Q&A with Alissa – Remediation for Autism with RDI®

Mum engaging with her children
Parents are empowered to guide their child’s mental growth during everyday interactions.

Alissa is currently completing her training to become a Certified RDI® Consultant. Relationship Development Intervention® (RDI®) is fairly new to the Autism world, comparatively speaking. RDI® uses innovations and current research about brain development to build social and emotional skills for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental conditions. Parent coaching is central to RDI® so that these skills can develop in children’s natural environments during interaction with their natural parent guides.

I sat down with Alissa to ask her all about RDI®

What makes RDI®different to traditional treatment approaches like ABA therapy?

Our ‘big picture’ goals for a family doing an RDI® Program are to increase the quality and enjoyment of the time spent together as a family, to empower parents to feel good about parenting their child with a learning difference, and to give hope that the future can be bright and full of potential.

The other thing I think is important to know about RDI® is that the way we conduct and deliver the program is very different to most other therapies. The Consultant tends to meet with parents, rather than with the child so that parents can have the time and space they need to stop and think about what is going on for themselves and their child, and it gives us the chance to really understand what’s happening in their family. Parents leave the session with a solid plan of what they will do with their child through the week, and this is shared back to the Consultant to help plan for the next family session.

Is RDI® suitable for all families?

RDI® is not for everyone. No program or approach will ever suit the needs of every client. I believe in RDI® and what we can achieve with this program, but I also understand that it will generate better outcomes for a family that is suited to the program. The things that I have found to make for the most successful outcomes are finding a Consultant that works well with you, and having a therapeutic relationship where both the professional and the client ‘click’, and when we both trust in the process.

What is your biggest motivation with your RDI® clients?

I have seen first hand what a difference this program can make to my clients quality of life, how happy and fulfilled they are, and how much hope that parents have for their child’s future. I think that traditional therapy tends to focus on how often a child can do a certain skill or behaviour and reaching a certain benchmark is what we would define as success. But this doesn’t translate to real world success or happiness, and so I think we can miss the point of what we do. I like the idea that we are using the framework of typical development that nature gives us, and working towards putting a child back on this typical path when it has gone a different way.

Therapy for children with developmental delays can be a long and challenging journey. How do you keep up the energy to persist and keep going?

It’s very rewarding to work with a family and see the positive changes at play in everyday life. Families actually tell me that their life is better! They have hope and this gives me the hope I need to keep going with my work too.

What do you want parents to know when they’re first starting RDI® therapy?

This is a tricky question because every family is a bit different. The common thread is to let them know up front that what we are doing is going to be very different from anything they’ve done before.

What does the parent’s role involve?

Parents are the ones engaging with their child during everyday interactions at home. They are the ones who know their child best. Also, parents have the most emotional investment in seeing their child succeed. As professionals in the field, we have a professional investment in seeing our client’s develop and succeed, but this will never compare with what parents bring to the table, and nor should it! Empowering parents to feel competent in guiding their child is at the heart of what we do with RDI®, because the job of parenting is too important – too important to work around, too important to be anything other than our primary focus. The parent-child relationship is the vehicle for all mental growth from birth onward, so this is what we use.

the job of parenting is too important – too important to work around, too important to be anything other than our primary focus

RDI® has a detailed online platform for families to access. What is unique about this resource?

Each family has a private site that is just for them and the Consultant, and anyone else that a family chooses to share it with, say grandparents, the nanny, or a teacher, perhaps. This is where the bulk of our work is kept, and the part we would use a lot. There’s also community pages where the learning resources, such as videos and readings, are kept.

Having the online platform means that we can have access to the most up to date information and resources – so much better than having an old school manual that gets updated and published every few years. The RDI® Program is always being updated, and the aim is that we work with what current research from the past five years or less is telling us about the nature of Autism and what works in terms of treatments. 

How does the RDI® consultant guide interaction with the online platform?

It can be really hard for parents to navigate the sheer amount of material there. Having the Consultant help you to find what you need, and to take the time to work with you to understand how the information applies to their child specifically, is the key to making the system work. Also, all of our correspondence can be shared via the platform. Sometimes we will be referencing information or a discussion we had some time before, and having all of those discussion available so easily in the one place is so much easier than having to scroll through emails or text messages to find what we are looking for.

Learning about RDI® has been fascinating for me! It is so unique, dynamic and child and family-centered. If you want to know if RDI® is right for your family or you’d just like to have a chat about it please give us a call on 0451 197 411.

By Romina Barkley, Certified Practising Speech Pathologist.