Saturday 25 February 2012

The cutest clay baby helps with a simple explanation of RDI

I just got into a friendly discussion on my Food for Thought facebook page about RDI ( - shameless self- promotion, please head over and ‘like’ my page).  The person asking me about it wanted an easy read introduction to what RDI is and how it works and I thought I would just reproduce it here in case it’s useful as a point of reference in the future – for me or for anyone else.  This is how I explained it:

We know that autism is a developmental disorder.  That means kids have missed out on key communication and thinking milestones in the early stages of their development.  We know what some of these milestones are (they have fancy names like ‘referencing’, ‘joint attention’, and ‘theory of mind’) and we know that if children don’t master these milestones, they become rigid thinkers who find it difficult to cope with uncertainty and change. 

This is why children with autism have high levels of anxiety and are prone to what some parents describe as ‘meltdowns’ – they are constantly coming up against uncertainty and change and are unable to cope with it.

Everyday uncertainties include (for some children) simple things like a change in the route of their journey to school, new clothes or shoes, a new teacher at school…….things most typically developing kids wouldn’t bat an eyelid at.  If a child with autism is unable to cope with any type of uncertainty, they react in one of 3 ways – flight, fight or freeze.  What we see as ‘autistic behaviours’ (avoidance, withdrawal and meltdown) are actually an expression of this anxiety and inability to cope.

Fear and feelings of incompetence make us all anxious – but typically developing people have had thousands of experiences that have led to memories of competence and success.  They have had these experiences during their early years in the special relationship they have with their parents.  It is the interpersonal engagement (interaction) that takes place within this special relationship that enables each child to develop flexibility (via those fancy-named milestones that they master).

I've included this pic because I love it - it reminds me of Louis (my typically developing son) as a baby and is the kind of activity that he would have loved.  Actually he would probably love it as a 9 year old, but perhaps not naked ;-)  The other reason I love it is that it's a great illustration of a guided activity where the parent is gently introducing a new, novel experience to the baby (exposing the baby to uncertainty) in a way that promotes the baby's feelings of competence and success.  You can tell the baby is loving this new experience from the rapt expression of concentration on his/her face.

So what RDI does is it takes parents back to the beginning of development with their child so that they can help their child master those important developmental milestones that they missed.  RDI enables children with autism to overcome their rigidity and to improve their ability to regulate themselves emotionally.

Here is a link to some recent emerging research that demonstrates this:

Here is a link to a young man with autism who blogs about his own experience of RDI:

To learn more about RDI, go to 


  1. My son is on the autistic spectrum but, as far as I know, isn't actually autistic. He certainly has his fair share of meltdowns when things don't go as he thinks they should, though. RDI sounds very interesting.

    And Paul would have loved the claywheel at nine, or even now at 34. And he would have loved it even more without his clothes on! He's a bugger for taking them off. Not as bad now, but certainly when he was nine.

  2. Hi Sharon

    I am intrigued to know more about Paul's diagnosis - was he diagnosed with 'ASD' rather than 'autism'.....or something else?


  3. Zoe....Great explanation and visual of RDI concepts :)

  4. Thanks Beth, glad you liked it :)

  5. Hi there,

    I did'nt see anything related to RDI in this link where it describes a young boy's experience with RDI. Am i missing something? I am trying to get more info on RDI.


  6. Hi WorriedMom

    I think that page may still be in development. Try this:

    Lots of different clips talking about different aspects of RDI on Montana's channel.