The RDI® Program for Social-Emotional Development

teachingRelationship Development Intervention (RDI®) is a parent-led, home-based program developed by Dr. Steven Gutstein, a clinical psychologist from the Connections Center in Houston, Texas. The goal of RDI® is to help parents build a relationship with their child through a system of guided participation, which ultimately carries over into the child’s other relationships. Parents work with an RDI® Program Certified Consultant on specific objectives designed to offer the child a re-do of certain early, developmental milestones, which allows social development to develop in a more natural, give-and-take fashion.

Dr. Gutstein developed the RDI® Program after spending years teaching social skills to children and adults with autism. He found that his patients were still having difficulty understanding the unspoken social nuances that occur in everyday life, affecting their personal and professional relationships. He spent some time going over the research on typical development, and formed a theory regarding how children with autism were getting off-track. With typically developing infants, there is a feedback loop between the parent or caregiver and the infant. Consider a game of peek-a-boo. Mom starts by getting the infant’s attention, then hides her face and pops out at the right moment. If the infant responds with a smile, or a happy noise, Mom does it again. The game continues as long as both participants are engaged. Once the baby loses interest, he may look away, or fuss, which lets Mom know he’s had enough. The interaction is two-sided, fluid, and dynamic.

When a child has autism, this feedback loop is compromised. The RDI® Program trains parents in strategies and activities to guide their child back to this dynamic, reciprocal feedback loop. The activities are integrated into the family’s daily routine, so children are doing things like setting the table or washing the dishes, while their parents guide them through the process. RDI® also uses strategies such as slowing down communication and giving the child extra time to process their words. The family’s consultant guides them through the strategies and helps them to break down the activities to meet the objectives they are working on.

The initial goals generally include things like helping parents to change their communication style, and training them to frame activities to achieve a system of guided participation, where the child learns to follow the parent’s lead. Other goals, such as co-regulation, social referencing, joint attention, and collaboration, are gradually integrated into the child’s program. The ultimate goal is to help the child develop executive functioning and dynamic thinking skills, which can be applied to many different situations in different areas of the child’s life.

Parents report encouraging results from the RDI® Program.

“When I see Joseph getting along in his mainstream classroom – when I see his friends including him in their activities and even seeking him out – I am filled with admiration for my son and for the intervention that is making such a difference in his life, “

says Jinnae Anderson, RDI® parent. For more information about RDI®, see their website at

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Laurel Joss About Laurel Joss

Laurel Joss is a freelance writer with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She worked as an RDI® Program Certified Consultant and has published articles in Autism Spectrum Quarterly and on her blog She is a mother to two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. You can also follow her on and