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Parent of 4 year old: Great website to find detailed information. One of the best sites I have ever been for Autism and Naturopathic information. Good job, keep it up

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ABA Corner

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)

Parent-centered Behavior Intervention

RDI (Relationship Development Intervention): Dr. Steven Gutstein is the creator of the RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) program. The program is parent-centered, and, according to the literature, is intended to help lay missing pathways in the brain.

The (Relationship Development Intervention) program has helped children to develop:

  • Dramatic improvement in meaningful communication,
  • Desire and skills to share their experiences with others,
  • Genuine curiosity and enthusiasm for other people,
  • Ability to adapt easily and “go with the flow,”
  • Amazing increase in the initiation of joint attention,
  • Powerful improvement in perspective taking and theory of mind,
  • Dramatically increased desire to seek out and interact with peers.

The RDI approach for children with Autism: Autism's has some core deficits according to RDI (Relationship Development Intervention). Gutstein says that the literature clearly shows that autistic individuals have six shared deficits. These six areas, he says, "Are universal to every person on the autism spectrum. Moreover, they have not been shown to improve with age, even following intensive intervention programs."

Autism's some core deficits:

  • Emotional Referencing: The ability to use an emotional feedback system to learn from the subjective experiences of others.
  • Social Coordination: The ability to observe and continually regulate one’s behavior in order to participate in spontaneous relationships involving collaboration and exchange of emotions.
  • Declarative Language: Using language and non-verbal communication to express curiosity, invite others to interact, share perceptions and feelings and coordinate your actions with others.
  • Flexible thinking: The ability to rapidly adapt, change strategies and alter plans based upon changing circumstances.
  • Relational Information Processing: The ability to obtain meaning based upon the larger context. Solving problems that have no right-and-wrong solutions.
  • Foresight and Hindsight: The ability to reflect on past experiences and anticipate potential future scenarios in a productive manner.

RDI approach in addresses the Core Deficits in children with autism: According to Gutstein, all of autism's core deficits have one thing in common. Instead of relying on "static intelligence" (that is, the ability to know information or memorize facts) they rely upon "dynamic intelligence" (the ability to flexibly and creatively respond to novel situations).

Thus, the purpose of RDI is to build or remediate dynamic intelligence. "Instead of making up my own therapy," says Gutstein, "I said, let's look at the natural process and slow it down, make it more explicit. Let's see what happens if we take the same process and break it down, and then teach parents to do what' they're already capable of intuitively and see them explicitly. We teach the parents to be more aware of the process, give them developmental objectives, and give these kids and parent a second chance. We don't change the natural process, but rather customize it to individual needs. Your goals are to remediate common deficits using individualized means."

Getting Started with RDI (Relationship Development Intervention): While RDI professionals offer a wide range of training programs and products, they say you can start simply. A few suggestions:

  • Change your communication (eg, asking fewer questions).
  • Slow down the pace of daily activities and create more opportunities for "productive uncertainty;"
  • Spend time doing enjoyable Experience Sharing activities;
  • Use photos, journals or memory books every day to reflect on a few happy moments.
  • Gutstein has also published several books of RDI activities, all of which can be useful to parents. Families interested in pursuing RDI further can explore the organization's website, and/or call for further information.

What Parents can expect after implementing RDI

  • A parent-based intervention program where parents are provided the tools to effectively teach Dynamic Intelligence skills and motivation to their child.
  • Joy in connecting: a path for people on the autism spectrum to learn friendship, empathy, and a love of sharing their world and experiences with others.
  • Changing neurology: a way for people on the spectrum to become flexible thinkers and creative problem solvers who enjoy the challenges of change and who desire to expand their world.
  • Research: based on over 20 years of research by world's experts on typical development as well as scientific studies on people with autism.
  • Developmental & systematic: a step-by-step program that focuses first on building the motivations so that skills will be used & generalized; followed by carefully and systematically building the skills for competence and fulfillment in a complex world.
  • Realistic: a program that can be started easily, and implemented seamlessly into regular, day-to-day activities to enrich the life of the whole family.
  • Precise: a method that measures and begins at the edge of each person's capability and then carefully but continually raises the bar.

