We would like to draw your attention to a programme for working with autism / Asperger's called Relationship Development Intervention, or RDI. This programme has been in practice for about 10 years following years of immersion in the field by Dr. Steven Gutstein.
Dr. Gutstein had become disenchanted with the outcome of current treatments for autism. He had found that even the highest functioning children were still unable to have real caring friendships, or even maintain appropriate conversation with a pal. Gutstein, who is motivated by quality of life, felt this a key element was missing in available treatments.
Gutstein began studying and consulting with world experts in the fields of child development and neurology. One of his fundamental discoveries was the difference between what is called instrumental interactions, and those which are referred to as experience sharing. His research showed that Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) people can function well for instrumental purposes, (where interaction serves as a means to obtain a desired object or outcome), even displaying behaviours usually considered missing in people with ASD, such as eye contact and showing affection.
Experience sharing involves sharing a part of oneself with a partner. It is the reason we desire and enjoy the company of others. Gutstein concluded that what he had been working on with his patients was an instrumental style of development, and what was being left out was experience sharing. With this understanding, Gutstein began to understand autism as a range of neurological disorders that children are born with, which collectively interfere with the type of information processing that makes experience sharing so simple for the rest of us.
Autistic people are not able to link their feelings and experiences to the continuing stream of emotional information that surrounds them. This limits their capacity to perceive others’ emotions, or to enjoy and participate with others in a meaningful way.
Realising that social skills were still being taught in an instrumental way, Gutstein returned to the literature, believing that an effective clinical treatment would parallel typical children in the way they develop this capacity. Working alongside his wife, Dr Rachelle Sheely, Gutstein created a bridge between current research and clinical practice, which is RDI.
Initial research in evaluating the effectiveness of RDI is very encouraging, with children moving off the spectrum. Within our own experience in working with the programme over the last five years, we find the children move towards competency in the real world, where they can enjoy friendships and novelty and become emotionally contributing members of their families. Even children entering the programme without language learn this automatically as they reach the developmentally appropriate stage.