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The RDI program is based upon the model of dynamic intelligence and experience-sharing developed by Dr. Steven Gutstein. Gutstein studied the means by which typical children become competent in the world of emotional relationships. His methods are based upon extensive research in typical development as well as scientific studies of individuals in the autism spectrum. Gutstein, along with Dr. Rachelle Sheely, both clinical psychologists, founded the Connections Center in Houston, Texas.
RDI is rooted in the belief that building dynamic intelligence competencies is the key to improving the quality of life of those with ASD. The program's core philosophy is that individuals with autism spectrum disorders can participate in authentic emotional relationships if they are exposed to them in a gradual, systematic way.
The developers of the program say it is a parent-based clinical treatment for individuals with autism spectrum and other relationship-based disorders. The stated primary goal of the program is to systematically build up the motivation and tools for successfully interacting with dynamic systems, because deficits in this area are thought to be common to all people on the autistic spectrum.
While many conventional treatment methods provide instruction in discrete skills, the social outcomes that result often lack the emotional components of communication. Instead, they are reliant on scripted and predictable actions. While such training may result in improved social and emotional skills, such as eye contact, emotion recognition and turn taking, research is lacking regarding its long-term impact on quality of life or independence.
By contrast, the RDI program provides a path for people on the Autism Spectrum to learn friendship, empathy and a love of sharing their world with others. And preliminary research of RDI's effectiveness published in  Autism Spectrum Quarterly, Spring 2005, indicates that this approach, which addresses the dynamic intelligence deficit of people with ASD, may be more effective. When compared to a control group, children whose families had participated in RDI showed greater improvement on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule and greater increases in independent functioning in educational settings.
Since its formal introduction in 2001, RDI has been broadly adopted by thousands of families around the world. Dozens of clinicians in the U.S., Canada, and Australia are certified by Connections Center to serve as consultants to parents and help them customize and implement their RDI Programs. Certified Consultants use information from the Relationship Development Assessment to develop clear, specific, developmentally appropriate treatment objectives and customized activities.
The therapy methods are claimed to be suitable for the treatment of others who experience problems with social interaction.
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