow for thinking and not be overly concerned with how long it will actually take to DO the activity.    We frame the interaction according to the specific RDI developmental milestone that is being worked on, and focus on that instead of the task.  This does two things for our kids.  First, it shows them that we are more interested in THEM then the task, and second it models for them what experience sharing looks like.  They may be extremely task focused- black and white, and want to do an  activity for the end result of being done.  This is how RDI starts to help our kids learn how relationships are the center of every interaction and not the actual task.  This is broken down in very deliberate steps as we move along stages within the RDI learning system.

For example,  if there is ball playing, we are spotlighting non verbal communication and the experience …Many times the item, like the ball is something that our kids can stim on or find reinforcing and then the person in the ball play is secondary.  For this reason, for many children,  RDI focuses on doing household things like wash or cleaning with the child to spotlight the relationship…  we want to spotlight the relationship and not just entertain….typical children love to help around the house not because chores are fun but because they love working with mom and dad.  They have that intruistic motivation and social foundation to want to be with a person no matter what they are doing.  They know how to separate the item from the person.  With RDI,  one of the first steps is to restore having the parent more emotionally reinforcing then anything that they are doing together.   We want the child to understand how to be rooted in relationships and  walk away thinking to themselves,  I love spending time with my (fill in the blank)  and that the ball play was secondary to the relationship and memories formed.  Experiencing the experience instead of concentrating on a task.
Parent lead through being the guide…the exact way we help development unfold with our neurotypical children. 


  1. This information is incredibly helpful.I would love to see more articles on RDI. This method has great potential, and it needs to be made more accessible to families.
    Best Wishes
    Lisa O'Donnell


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A powerful conversation strategy for individuals with ASD.

The Parent Child Relationship in Autism

Can RDI help my child and family?