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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Autism Therapies: ABA, RDI, and Sensory Therapies

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.

How does RDI training work?

RDI training begins with a complete professional assessment of the child. This includes a visit with a neurologist and an evaluation using standardized autism diagnostic scales.

Parents wishing to use RDI are encouraged to either participate in an intensive workshop or watch a special five-hour DVD. The workshop and DVD introduce parents to the principles of Relationship Development Intervention.

An RDI program is built by a certified Relationship Development Intervention program consultant. The objectives set for the child are updated regularly, using feedback from parents and videotapes parents submit. The videotapes document the parents' sessions with the child. In the early stages of therapy, parents have the role of being the child's main coach. The consultant's role is to help parents work with the child as effectively as possible.

The consultant teaches parents to help their child develop a social relationship with them, and ultimately others, through various activities. These activities might include playing games such as "hot potato" or mimicking the expressions in facial images.

Is RDI training right for my child and me?

The RDI developers believe RDI training is most effective when children begin receiving therapy at a young age. They also believe it can be beneficial for people with autism of all ages.

To provide your child with RDI training, you will need to devote time to attending workshops or watching videos. By doing so, you will learn how to provide your child with an effective intervention program. The instruction can be both time-consuming and expensive. You will also need to commit to regular communication with your certified RDI program consultant. That includes regularly videotaping your interaction with your child.

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