How do I "do" RDI?

In the spirit of creating this blog, I wanted to chat about *doing* RDI.  As with most of my posts here, I have asked many of the same questions that I write about, which is why I am here.

Two of the questions that I run across from time to time is how do I do RDI …and then because a quick answer usually creates more questions…the next is usually Why is RDI vague?

So I am going to try and make RDI less vague …These are my reflections, based on implementing RDI with my own 2 boys over 7 years ago and my work as a consultant for the past 4 years.

RDI is….

Relationship development intervention is based on the latest research in developmental Psychology, transferring these cutting edge advances to effectively apply them to help our children on the Autism Spectrum.  Through empowering parents,  RDI consultants equip families to deliver a state of the art program to help restore the developmental trajectory of their child on the spectrum.  In this step by step process, they are never alone in teaching their child how to experience the world in a better way, in the safety and security of the parents being their trusted guide. They learn how their child’s mind works and are able to create safe challenge in day to day activities. Their child becomes resilient and competent, able to make decisions, have friends, be a team player, have a job and all the quality of life indicators that we as parents want for all our children.

What does this mean in application?

When I discovered RDI for my family, it was based on child developmental milestones …and they were all nicely laid out to work on with my kiddoes.  I would incorporate specific actions into my interactions based on what objective I was on.  My consultant, would then monitor if that milestone was remediated and we could move on, or if there still needed to be more practice/direction, etc.   Here is an example-
Adapting to degrees of change- my son would adapt his behavior successful to remain coordinated- I would carefully introduce gradual degrees of change into my activity …harder/softer,  faster/slower/ higher/lower.  I would then spend time fostering this milestone in the many interactions I had with my sons in a day.

As simple as the objective may sound, my son was very resistant to anything that he could not control.  If I wanted to introduce variation to something we were doing, it would become a power struggle of control.  SO within this objective, other objectives were also addressed ( boundaries, variations. Flexibility, etc depending on your child)

 When that was mastered we moved on…with excitement to all the new milestones my sons were finally getting.  These milestones were not simply static skills,  but rather the building blocks to understanding how to completely engage, collaborate and share perspective!

As the years moved along in the actual RDI program, the founders Dr Gutstein and Dr Sheely,  watched the program unfold and listened to the families that were stuck in some aspects of the student objectives.  This is when updates occurred.  The basis of a *do over* has always stayed the same, yet as they gained more knowledge on what was successful and where families were stalling, it was incorporated into the program.  This was the birth of parent objectives…the feedback from parents who were successful along with the parents who were struggling.   While RDI focuses on Child development, it became clear that parents and caregivers needed some important information and strategies to create an optimal learning environment to help the developmental process unfold more precisely.  For me this is what makes RDI pretty unique. A specific curriculum to streamline progress that continues into the milestones of adulthood.  Other programs,  for example can teach a child to behave and act a certain way, but that never addresses the underlying social understanding that is needed to truly generalize.  Other developmental programs may be helpful in relationship building,  helping parents to accept their child and help them to build a starter  connection. These are positive helps to our kids. However they often fall short in the long term.  I often hear "My child has stalled in progress, can you help?"  This is especially true as our kids get older and the gap of milestones become wider!! So lets take it a step further.  In typical development engagement starts to occur even before 3 months of age…so imagine if you have a child with Autism who is 3, or 6  or 12 or 20..etc…there is multitudes of developmental milestones that need to be revisited because they missed them the first time.   Once engagement has begun to emerge ( Either through your RDI program,  or possibly ESDM,  a Floortime program or the Son-rise Program) and the child is seeking shared experiences. addressing each stage of inter subjectivity  is crucial to continue to move forward, gaining an estimate of 2 years in milestones for every year. This is why many families more to RDI after other programs if they have not started with RDI and this is why RDI is unique in its approach.
 For my one son, who is now 16, he started in RDI at 8, , at a 1 year old level in social understanding.  Each year he gained 2 or more years and at the age of 12 he was tested and it showed he was at a 9-10 year old level.  This was fascinating to the school Psychologist.  Obviously at 16 he has now caught up to his peers, was in football this year and is now bowling…has friends, and is a team player.  More importantly, the higher milestones of effective decision making based on past experiences have proved very useful in his teenage years! Haha

So ok that was a long example on what makes RDI Unique.

Back to the HOW of RDI …

To help this remediation process for our children to run even smoother, a simultaneous program was incorporated that was devoted to the entire family.  This is to encourage, especially the parents, that they were the BEST people to help their child, and to empower them with tools so that they can see those positive changes in their child.  The biggest Aha moment for parents with the RDI program is that they are NOT alone…that this model does not give them a book and says, now go do it…but more of an unfolding of what is powerful and unique about each family, and what specifically their childs needs are, step by step.  Lets face it, we all are different and our children are all different.  This is why knowing you are not alone is incredibly comforting!  Support groups are excellent ( go here for the yahoo support group with over 800 members )…but when I say you are not alone I mean with a consultant you have someone who is able to pinpoint where your child needs are…and as those needs change as progress is made, there is always a feeling of moving forward!

There are many resources that I have included in this blog to help you *start* to do RDI…but in reality these strategies are the *template* of the important work to come that will NEED these strategies firm, but in itself these strategies are just the beginning!

Here is a basic outline of RDI To help see application of these stages and goals …Im going to spend the next few blog posts going over some specific examples from both the parent goals and the student goals.

STAY TUNED!!..  Meanwhile listen to my latest radio interview on utube


  1. Great post, Kathy. I love your comment "there is always a feeling of moving forward!". I can vouch for that 100%. :-)

  2. Kathy...always love the way you clarify what we do!

    Thanks for the great post. I will undoubtedly repost :-)


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