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Through its innovative Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) Program, RDIconnect gained a worldwide reputation for designing family-based programs. Currently, RDIconnect provides programs for an entire range of developmental difficulties.
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  • 01/15/14--06:00: Thinking Beyond Eye Contact
  • Eye Contact is considered to be an important skill in teaching social communication to children with ASD. Eye contact matters in communication because looking at someone usually shows that we care and are invested in the interaction. It demonstrates that we are listening to what that person is saying, and that we are thinking about the same thing. For most children, the development of meaningful eye gaze comes naturally; however, it is no secret that for many children with ASD, the development of eye contact is not automatic. As a result, we work hard to facilitate it so that children with ASD can become more socially connected.


    Thinking about How Eye Contact Develops

    While training to become an RDI consultant, I learned to think critically about eye contact as a treatment goal. In fact, I learned to stop talking about eye contact and instead to talk about the idea of visual referencing. This is a much more accurate description of what we want children with ASD to develop in the long term. It describes the very dynamic skill of using the sense of sight to gather, or reference, information. Typically, visual referencing develops in the first year of life. For example, babies and toddlers look to see who is approaching, to notice a new toy, and importantly, to check in with their caregivers to share affect or when uncertain about something or someone. They also use sustained eye gaze early-on to share affect in simple, back and forth interactions where they notice and respond to caregivers’ actions with vocalizations, laughing, touch, or smiles. It is in these early interactions that the caregiver mindfully delivers information at a slow pace and with appropriate affect, be it with big smiles, animated but slowly presented gestures, or softly spoken words in order to visually engage the child, while taking care not to overwhelm him or her with too much stimulation.


    The sensitive communication partner also learns to wait, giving the youngster time to notice a new face or toy; focus on and think about it; and then shift his or her gaze elsewhere when ready to take in new information or engage a different communication partner. Hence, from early on the act of looking is a nuanced but complex process of taking in new information, integrating it with what is already known, and responding in an adaptive way. If at any point a baby is overwhelmed or unable to take in additional information, he or she is “wired” to gaze avert, or look away. Caregivers, for their part, are wired to wait for the baby to shift his or her gaze back, thus communicating a readiness to interact again.


    Making Eye Contact versus Visually Referencing

    With these developmental foundations in mind, let’s revisit the phrase make eye contact. We can see that this phrase does not capture the act of looking as a fluid, dynamic skill. Rather, it suggests a rote, mechanical, or static act—an end in and of itself for the purpose of attention. Indeed, if eye contact is sustained for too long a period of time, it may actually be inappropriate. In contrast, the term visual referencingdescribes the process of using one’s vision to learn something new, and from that place of knowledge, to take the next step. It sets the stage for a dynamic communicative exchange. If we stop to think about this, we will realize how often in daily life we use visual referencing, both for communication and for other reasons. For example, we may look around at our surroundings with the intention of gathering information such as: Where is that noise coming from? orWhere is the bathroom? We may look to understand more about our communication partners. For example we may want to figure out: How is that person feeling? Did he or she understand what I just said? Are they interested in what I’m saying? What is that person thinking about right now? What is that person doing? We look to learn about changes being made to our environment. For example, we may want to find things out: Where is everyone going? or to determine the reason for the occurrence of something: Why did it just get so cold in here? There is also the important issue of our own safety—for example—we look to determine: Is it safe to cross the street? or Who is that person coming close to me? Importantly, when we viewlooking as a highly dynamic process, rather than as a mechanical and static end product, it will likely influence the types of strategies we use to elicit it.


    Applying This Information to Children with ASD

    In teaching children with ASD to visually reference, it is important to understand and respect why they may look away (e.g., perhaps there is too much stimulation) and also to give them opportunities and whatever assistance they need, to take in visual information at a pace that allows them to derive meaning from what they are seeing. When visual regard results in the taking in of meaningful information there is a natural reason to engage in it. Hence, when we help children to use their vision to take in information and, when needed, assist them in figuring things out, we motivate and empower them to become seekers of information. Ultimately, we want children with ASD to learn what we already know: If you don’t look, you will probably miss something important. If, however, we notice a child with ASD avert his or her gaze, it often means that he or she is feeling overwhelmed and unable to process anything more at the moment. Pausing, and then—when the child has shifted his or her gaze back to you—mindfully presenting information at a slower pace, with additional input as needed, can help him or her to stay visually connected for longer. Here are some ways to encourage visual referencing while providing your child with “space” to process and derive meaning from what he or she is seeing:


    • Answer questions or requests that your child initiates using nonverbal communication. For example, if your child asks if she can have a glass of water, use a head nod for yes. If she wants to know where her favorite toy is, deliberately point to it across the room.


    • Use language that emphasizes observational words to cue your child to visually scan his environment for information. For example,“I notice everyone is leaving!” or “I can see that Grandpa is happy that you are here!” are statements that invite visual referencing.