Parents like RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) as: Parents date suggests that they like the RDI™ Program because it is:

  • Systematic but flexible: Parents find that having access to a comprehensive set of step-by-step objectives which they can use in everday life is critical in rendering the program "user-friendly." Parents also gain the confidence they can carry out the RDI® Program without extensive involvement of therapists, teachers and other professionals. This gives them flexibility to teach their child whenever they get time.
    Parents also prefer elements of the program that allow them, with their professional Consultant's guidance, to customize their style of involvement, communication, activities, scheduled intervention periods and settings based on the unique needs of their child and family.
  • Developmental: Teaching parents to focus on the child's current developmental functioning breaks the cycle of failure and feelings of inadequacy for both parents and child. Setting careful, developmentally appropriate objectives gives parents and children permission to focus on skills that can realistically be attained, knowing that these simpler successes are laying the foundation for eventual competence in more complex areas.
  • Empowering: Parents recognize that the RDI® Program is not teaching them to be a therapist, but rather providing a means to more effectively guide their child's development. Many parents tell us that the RDI® Program has helped them to feel like a competent parent for the first time. Once they have mastered the first few stages of the program, children begin to take on more responsibility for monitoring and regulating their actions in various settings. Parents and teachers report that after children in the RDI® Program had mastered social referencing (the second of twenty-six RDI® stages) they were no longer forced to constantly prompt and direct the child. Finally, families reported that the RDI® Program model made it easier for both parents, but especially fathers, to participate and to accrue the benefits described above.
  • Balancing and "Normalizing": After several months of doing the RDI® Program parents report that everyday life becomes less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone in the family. Siblings do not feel excluded or neglected. Parents can move out of a state of "permanent crisis" and resume a more normal life again.
  • Easy to carry over into daily life: Parents are unanimous in praising the help they receive to translate program components into their daily lives. Elements of the program such as emphasizing experience-sharing and non-verbal communication, practicing coordinated actions in everyday settings and creating opportunities for "productive uncertainty," so essential for the development of Social Referencing, are incorporated into the family's lifestyle. Once embraced, these elements enhance the well-being of all family members and so become easy to sustain.
  • Structured, with an emphasis on video-taped feedback and both professional and parent "peer" support: Parents report that the discipline of preparing and editing video segments helps them to allocate time for reflection and review of their communication and interaction with their child. Parents new to the RDI® Program receive important psychological support from their more experienced counterparts who are willing to share their own experiences and knowledge through videos, specially constructed Internet message boards, chat rooms and appearances at parent training workshops

"Going to the Heart: An Introductory Guide for Parents." Gutstein, Steven and Sheeley, Rachel. 2004 Gutstein, Sheely & Associates, P.C.
RDI Connect website (FAQ's, testimonials, etc.)
Interview with Dr. Steven Gutstein. June, 2006.


Video Modeling

ABA: Computer Animated Learning or Video Instruction

Video Modeling is an ABA teaching method used to develop and strengthen communication skills, academic performance, and social and self-help skills. The targeted behaviors that the child is to learn are videotaped. Then the child watches the video and is given the chance to memorize, imitate and generalize those behaviors. The method uses Computer Animated Learning or Video Instruction.

Video modeling and children on Autism Spectrum Disorder: It is a well-established teaching method in applied behavior analysis for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. It is supported by numerous well-designed studies. Video modeling is a useful intervention for teaching social, play, and self-help intervention to individuals with autism spectrum disorders who have well-developed imitation skills.

Video modeling is an easy-to-use behavior modification technique that uses videotaped rather than ‘live’ scenarios for the child to observe, concentrating the focus of attention for the child with autism and creating a highly effective stimulus for learning. Video Modeling and Behavior Analysis provides a practical introduction to the technique, its objectives, strategies for use and evidence of its success.

Video Modeling Studies

Teaching Complex Play Sequences to a Preschooler with Autism Using Video Modeling

Study: "The identification of efficient teaching procedures to address imaginative play skills deficits commonly seen in children with autism is a challenge for those designing treatment programs. In the present study video modeling was used to teach play skills to a preschool child with autism. Videotaped play sequences included both verbal and motor responses.

Baseline: A multiple baseline across three response categories (tea party, shopping, and baking) was implemented to demonstrate experimental control. No experimenter implemented reinforcement or correction procedures were used during the intervention.

Study Results: Results showed that the video modeling intervention led to the rapid acquisition of both verbal and motor responses for all play sequences. The video modeling teaching procedure was shown to be an efficient technique for teaching relatively long sequences of responses in the absence of chaining procedures in relatively few teaching sessions. Additionally, the complex sequences of verbal and motor responses were acquired without the use of error correction procedures or explicit, experimenter implemented reinforcement contingencies."

