Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) and Floortime: Two Autism Treatments #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day eighteen in the A to Z Challenge on autism. Today, I will focus on two behavioral interventions for autism: relationship development intervention and Floortime.

Relationship development intervention (RDI) is a behavioral approach to helping autistic children reach the highest possible quality of life. The intervention was developed by Dr. Steven Guttstein. The basic idea behind the intervention is that dynamic intelligence, which is the ability to think flexibly, is required for a good quality of life. Dynamic intelligence includes the ability to appreciate different perspectives, cope with change, and integrate informaiton from multiple sources (eg. sight and sound).

The most important objectives of RDI are:


  • Emotional referencing: being able to learn from the emotions and subjective experiences of others.

  • Social coordination: the ability to observe and control behavior in order to participate in social interaction.

  • Declarative language: using verbal and non-verbal communication to express curiosity, invite interaction and share perceptions and feelings.

  • Flexible thinking: being able to adjust to changing circumstances and adapt one’s plans accordingly.

  • Relational information processign: the ability to put things into context and solve problems that don’t have a clear-cut solution.
  • Foresight and hindsight: being able to use past experiences to anticipate on future possibilities.


Autistic people usually have trouble in these areas, which leads to their autistic core symptoms. Typically deveoping children commonly learn these skills through interaction with their parents.

RDI uses the parent-child relationship to enable the child to master the skills mentioned above. An RDI consultant teaches the parents to modify their interaction and communication style in such a way that the autistic child will be supported to learn the missed skills.

I used to believe that RDI is the same as Floortime, but it turns out it isn’t. Floortime was developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan and relies on the idea that, in order to teach a child functional skills, they have to engage with their parents, teachers or therapists. This is precisely where some autistic children have trouble, particularly those who are very withdrawn. In Floortime, the parent carefully intrudes the child’s play, following the child’s lead, and tries to engage the child.

So what is the difference between Floortime and RDI? An important distinction is that, in RDI, the parent takes the lead in engaging the child, whereas a parent who uses Floortime follows the child’s lead. Both approaches require consistency and follow-through, so as a parent, you most likely won’t be able to combine the two.

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