    • In general, slow down and give your child more time to shift and adjust her gaze toward you. Approach her and lower your body so that you are at eye level with her. Call her name and then quietly wait, or begin your communicative bid with a statement that emphasizes the importance of looking, for example, “Lucy,

    I have something cool to show you!”


    • Be mindful of the type and amount of information you present to your child at any given time. When working to hone visual referencing skills, use nonverbal communication dynamically and enjoyably within an interaction while consciously talking less (or not at all). By, initially, exaggerating your gestures, facial expressions, and actions while embedding them in meaningful contexts, you provide a scaffold within which children can learn to interpret nonverbal information. Here are a few examples: When it is time to go out, hold up your keys, jingle them, and gesture or look toward the door instead of saying, “Time to go.” As you eat ice cream together, exaggerate your facial expressions to communicate how much you are enjoying yours! Introduce a surprise hidden in a paper bag using wide eyes and a smile to invite shared anticipation of what you’ve discovered.


    Some Final Thoughts

    Once we embrace the idea of promoting the dynamic process of visual referencing over that of merely establishing eye contact, our teaching, too, becomes more dynamic. We no longer focus on simply telling kids what to do and where to look, but rather on helping them to use visual referencing to derive meaning. By providing mindful opportunities for children to visually reference people and things in their environments; adjusting our pace to theirs; and assisting them in establishing meaning, we can help to empower them to become visually connected to others in meaningful and enjoyable ways. In my next article, I will offer several games and activities to further develop the understanding and use of nonverbal communication within dynamic, reciprocal exchanges.


    Linda K. Murphy M.S., CCC-SLP has been working with people with ASD for almost 20 years. She first obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics from Boston College but after working for two years with adults with ASD in supported work and residential settings, she found her true passion and pursued a Master’s Degree in Speech Language Pathology from Emerson College. She added Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)® to her practice in 2007 in order to serve families of individuals with ASD in more effective and meaningful ways. Linda has a private practice in Beverly, MA that offers services including speech language therapy, communication assessments, school consultations, professional trainings, social pragmatics groups and RDI®. Her website is and she can be reached here.

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  • 01/22/14--02:20: Two Sides of the Same Coin
  • Habits, bad and good, have to do with the space they inhabit in our consciousness. Eating chocolate is not something I have to think about; not eating chocolate cake is something I have to think about ... a lot . Repetition keeps the bad stuff going and lack of repetition keeps the good stuff from becoming second nature. And for this reason, it’s hard to develop good habits--because they are conscious, they slip away once our minds focus on something else. This something else, this competition...(read more)

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    In RDI it’s very important not to elicit a certain behavior from the child but rather provide opportunities for learning. One way to do this is through a type of learning called Observational learning or Modeling that occurs through observing and imitating others. Modeling occurs when one person performs a behavior while others pay attention and learn from it. It is a very active process that has an important neurological impact on the child’s brain. As a matter of fact, it is through observation that the mirror neuron system gets activated

    Mirror Neurons
    Mirror neurons (MN) are special neurons in the brain that fire both when we are performing a certain action but also when we observe another person perform the action. The neuroactivity is the same whether it’s the individual performing the action or someone else. This system is thought to enable us to experience and understand how an individual feels and thinks. Without mirror neurons, we would likely be blind to the actions, intentions and emotions of other people. Researchers theorize that mirror neurons may play an important role in imitation, empathy , social and language development.

    Mirror Neurons and ASD
    New studies have identified abnormal/deficiency mirror activity in the brains of children with autism that could explain the symptoms of the disorder. The "Broken Mirror Hypothesis" claims that individuals with ASD have impairments to their mirror neuron system (Press, Richardson & Bird, 2010) and  suggests that the dysfunction of the mirror neuron system is a primary cause of the poor social skills in individuals with Autism (Marsh & Hamilton, 2011).

    Why the activation of MN in children with ASD is so difficult?
    The theory of neurological underconnectivity could explain the deficiency of mirror activity in children with autism. Because of weak communication between the different brain centers, the child with autism has difficulty rapidly processing multiple information simultaneously and attending and paying attention to what we do or say can be very challenging. Reduced neuron activity weakens the ability to experience immediately and effortlessly what other people are experiencing, thus making social interactions particularly difficult for children with autism.

    The activation of mirror neurons and the impact on learning, despite its automatic nature in typical children, is actually a very complex process which includes many steps:

    • Child visually observes (sensory processing)
    • Child observes a motor action (motor planning processing)
    • Through the integration of sensory perception and motor action, the child applies meaning to the action (activation of MN), by understanding the intention of the one who acts and by anticipating the possible goal of action. (This happens in a very fast, automatic and unconscious way).
    • The child retains the experience in his memory (retention process)
    • This process gets more and more complex and develops in more sophisticated social skills (eg.:empathy).

    Helping the activation of MN in children with autism
    If the child does not observe, he is not engaged with us in what we are doing or saying, activation of the mirror neuron system cannot take place. It’s the joint focus of attention that stimulates new patterns of neural firing.

