This guest blog post was submitted to us by Rosanne Papadopoulos, OT Reg. (MB) and RDI® Program Consultant

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI®) imbeds principles of self-regulation when helping parents guide the thinking of their child with autism.

Self-reg…all the rage right now!

One definition of “self-reg”

“…it is the ability to recognize the state of our body (eg: calm or tense), understand why we are feeling this way and know how to return to a state of “just right”. Regulated = Just Right for the situation, not too low energy and not too high energy.”

Misbehavior = Stress Behavior = Learning

When our body and brain are under a great deal of stress, we lose the ability to learn from our environment in that moment and so do our children.

Recognizing the regulation to dysregulation continuum Parents who work with an RDI® consultant learn about regulation and dysregulation for themselves and their child.

In RDI®, consultants coach parents to become “mind guides” for their child with autism by focusing on relationship and how to build a child’s mind. This is what happens in typical development but with a lot less effort!

FIRST, we need to teach parents to be regulated so they can be effective.

Many parents don’t realize how stressed they really are because they have been feeling this way for so long that it has become their baseline! They might have lost their connection to how to become regulated because their life is so busy and they have been focusing so much energy on understanding autism. S – L – O – W D – O – W – N is the first message we give parents!

And, most importantly, they won’t be able to truly pay attention to their child’s stress behavior if they themselves are not regulated! THEN, more regulated parents can begin to pay attention to their child’s signs of “stress behavior” and understand why these behaviors may be happening. Triggers for stress behaviors can be a combination of sensory processing differences, high expectations, feeling tired or hungry, and lots more!

What’s going on?

Regulation = Learning!

NEXT, parents are able to begin to plan for their RDI® homework “engagements” in a whole new way! They understand what regulation looks like for their child and how to avoid dysregulating triggers for themselves and their child! AND, they understand the “edge” of their child’s abilities and when they can push just a little more…. or take a step back.

In RDI®, PARENTS BECOME MORE AWARE of themselves and how to be a better guide for their child’s mind. This is the essence of co-regulation which is what all children (and all of us!) need in order to learn about life.

TRUST DEVELOPS as the loop of regulation and competence is repeated and then children with autism are available to be influenced by their parent!

Child Competence

Parent Regulation

Child Regulation

Trust and Learning!  

Parent Guiding Grows Brains in RDI®! All children learn from the dance of the parent/child relationship and children with autism are no different! What is different is understanding how to get them to the dance floor and be guided!


Rosanne is an RDI consultant and occupational therapist who works in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. RDI has been foundational for her understanding of child development. She works part-time in her private practice, part-time in a school division and also is a board member of the Attachment Network of Manitoba and ADAPT (Association for Developmental Autism Programs and Therapies). You can learn more about her here.


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