Title: Evaluation of the Relationship Development Intervention Program
Authors: Steven E. Gutstein, Audrey F. Burgess and Ken Montfort
Source: Autism 2007; 11; 397

The Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) program was created at the Connections Center in Houston, Texas. The program consists of an intense parent-based training system that helps children improve in domains that are usually challenging for children with ASD (sensory, cognition, emotional processing, etc). The program is administered primarily by parents after completing a number of training sessions. This particular study, conducted by the same creators of the RDI at the Connections Center, examined the effects of the program in 16 children who were originally diagnosed with ASD via ADOS assessment. The researchers found that 2 years after the initiation of the program, NONE of the 16 children met ADOS criteria for Autism. Specifically, 10 children were now in the “non-autism” category and 6 met criteria for “autism-spectrum” only. That is, they had some symptoms but not enough symptoms to receive a full Autism diagnosis. This provides us with some early promising data on the effectiveness of this program but there is still much we need to know about this system. For example, how does it compare in effectiveness to a traditional ABA program, a school intervention program, etc? I am sure that the authors will eventually conduct the necessary comparative studies that will then help us answer these questions. This study also brings another more philosophical issue; a sensitive question that is beyond the purpose of my notes: if a child no longer meets the criteria for autism, does the child still have autism? If not, does this mean the child was ‘cured’. Most clinicians and researchers will say No. The fact that the child is functioning as a typically developing child does not necessarily mean that the child does not have the bio-social markers of autism. The general consensus is that autism can not be “cured” but that some children can, with proper intervention, eventually function as any other typically developing child. Although some people will argue this is just a debate over semantics (what is the meaning of “cured”), some researchers will argue that the question of “curability” goes well beyond something as simple as differences in definitions, and really speak to the nature of autism as a neurological disorder.

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