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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Autism Therapies: ABA, RDI, and Sensory Therapies

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How does Applied Behavior Analysis work? continued...

After identifying the goals, the therapist creates a series of steps to help the child reach them. The ABA therapist can employ a number of different procedures to teach the child with autism a given skill.

One commonly used procedure is discrete trial training. The therapist presents the child with a cue. The child then has the opportunity to respond. If the child responds appropriately, the behavior is rewarded. The specific reward is something the child enjoys, so that he or she is motivated to repeat the desired behavior in the future.

Admittedly, the world is not as simple as discrete trial training might make it seem. So, applied behavior analysis programs include a number of other training procedures. These are used to teach the child to generalize the skills being learned to a number of different settings. Procedures might include incidental teaching of skills throughout the day and task analysis. With these procedures, children with autism learn to perform multiple steps to accomplish specific tasks.

Is ABA training right for my child and me?

ABA training is most effective if therapy begins when children are younger than 5, although older children with autism can also benefit.

To get the most benefit from applied behavior analysis, your child will need extensive one-on-one therapy for many hours each week. That is expensive. ABA training will also be most effective if you obtain training in ABA yourself. That way, you can teach your child and reinforce positive behaviors all the time. This will help your child generalize the skills being learned. It also will help you minimize the likelihood that your child will engage in unhealthy or negative behaviors.

What is Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)?

Relationship development intervention (RDI) training is a relatively new, trademarked autism therapy. It was developed by a husband-and-wife team of clinical psychologists, Steven Gutstein, PhD, and Rachelle Sheely, PhD.

RDI training aims at teaching children how to engage in social relationships with other people. Typically, RDI training begins by helping children develop relationships with their parents and other family members. It is very similar to other therapies for autism in that it focuses on the core deficit: social skills and interaction. Parental involvement is key to the success of RDI. RDI teaches parents how to use all opportunities as “teachable moments.” These moments are opportunities to engage the child and build more appropriate social skills.

Since RDI training is relatively new, there is not much clinical evidence to demonstrate its effectiveness. Studies conducted by the developers of RDI, however, have shown significant improvement in children treated with RDI based on two commonly used diagnostic tests for autism.

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