Relationship Development Intervention and Autism Ranking: Insufficient/Mixed evidence

Current Research

Description of Studies

We have identified a single article* published in English-language, peer-reviewed journals which evaluates the efficacy of RDI as an intervention for pre-school and primary school autistic children.  

This study was a retrospective chart review of 16 autistic children, aged between 21 and 94 months at the start of the intervention, although most of the children were of school age. The gender balance was overwhelmingly male, with a ratio of 15:1. Five children met diagnostic criteria for autistic disorder, while seven were diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and four with pervasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified.

The participants had IQ scores which ranged from 70 to 118, which the researchers described as the “high-functioning” segment of the ASD population. Some of the participants has additional diagnoses including language disorder (eight), ADHD (five), bipolar disorder (one), and food allergies (one).

The children would have been taught by their parents in a one to one setting in their own homes, although this was not explicitly stated in the study. All of the children had been taught for a minimum of 30 months, although it is unclear how many hours training a day they received and how many days a week as this was not stated in the study. 

14 of the children were also receiving some form of formal education at the same time as they received the RDI:  (1) mainstream classroom placement with no special services required, (2) mainstream with pullout services, where the child spent parts of each day in a resource room to help with non-behavioral issues, such as reading, (3) partial special education in mainstream placement, with the child spending part of each day in a special education environment due to behavioral and adaptational concerns, and (4) full-time special education placement due to difficulties in behavior and adaptation, or placement in a typical class with a full-time aide. 

*Please note: we have not included any of the other studies written by Gutstein and colleagues for a range of reasons. This includes a study (Gutstein, undated) that was withdrawn from publication; a study (Gutstein, 2004) that does not seem to have actually been published; and a study (Gutstein, 2009) which did not examine the efficacy of RDI as a treatment.

Outcomes of Studies

This study (Gutstein, Burgess and Montfort 2007) reported a number of significant benefits including, 

“While all children met ADOS/ADI—R criteria for autism prior to treatment, no child met criteria at follow-up.” 

“After a median of 41.5 months in treatment, no child met ADOS criteria for an autism diagnosis, six children met criteria for autism spectrum, and 10 children were rated in the ‘non-autism’ diagnostic category. Five children initially rated in the ‘autism’ category achieved a ‘non-autism’ rating.” 

“Children who participated in RDI became significantly more socially related, engaged in more reciprocal communication, functioned in school settings with less adult participation, and also were perceived by parents as behaving in a dramatically more flexible and adaptive manner.”

17 Jun 2022
Last Review
01 Oct 2018
Next Review
01 Nov 2024