Video Modeling Effectiveness

Study: "Two new studies at Indiana University demonstrate that videos depicting exemplary behaviors can be effective in helping children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders develop social skills and daily living skills.

Study Results: Results from the meta-analysis indicate that both video modeling and VSM meet the Council for Exceptional Children's criteria for evidence-based practices. Improvements were most evident in the area of functional skills, followed by social-communication skills and behavioral functioning."

Using Video Modeling to Teach Perspective Taking to Children with Autism

Study: "Perspective taking refers to the ability to attribute mental states of others in order to explain or predict behavior. In typically developing children, this skill develops around age 4, but is delayed or absent in children with autism. (Baron-Cohen, Leslie & Frith, 1985), (Happe, 1994).
In the present study, video modeling was used to teach perspective taking to 3 children with autism.

Baseline: A multiple baseline design across children and within child across tasks was used to assess learning. Generalization across un-trained similar stimuli was also assessed.

Study Results: Video modeling was a fast and effective tool for teaching perspective taking tasks to children with autism, resulting in both stimulus and response generalization. These results concurred with previous research that perspective taking can be taught. However, unlike other studies, wider ranges of generalization were found in children with autism spectrum disorders."


Systematic reviews of scientific studies:
- Bellini, S., & Akullian, J. (2007). A meta-analysis of video modeling and video self-modeling interventions for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Exceptional children, 73(3), 264-287.
- Corbett, B. A., & Abdullah, M. (2005). Video modeling: Why does it work for children with autism? Journal of Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention, 2, 2-8.
- Patricia D'Ateno, Kathleen Mangiapanello, Bridget A. Taylor, Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, Winter, 2003.
- Bellini, S. & Akullian, J. (2007), A meta-analysis of video modeling and video self-modeling interventions for children and adolescents with ASD. Exceptional Children, 73, 261-28.
- Marjorie Charlop-Christy, Ph.D. and Sabrina Daneshvar, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Summer 2003/



A consequent behavioral principal

Reinforcement: The behavioral deficits of children with autism often reflect behaviors or skills that are either non-existent or occur too infrequently to be functional.  The frequency of these behaviors can be increased using the behavioral principals of positive and negative reinforcement. In other words, the presentation or removal of stimulus immediately after a behavior resulting in an increased rate of behavior is future is defined as reinforcement.

Principles of reinforcement: There are two types of reinforcement, positive and negative reinforcement.

  • Positive Reinforcement: It is a process in which a consequence is presented following a response, which results in the same response likely to be exhibited again in future under the same situations. For example, adding something to the environment, like a child claps and a chip is given, the child claps more frequently. (Chip is a positive reinforce). Positive reinforce is thus an important tool that will help increase student’s repertoire of appropriate behaviors.
  • Negative Reinforcement: It means an aversion condition where something is taken away from/out of the environment. It can be used to increase the desired behaviors, particularly task-related behaviors, for students with autism. Negative reinforcement is “negative” because of the aversion condition that is removed or avoided, and “reinforcement” because it results in a behavior being repeated under similar circumstances. For example, child completes task with quiet hands, work session is ended, and child completes work with quiet hands more frequently. (Removal of work is a negative reinforce).

Positive & Negative Reinforcement System and child with Autism
Sometimes it can be difficult to find an effective positive reinforcers for students with autism, and because of the characteristic desire to be left alone, negative reinforcement is often more effective than positive reinforcement. However, despite negative reinforcement’s potential effectiveness, it is recommended that it be used only when once is not able to clearly identify positive reinforcer.

Guidelines for using the Positive Reinforcement System

  • The reinforcers muct be contingent, means deliver the reinforcement immediately after the desired behavior.
  • Be sure the desired reinforcers are contingent on appropriate behaviors. The stimulus much be given/taken away when the desirable behavior doesn’t happen.
  • Use small amounts of reinforcers each time.
  • Fade the primary reinforcers (edible reinforcers) as soon as possible and move to other types of reinforcers like social praise, which may be age appropriate for the child as well.
  • Fade the frequency of reinforcement.
  • Rely on natural reinforcers as much as possible. This also helps generalize many situations.

Guidelines to Selecting Reinforcers
Reinforcers are mainly of two types: Primary and Secondary Reinforcers.

