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Sarah Wayland, Ph.D.

  • Cognitive Psychologist
  • Resource Navigator
  • RDI Consultant
  • Parent

301-768-8503

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What is RDI™?

RDI™ stands for Relationship Development Intervention. It is an comprehensive family-focused program that helps exceptional children learn the skills fundamental to making and maintaining meaningful relationships with their parents, other adults, and their peers. Based on research in social and cognitive development, RDI™ teaches caregivers how to scaffold learning situations so that they will provide a "just right challenge" for the child. Through this process, the child learns that he or she can experience challenge and success. RDI™ does this by focusing on three areas: parent training, relationship building, and dynamic thinking. With careful work, families can help their child re-establish the typical developmental process.

You can read more about RDI in this article I wrote for the 2e Newsletter.


Who can benefit?

RDI™ was originally developed by Dr. Steven E. Gutstein and Dr. Rachelle K. Sheely for families with a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (autism, Asperger's Syndrome (AS), PDD-NOS). They have also successfully used the evidence-based Family Consultation Program to help families facing a variety of challenges including Reactive Attachment Disorder, AD/HD, Tourette's Syndrome, and abuse/neglect, to name a few. While the program was initially developed to help children with these disorders, no one is too old to learn these skills. RDI™ has helped people from ages 2 to 64.


What is involved?

The RDI™ consultant first conducts an extensive assessment of family interactions, challenges faced by the child, and the environment in and outside of the home. Using this information, the consultant and family work together to develop objectives to help children overcome their core deficits. By providing you with specific tools and techniques, the RDI™ consultant helps you restore your relationship with your child.


What is a typical session like?

Most of the work involves assignments to be done between sessions. These assignments sometimes involve reading about a particular skill or developmental stage, watching a video, or creating an individualized plan to address a particular challenge. More often, the assignments involve practicing a skill.

For example, you might want to teach your child the importance of noticing when someone enters the room. Together, you and I will talk about when you will practice teaching your child this skill, how you will scaffold your behavior to improve the chance of success, and how you will respond to your child when they do notice.

One method for learning a skill is to videotape yourself practicing with your child. Your assignment might be to analyze the video, pointing out what you did, how your child responded, and what might have happened if you had done something different. I will also watch your video, and will do my own analysis. At the next session, we will discuss what we learned, and work together to determine what your next steps should be.

This work is supported by the RDIOS™ (RDI™ Operating System), a secure, web-based system that connects parents and consultants, provides program information, and connects the members of the world-wide RDI™ community.

Through collaboration, and by learning how to analyze and improve your performance, you will learn how to become the most effective teacher possible for your child.


What kinds of changes will I see?

As you work on the goals and objectives of RDI™, your child will:


What is the RDI™ platform?

The RDI™ Learning Support Community is integral to the delivery of RDI™. It is a self-paced online education system accessible anywhere and any time. Depending on your interests and needs, you can access expert knowledge through on-line webinars, multimedia eLearning courses and tutorials that are dynamically configured to meet your needs.

Community members have their own customized objectives, but they can also guide other learners. You can help others as your experience allows, and get help when you need it. If you wish, you can create community resources, contributing to topic-specific wikis, forums, and blogs.

Learn more about the platform on the RDI™ website.


How do RDI™ and ABA differ?

ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) shapes behaviors and teaches skills using tangible external reinforcers. While ABA can be a very effective method for teaching behaviors, behavior change does not necessarily mean that the cognitive processes underlying the behavior have developed. The focus is on skill deficits, rather than on remediating the underlying cognitive processes.

RDI™ focuses on re-establishing typical development, and on developing the underlying cognitive processes necessary to appropriately categorize and generalize information. This means the child can assess a new situation and, based on their own observations and experiences, adapt their behavior accordingly. Instead of teaching the skill and all the possible variants, the child knows that variation is a natural part of life. This means they appreciate the challenges inherent in situations that require dynamic problem solving.


What is the research evidence for RDI™?

RDI™ is a relatively new treatment approach; Dr. Gutstein first published the model in 2001 in his book, "Solving the Relationship Puzzle". Since then, there have been a number of studies evaluating the impact of:

A list of published research on these topics can be found in this handout, compiled by Amy Leventhal and Deborah Berrang in 2010.