A Brief Description of the RDI® Program

By: Nicole Beurkens


I often get questions from parents interested in knowing how my colleagues and I approach the treatment of autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions. I thought it would be helpful to start answering those inquiries in this format, as some of you may have similar questions. Here I will address:

What is the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)® Program?

When beginning to understand RDI®, it is helpful to set aside any previous information you have about treatment programs. My rationale for this suggestion stems from the fact that it is difficult to fit a new concept into something we have already established in our minds. RDI® is a unique and different model, and I encourage you to explore the information outside the boundaries of what you currently conceptualize as “treatment.”

The RDI® Program is based on a large body of research from the fields of human development, neurology, and neurodevelopmental disorders (including autism). Dr. Steven Gutstein and Dr. Rachelle Sheely, the founders of RDI®, have spent years studying and organizing the research literature in those areas to develop a comprehensive, research-based approach to neurodevelopmental disabilities that is based on what we know about how humans develop. By incorporating an understanding of how the brain functions, the typical sequence of development from birth through the lifespan, and the neurological and developmental problems that occur in autism and other related disabilities, they have been able to design an approach that addresses the core deficits of these disorders in ways that promote more typical pathways of development. Because it is based on the most current research in these areas, the RDI® model evolves over time as research sheds new light on our understanding of these issues. This is critical, because it means that RDI® as a treatment approach remains on the cutting edge of what we know about these disorders.

RDI® is about restoring the guided participation relationship between parent and child in order to promote the development of thinking and relating. Guided participation describes the relationship that is established between parent and child early in infancy and continues throughout childhood and adolescence. The basic essence of guided participation is that the parent is in a continual role of guiding the child to learn about and understand themselves, others, and the world around them. The child is in the role of soaking up the parental guidance, thereby learning to think, communicate, and relate to others. RDI® helps parents learn how to establish a solid guided participation relationship with their child, which is the foundation from which all future learning and development occurs. This begins with a thorough assessment of the parent-child relationship in order to determine where breakdowns are occurring in the guided participation relationship. A plan is developed to strengthen the relationship, and give parents the tools to repair breakdowns that occur.

Once the guided participation relationship is well established between parents and child, the focus turns to the child’s specific developmental deficits. RDI® utilizes a comprehensive set of developmentally sequenced objectives that represent all aspects of human development from birth through adolescence. The objectives encompass areas of development such as abstract thinking, self-awareness, communication, behavioral and emotional regulation, friendships, problem solving, collaboration, academic learning, and many others. A thorough assessment process identifies the developmental gaps for each particular child, and a plan is developed for addressing the objectives for each specific area that requires attention. This often entails going back to early developmental stages in order to address core issues that are impeding a child’s ability to function.

The RDI® approach focuses on remediation of deficits, rather than compensating for them. This means that we tackle the underlying deficits that prevent individuals from thinking, communicating, and relating in meaningful ways. [For more information on the concept of remediation, refer to our article “What is Remediation?” by following the link in the author’s resource box.] Another way to think about this is that we are focused on developing dynamic intelligence, which includes the thought processes and abilities needed to engage with the constantly changing world in which we live. We address the obstacles to development so that they no longer create barriers for the individual and family. This stands in stark contrast to treatment approaches that focus on acquisition of rote skills, academic learning, and other areas that correlate to the strengths of people on the spectrum but fail to impact their deficits.

RDI® Program Certified Consultants are the professionals trained to guide families through the remediation process of RDI®. Consultants conduct periodic assessments to determine starting points, measure progress, and identify obstacles along the way. They also work closely with parents by providing education, strategies, and feedback as the guided participation relationship is developed and child objectives are addressed. Just as the child is in a guided participation role with parents, the parents are in a guided participation role with their consultant. The goal of the consultant is to help parents reclaim their role as the most important guide in the child’s life, and to assist them in developing the skills and mindset necessary to make the most of moments with their child throughout the day. RDI® does not comprise a specific set of activities, done in a specific place, and for a specific amount of time. It is a way of life that permeates every interaction with the child, and typically with other family members as well. Parents learn how to approach their child and provide opportunities for thinking, communicating, and relating in ways that promote optimal growth and development.

There is much more to say about RDI® as a treatment approach, but the purpose of this article is to give you a basic overview. You now have an initial framework for understanding the main elements of RDI® and the innovative approach to treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders it provides. Perhaps the most concise way to summarize RDI® is to say it is a research-based, parent led program to correct the core problems that create obstacles in the lives of individuals with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Parents interested in this approach are encouraged to contact an RDI® Program Certified Consultant to get more information and discuss specific family needs.

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Autism specialist Courtney Kowalczyk, of the Horizons Developmental Remediation Center, provides practical information and advice for families living with autism and other developmental disabilities. If you are ready to reduce your stress level, enrich your child’s development, aspergers children and improve your family’s quality of life, get your FREE reports now at ==> www.HorizonsDRC.com

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