Relationship-Based Interventions and Autism


Mother with two childrenRelationship-based interventions focus on the individual’s ability to form positive, meaningful relationships with other people. The aim of most relationship-based interventions is to build relationships within the family, meaning that all family members (not just the autistic person) learn how to interact with other family members.

Most relationship-based interventions use a range of techniques. For example, the RDI programme uses a combination of behavioural and developmental techniques. Other relationshipbased interventions, such as family therapy, use one or more techniques used in psychological interventions.

Here we look at relationship-based interventions which use behavioural and developmental techniques. For relationship-based interventions which use psychological techniques, please see the section on Psychological Interventions.


Some evidence shows that some autistic people and their parents and carers struggle to form positive, meaningful relationships with each other. Determining the benefits of relationship-based interventions for autistic people or their parents (or carers) and other family members is not currently possible. We must wait for further research of sufficiently high quality to be completed.

Risks and safety

No risks are known for most relationship-based interventions, such as the RDI programme and the Son-Rise Program.

Specific relationship-based interventions

DIR Method

The Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-Based Model (also known as the DIR Method or Floortime) is a comprehensive, multi-component intervention used to help autistic children and children with other developmental disabilities.

The DIR Method is based on the idea that some children have difficulty reaching certain developmental milestones - such as communication and motor skills - but can be helped to meet those milestones through playful, structured interaction with an adult.

The key technique used within the DIR Method is a series of 'Floortime' exercises in which the carer takes an active role in spontaneous and fun activities that are directed by the child's interests and actions.

The DIR Method is usually delivered by parents, helped by a DIR Method consultant, who develops and oversees a programme personalised to the needs of the family, and with input from other professionals as necessary.

More Information

Please see

Gentle Teaching

Gentle Teaching is a non-violent approach for helping people with special needs and sometimes challenging behaviours.

It focuses on four primary goals of care-giving:

  • Teaching the person to feel safe with the care giver.
  • Teaching the person to feel engaged with the care giver.
  • Teaching the person to feel unconditionally loved by the care giver.
  • Teaching the person to feel loving towards the care giver.

More Information

Please see publications on Gentle Teaching

Intensive Interaction

Intensive interaction is an approach based on natural conversations at a level that a person can understand and join in with. This is achieved by following the individual's lead and mirroring his or her behaviours and vocalisations.

Once an individual's attention has been gained a sequence of interactions begin which build over time. During the interactions the individual learns the fundamentals of communication (getting a response and responding, reading and using facial expressions, body language, eye contact, turn-taking, vocalising).

One of the most important things an individual learns through the process is that other people are good to be with and that other people enjoy being with them.

More Information

Please see publications on Intensive Interaction

Relationship Development Intervention

The Relationship Development Intervention (also known as RDI) is a parent-led approach which focuses on a child's difficulties with flexibility of thought, emotional regulation and perspective-taking.

RDI is based on the idea that children with autism have missed key developmental milestones (such as social referencing, joint attention) that enable them to think flexibly, regulate their emotions, and understand social situations.

RDI seeks to give children another chance to master these milestones in the same way that they are mastered by typically developing children: through their relationship with their parents.

An RDI consultant guides the parent to change their communication and interaction style so that they can support their child to fill in the developmental gaps they missed. This is done through everyday activities such as washing up, cooking, going for a walk, etc (some of which are video recorded and shared with the family's consultant who then provides feedback on progress).

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Responsive Teaching

Responsive teaching is a comprehensive parent-mediated intervention for children from birth to 6 years of age who have, or are at-risk for, child development and social emotional problems.

Responsive teaching is designed to address various issues including difficulites with cognition; language/communication; social-emotional functioning.

The responsive teaching curriculum includes a range of strategies such as Responsive Teaching Strategies; Pivotal Behavior Interventions; Objectives and Discussion Topics.

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Son-Rise Program

The Son-Rise Program (sometimes known as the Options Method) is a type of relationship-based intervention. It is used to help autistic children and children with other disabilities.

The Son-Rise Program is based on the idea that autistic children have trouble forming relationships with other people but can be helped to develop those relationships through playful interaction with an adult.

The adult follows the child’s lead rather than superimposing their own ideas of what the child should do. This includes ‘joining’ the child in his or behaviour rather than trying to stop it. So, if the child is stacking blocks or flapping his hands, the adult does the same.

The aim is not simply to copy the activity but to build trust. By doing the same as the child, the adult shows the child that he or she is loved and accepted without judgment. It then becomes much easier to build a relationship. As the relationship develops the adult is able to use the child’s own motivation to teach him or her new skills based around his or her own interests.

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26 May 2022