  • Primary Reinforcers: These are reinforcers which are biological necessities as food, water, warmth and so on. They are intrinsic reinforcers, which need not be taught to demand. They serve as valuable teaching tools for children with autism, as other types of reinforcers have to be taught to be reinforcing.
  • Secondary Reinforcers: They are events or things that someone learns to like, but not need biologically as primary reinforcers. The four types are Social reinforcers, Material reinforcers, Activity reinforcers and Token reinforcers.

Selecting reinforcers can be a challenge for the children with autism, as they are not always motivated and reinforced by lot things, like their neuro-typical peers. Generally however, one should select the reinforcer that is most similar to what might be found in the environment, this as  more the child learns to respond to naturally occurring reinforcers, the more likely the student is to generalize skills to other environments. Guidelines to selecting reinfrocers:

  • Observe the child to develop the reinforcer listing
    • What activities, objects, foods and so on do the child chooses when allowed free choices?
    • Are there certain phrases, gestures and so on that seems to produce a pleasant response from the child?
    • What self-stimulatory behaviors do the student exhibits?
  • Use a reinforcer menu to let the child choose reinforcers
    • Create a menu of possible reinforcers listed either by name, if the child can read, or by pictures (photographs are best)
    • When the child earns a reinforcers, allow him to select a desired object, food, activity and so on from the menu. You may have to teach the child to make choices.
  • Ask the student, what they would like to earn ( preferences)
    • Ask the student, if he has sufficient language skills to communicate, as what he/she would like to earn for the good work.
    • Student with limited choices can also pick a picture from array of pictures to indicate what he/she would like to earn for the good work.
  • Ask others involved with the child ( parents at home or teachers at school)
    • Ask the child’s parents what child would like to earn.
    • Ask the teachers what child prefers at school as a preferred reinforcer.
  • Conduct a reinforcer sampling
    • Arrange several possible reinforcers on a table.
    • Allow the child to non-contingently choose from the array of objects, foods or other preferred activities.
    • Record the preferences to see, what child has preferred to choose the most from  the array. The higher the checklist score for the activity/food/object, that can be used a s a reinforce.
  • Use the Autism Reinforcer Checklist
    • Have parents complete a copy of checklist
    • Use the checklist to generate ideas for new or novel reinforcers.
    • Have students who can read check off the items they like and dislike.

Reinforcement Schedules is a rule that establishes the probability that a specific occurrence of a behavior will produce reinforcement. There are many kinds of Reinforcement Schedules

  • Ratio (R): A certain number of responses is emitted before the reinforcement is delivered ( eg. the reinforcer after 3 tokens or after 3 correct responses).
  • Interval (I): A given interval of time elapses before reinforcement is delivered.
  • Fixed (F): The ratio or interval remains the same every time before reinforcement is delivered.
  • Variable (V): The ratio or interval varies from, one reinforcement to the next before reinforcement is delivered.

Possible Reinforcement Schedules: Reinforcement schedule is used in school settings for children with autism to teach new skills and also for the maintenance of already acquired skills. Parents can also easily incorporate schedule for the same purpose.

  • Fixed Ratio (FR): A designed number of responses must be emitted before reinforcement occurs eg: FR2= 2nd response is reinforced.
  • Variable Ratio (VR): The number of responses prior to reinforcement varies. E.g. VR3=the average number of responses before reinforcement is 3
  • Fixed Interval (FI): A designed interval of time must pass before reinforcement is provided; e.g. FI10= the first target response that occurs after 10 minutes has elapsed is reinforced.

Variable Interval (VI): The intervals of time between reinforcement vary in a random or nearly random order, and the average interval is the one stated; e.g.VI5= reinforcement is delivered on an average of every 5 minutes.


Manding: Applied Verbal Behaviour (AVB) Approach

Manding is “Requesting”

Communication, on the other hand, requires less ability. Communication is defined as any set of interactions ( eg. Self-injurious behaviors, body language, crying) that transits information. It this case the individual just needs to want to convey information.

Language is composed of several complex elements but has basically been defined as “the use of arbitrary symbols, with accepted referents, that can be arranged in different sequences to convey different meanings”. (Lefrancois, 1995)

Language has forms and function. Communicative forms refer to the types of behaviors used to communicate (e.g. gestures, pointing, head movements, aggression, whining, and speech). There are many communicative functions common to individuals with mild to moderate to severe disabilities. They include Requesting ( manding), Protesting, responding to social initiatives, Initiating and maintaining social interactions, Seeking comfort, Expressing interest in the environment, Communicating experiences not shared and Play acting or pretending. One such form is Manding.

