Transforming the Well-being of Persons with Autism

by | May 31, 2023 | Rachelle's Corner

“Transforming the Well-being of Persons with Autism,” a research paper written by RDIconnect co-founders Dr. Steven Gutstein and Dr. Rachelle Sheely, was recently published in “Psychoanalytic Inquiry: A Topical Journal for Mental Health Professionals.”

Drs. Gutstein and Sheely have been dedicated to improving quality of life for individuals on the spectrum for years. This is what drove them to found the RDI® (Relationship Development Intervention) program.

The Research Paper Is Made up of Four Parts


Part One – The Current Research on the Well-being of Persons with Autism

In part one of the research paper, Drs. Gustein and Sheely looked into the current research on the well-being of autistic individuals. What they found was that, overall, the well-being of autistic people is not good. As Dr. Gutstein says, “We can and we should do much better.”

Part Two – The Major Barrier to Quality of Life for Persons With Autism Is the Lost Opportunity To Develop Dynamic Intelligence

Dynamic Intelligence is what we call the mental resources we need to get through each day in our complex, 21st century lives. Many individuals who are born with autism have difficulties with communication, socializing, executive functioning, and other processes that are necessary to live a successful and happy life.

While neurotypical infants go on to develop Dynamic Intelligence, infants who are later diagnosed with autism experience a divergence around the end of their second year, and, as a consequence, don’t learn the basis for these important life skills. 

It’s this missed opportunity that’s the problem – but there is hope. 

Part Three – An In-depth Study of Four Young Men Who Participated in RDI® 

With the deviation that neurodivergent infants experience in their second year comes something else – a change in the relationship the child has with others, namely their parents. Children who go on to be diagnosed with autism begin to disengage with their parents around this time. This means that the Guiding Relationship between child and parents does not form as it should.

This not only affects the relationship between parents and child, but the child’s growth and development as well, as the Guiding Relationship is what gives us a safe yet challenging learning environment for mental development and self-growth.

The RDI® program gives children (no matter their age) and their parents a second opportunity to develop that crucial Guiding Relationship and what we discovered in following the four young men who participated in RDI® with their parents confirms this.

Part Four – Recommendations for Changes in the Way We Think About and Treat Persons With Autism

The research we reviewed and did on our own for this study confirmed what we’ve believed for years – there are changes that can be made that can dramatically improve the opportunity for well-being for individuals on the spectrum.

We Can Do More for Persons With Autism

This article lays the groundwork for a major change in the way we can think about and provide help to persons with autism.

For years, our society has treated autism as something that needs to be “fixed.” Most treatments focus not on improving quality of life for the individual, but on making them fit in better with their neurotypical peers.

Proponents of behavioral therapies say that they help autistic children by giving them life skills, but what these programs really do is try to change children, to make them more acceptable to others. 

We can and should do more for persons with autism. They deserve the right to be who they really are just like the rest of us. They deserve a joyful and fulfilling life just like the rest of us. And we believe that this study is a big step in the right direction.


Rachelle K Sheely PhD

Steven Gustein, PhD

RDIConnect, Inc

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