Relationship Development Intervention

Social connections

RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) is a systematic process used to treat classical autism and other pervasive developmental disorders. The approach begins with one-to-one interactions and eventually leads to multiple interactions in various settings. The treatment is typically the individual's primary plan but other interventions may complement the program.


Relationship Development Intervention focuses on social interaction and development. Services are typically geared toward children and a professional RDI consultant works with the family as a guide. In order to become a consultant, a therapist must earn certification through the program.

The program was developed by Dr. Steve Gutstein. He holds a Ph. D. from Case Western Reserve in Clinical Psychology and is currently the Director of the Connections Center.


Consultants do not have to hold a degree or a license in psychology or therapy. However, the certification process is thorough and consultants must undergo reevaluation and re-certification every year. A list of consultants is available on the Relationship Development Intervention website.


Sessions usually begin with one-to-one interventions and gradually progress into group activities. The interventions selected are specific to the individual's needs and strengths. The program targets important social skills such as:

  • Nonverbal cues
    • Facial expressions
    • Gestures
    • Body language
  • Interaction
    • Sharing
    • Awareness of others
    • Empathy

Evolutionary Approaches

RDI is not stagnant. The organization evolves as new research and developments emerge in the field of autism. The fundamental elements of the program are unchanging in that it encourages reciprocation, dynamic environments, encouraging curiosity and growth, and promoting genuine relationships. Newer developments in the program include promoting motivation by using episodic memory. Each intervention is meaningful and positive consequences are readily apparent and memorable. The program incorporates everyday activities in natural settings to make sessions meaningful. It combines different aspects of language in order to create purposeful communication.

While the program is unique, it does have some similarities to Floortime activities and Applied Behavioral Analysis.

RDI and Floortime

The interventions share some qualities with Floortime, developed by Stanley Greenspan. Sessions encourage meaningful interactions with others in a systematic approach that breaks down social interactions into small, attainable steps. In each approach, the focus is on social development.

Relationship Development Intervention and ABA

Relationship Development Intervention shares some basic qualities with Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).

  1. Family-based applications; the parents, caretakers, and other family members participate in the sessions.
  2. Goals help structure the sessions. The individual works toward target goals and interventions are designed to help meet these goals.
  3. Systematic approaches are integral to the therapy. Each intervention serves a specific purpose.
  4. Objectivity is an important aspect of the program as it is a clinical in nature.
  5. Data collection is helpful in tracking progress, especially in cases that progress slowly.
  6. Need-driven applications require that the program is developed according to the individual's treatment plan.
  7. Progress evaluation is measured on a regular basis and the program is revised accordingly.
  8. Breaking tasks into small steps is a fundamental aspect of the program. The individual masters one step before moving on to the next.
  9. Positive reinforcement is used to encourage motivation and to make activities meaningful.

Program Protocol

RDI is unique in that it follows a specific Program Protocol. The approach includes changes in daily routines. This approach is also different because the consultants do not work directly with the child in the program.

The program differs from ABA and Floortime in some ways:

  • Minimal directives and questions
  • Focus on declarative statements
  • Using indirect prompts
  • Periods of "productive uncertainty"
    • Requires referencing
    • Administered frequently

Starting RDI Program

Families that want to begin the program start with a phone consultation, followed by a recommended two-day workshop or a viewing of the organization's DVD recording. The Connections Center recommends the following steps:

  1. Introductory workshop
  2. Intensive Parent Seminar
  3. Parent training
  4. Intervention Planning Week
  5. Ongoing support and coaching

The program requires significant commitment from parents and caregivers as it is considered to be a change in lifestyle.

Realistic Outcomes

RDI is appealing because the interventions are motivating and family-centered. The program does not appear to make any unrealistic claims nor does it refer to "curing" autism. The approach is systematic and a number of other interventions can complement the therapy.

The program's cost is unclear but the price for the initial two-day workshop ranges between $250 and $300 per person. It is important to note "The Connections Center neither warrants nor guarantees the level of success to be achieved by the application of RDA or the RDI Program by any Consultant or that the consulting services to families provided by any Consultant will be successful at all."

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