Manding and a Manding session: A mand is a request. It can be for an object, attention, a break or information etc. Therefore manding is requesting. Manding session: Any time or any amount of day can be dedicated to having a child ask for desired items/activities. During the manding session:

  • All requests should be granted and no other demands should be placed on the student, with the exception of general quiet sitting and some eye contacts.
  • The student is expected to use the best quality mands he/she is capable of making ( point, word, sentence etc).

Importance of manding: It is very hard for individuals to communicate their wants and needs known. Manding can prove an effective tool as:

  • Manding can help child communicate their wants and needs. This way can help reduce their level of frustrations and therefore help behaviours.
  • Manding has also been used as an effective tool to increase the expressive language for many children with special needs. This way they can prompted to be more independent in their communication.

Mands types: A mand can take the form of a

  • Gesture ( point, grab)
  • A sound (grunt, syllable)
  • A word (Cookie)
  • A sentence ( I want cookie)
  • More complex language expression (Mom, can you get me a cookie please?)

Manding session at home: Parents can have a manding session at home with their child. They do not have to be trained as professionals to assist in the development of their kid’s language.

  • First, gather some items (foods, toys etc) that your child might enjoy. It helps to have activities with parts of puzzles missing or foods/drinks in containers with spoon or straws missing. Child will mand for the missing parts or will ask for help. This way creating opportunities to communicate the needs and wants.
  • Second, choose the time when your child is not already involved in a preferred activity and you can give your undivided attention to have a successful manding session.
  • Third, choose a place in which there are seats (floor is fine) for both you and your child. Also, you will need to have control over the items (your child can’t get to them without asking you for them).
  • Fourth, invite your child to do something fun, have them sit and attend briefly and begin to show them the fun things you have for them until they ask for something.

Finally, the session can be as frequently as every day or just once per week. Frequency can also be decided based on the needs and wants of the child and time prefer ability on parent’s side.


Choice Making

Increase on-task engagement

Importance of Choices: Choices can increase the independence, motivation and on-task behavior while decreasing the challenging behaviors and rigidity pattern seen for children with behavioral problems.

Kind of choices: You can offer choices for example:

  • Between activities (coloring or reading) or
  • Within activities ( red crayon or blue crayon)

Choices can also be incorporated during the daily activity schedule or also during the work situations. They can be choices of

  • Whom to work/play with
  • Where to work/play with
  • When to work/play
  • Whether to do an activity or not

Offering Choices: The best way to offer is through the “forces choice method”. This means asking a question that offers two specific options. For example, If you have a child who does not have consistent demands and hard for you to manage a behavior. You can use a Forced choice method “Do you want to watch a movie or read a book”? vs asking “What do you want”? This provides the opportunity to the child to pick the activity and still parents got to pick them which they had available at the time.

The timing: When one should give choices?
Anytime, mealtime, chore or daily schedule, leisure time, in community, or during the therapy sessions are some great times to offer choices. The choice making can be incorporated at anytime for any activity you are having a struggle.

Some examples of choice making (Strategies for parents for mealtime)

  • Do you want to have potatoes or carrots with your bread (within activity)?
  • Do you want juice to drink or nothing to drink (within activity, a choice of refuse)?
  • Do you want mom to put dinner on your plate or do you want to do yourself (who)?
  • Do you want to sit on the end or on the side of the table (where)?
  • Do you want to eat now or in 1 minute (when)?

Researches behind the choice-making strategies (ABA Perspective)
Study: This investigation was conducted in an effort to systematically extend the emerging data base having to do with choice-making opportunities and the behavior of students with disabilities. In particular, the current analyses examined the effects of choice-making on the problem behavior and task engagement of three high school students with intellectual disabilities as the students performed domestic and vocational activities.

Findings of the study: Multiple baseline and reversal designs demonstrated that the choice conditions reduced problem behaviors and increased task engagement for all participants. Data having to do with student affect and task productivity were less consistent. The findings on the relationship between choice making and problem behavior replicate and extend a growing literature on the desirable effects of choice-making for individuals with disabilities. The results are discussed in terms of recent developments in behavioral support, as well as the need for ongoing conceptual and applied research.


  1. Pinellas County Schools, St. Petersburg, FL
  2. Division of Applied Research and Educational Support, Department of Child and Family Studies, Florida Mental Health Institute, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL
  3. Department of Child & Family Studies, Florida Mental Health Institute, University of South Florida, 13301 Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, 33612 Tampa, FL

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