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At a glance: Relationship Development Intervention® (RDI®)
Type of therapy
The claim
Promotes learning, social skills, adaptability and relationship development
Suitable for
Children with autism
Research rating

Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.

Some research shows positive effects, more research needed.

Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration.

20+ Because this therapy is used consistently in day-to-day life, the time commitment is high but is incorporated into daily life.

Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week.

Visit the Autism Service Pathfinder to browse Service Providers information.

About this intervention

What is it?
Relationship Development Intervention® (RDI®) is a parent-led approach that focuses on teaching children how to develop social skills and dynamic thinking. Children learn how to engage and form close relationships with others.

Through the RDI® program, parents are trained in techniques and strategies that make use of everyday activities to support the child’s social development. Parents work with a consultant trained in the approach.

Who is it for?
RDI® is appropriate for all children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but it’s particularly effective for those with high-functioning ASD.

What is it used for?
The goal of RDI® is to develop children’s dynamic thinking and ability to handle social situations. Supporters of this approach believe that improvements in relationships and engagement with others will lead to an improved quality of life.

Where does it come from?
RDI® was developed by clinical psychologists in the US in the 1980s. In the late 1990s, its developers founded the Connections Center in Texas. This is where the program is currently managed and promoted.

What is the idea behind it?
Supporters of RDI® believe that a child’s quality of life can be improved by forming close, two-way relationships with others. The idea is that, by developing their social skills, children with ASD will be able to form relationships more easily. As a result, they will also be better able to overcome everyday challenges.

In particular, it’s said that children’s quality of life will improve as they learn to:

  • share feelings, memories, plans, ideas and so on
  • understand that sharing is a good thing, and recognise when other people share
  • solve problems in creative and flexible ways – for example, think about the different ways that a problem could be solved and choose the best solution
  • reflect on past experiences and think about what might happen in the future
  • cope with uncertainty and setbacks.

What does it involve?
The intervention is customised for each child and family but RDI® typically involves:

  • a parent interview and program set-up
  • a Relationship Development Assessment® (RDA®) at the beginning of the program – this looks at the child’s social development and the child–parent relationship
  • RDI® Beginning Parent Stages (three stages in total) – these educate and prepare parents for the program
  • RDI® Advanced Parent Stages (two stages in total) – in these, parents gradually learn to implement the program with their child independently
  • child-focused stages (12 stages in total)
  • ongoing assessment (at beginning of each new stage of the program).

After the initial RDA®, a consultant develops an individualised program for the child and trains parents to implement it. The program is made up of teaching strategies and techniques parents can use on a daily basis with their child. 

Some techniques take the form of ‘games’ that might involve different kinds of physical and nonverbal communication. A game ends when the child can make sense of facial expressions or other nonverbal cues.

Over time, program tasks get more difficult as the child learns how to respond to new, challenging and increasingly unpredictable settings and problems.

Parents use the strategies at home and regularly videotape sessions for the consultant to review. The consultant gives parents support and feedback, which can be provided face to face or online.

All parents using RDI® subscribe to the RDI® Learning System, an online system that allows parents to store information, access resources, and communicate and share video information with their consultant.

Cost considerations
Parents will need to pay for the assessments, the consultant fees and a subscription to the RDI® Learning System. 

The cost of assessments and consultant fees vary depending on the practitioner and the service. Typically, the program costs between $300-$500 per month and approximately $1000 per assessment, although prices vary. For example:

A three-month subscription to the RDI® Learning System costs US$150.

Medicare and some private health funds might cover some of the costs of a consultant. If the consultant has HICAPS, parents might be able to make a claim immediately. For eligible individuals, the Helping Children with Autism package might also cover some of the costs of RDI®.

Does it work?
Some research has shown positive effects from this therapy. More high-quality studies are needed. 

Who practises this method?
Although parents provide most of the intervention in the home, they work in collaboration with a certified consultant.

To become certified, consultants must undergo training in the US, as well as supervision. Certified consultants have experience working with children and hold a basic degree in psychology, speech pathology or a related field. Consultants must undergo annual recertification.

Parent education, training, support and involvement
RDI® requires parents to do most of the work with their child. To do this, both parents need to commit to a program that involves:

  • learning to use the RDI® online system and assessment
  • delivering the program curriculum
  • receiving feedback and regularly videotaping their work with their child at home
  • conducting weekly or fortnightly consultation meetings with the consultant
  • participating in assessment after each stage of the program.

Where can I find a practitioner?
In Australia, there are several RDI® certified consultants, represented by two organisations – Autism Connections and Connect and Relate for Autism.

Consultants can also be found though the Association of RDI Consultants Australia and RDI Connect. RDI® practitioners are currently based in Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, although many will travel if necessary.

The online support system means that after the initial training is completed, families can use this approach even if they don’t live near a practitioner.

  • Last updated or reviewed 14-03-2014