    These are some tips that can help children with autism to better process the shared experience we provide and might facilitate the activation of the mirror neuron system:

    • In order for the child to be engaged you need to provide interesting and meaningful experiences.  
    • Create a dynamic pattern that the child can recognize and focus on
    • Increase and amplify the use of non verbal communication channels such as gestures, facial expressions, body language, and vocal prosody.
    • Slow down your movements and communication, so the child can process what you are doing or saying.
    • Provide pauses in critical moments of the interaction, so the child have time to process your intentions, anticipate your actions and have an emotional response.
    • Build anticipation to elicit the curiosity of the child.
    • Use repetition. For neurological changes to occur there must be considerable repetition. However, repetition will include gradually small variations within its structure to promote neural plasticity.


    Simona Onnis is an RDI certified consultant based in Athens, Greece. She has a background in special education and she is also a proud mum of a child on the autistic spectrum.  After seeing the positive changes the RDI program brought about in her family, she became an RDI consultant in 2012. With passion she shares her knowledge and supports families with children in the autistic spectrum through the RDI program.

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    We are very excited to introduce a new way to begin your professional training: a Hybrid model that combines both online and in-person training. This reduces the expense for participants and along with number of travel days and time off from work.

    SPRING 2014 Hybrid Training Details

    Mondays, April 21st-June 9th 10am-12:30pm (CLASSES ONLINE)


    Week #1: Overview of Autism Pathogenesis

    Week #2: The RDI Learning Community & FCP

    Week #3: Working with a Consultant

    Week #4: Scheduling

    Week #5: Guiding Opportunities: communication

    Week #6: Guiding Opportunities: Productive Support

    Week #7: Framing and scaffolding & productive support

    Week #8: Creating activities & assignments based on objectives

    June 25-29, 2014  (Wed-Sunday)  HOUSTON, TX USA

    Day #1     Dynamic Intelligence

    Day 2-4    Relationship Development Assessment

    Day 5       Ethics, certification requirements, regulatory patterns: Dr Sheely


    Class size is very limited. Contact us for more information.


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    My work in the field of Autism began 23 years ago, when I was assigned to work as an aide in a preschool classroom full of young children with Autism in Los Angeles, California. I was fortunate enough to work under an inspiring teacher, Gloria, who used her beautiful voice when calling her little students to circle time. Gloria’s love for teaching inspired me to continue working with autistic children. I learned quickly that excellence and passion in anyone choosing to work with special needs children, is not enough to make a long lasting impact in the lives of individuals with Autism without prominent parental involvements.

    For example, Gloria and I found that Mondays and coming back after an extended holiday break was particularly challenging for ASD children, it was as though we had to start over with some of the skills they have previously made progress in. We found that potty training was difficult to accomplish in the classroom without parents’ willingness to maintain a consistent routine at home.

    After completing my field work as Gloria’s assistant, I explored working as a behavioral interventionist with ASD children. I would implement customized programs by working directly with a client at home, and even though we saw progress within the scope of therapy, there was still a disconnect in the child’s ability to apply the skills with parents, teachers or other professionals working to address co-occurring conditions. It seemed that the best team of professionals with the best intentions working for the same client was still not enough!! Everyone on the team seemed to work on his/her own objectives, and the child was not ‘connecting the dots’.

    Almost 12 years ago, I stumbled upon a new parent-based program called Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), I became certified and have never looked back. What was and still is, unique about the RDI™ program is that building parental competence as a guide at home truly is the missing piece in Autism remediation.  Even within the first year of implementing parents’ objectives, the learning potential in every child blossoms naturally, and even more important, the changes in the parent-child relationship just unfolds beautifully. As a clinician, there is nothing more rewarding than witnessing a client who is able learn something new, take off and run with it, and it would not matter where and who he or she is with. It is amazing to compare notes with other professionals working with the same client and agree that learning has become easier and more motivating for the child. The RDI program helps ASD children to integrate what they have learned in different settings, and increase their motivation to use the skills more.

    What the RDI™ program has given the parents I work with is a chance to ‘redo’ the neurological pathways needed to develop mindfulness in their children. The program equips parents to be able to change themselves, and therefore have the mental, physical, emotional readiness and capacity to slow down and build competence in their children. Naturally by being successful guides at home, parents are preparing their children to learn from other adults.   Parents are no longer pulled to so many different directions by other people’s opinions, because they are confident that they can take any objectives from their team of professionals and implement them at home as only a good guide to a child would.

    I love sharing about my work as an RDI clinician with other professionals working with special needs children, and when they ask me: “What do you love the most about RDI?”. My answer is simple: “Because our work as parent coaches helps children learn better with anyone about anything, the sky is the limit!”


    Maisie Soetantyo, B.A, M.Ed, has been working with children under the ASD spectrum since 1994. She received her degree in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from UCLA under the supervision of Dr. Ivar Lovaas of the Young Autism Project.  Upon graduation, Maisie worked under Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders for 6 years, holding the titles of Supervising Therapist and Clinic Supervisor.  As supervisor, she was responsible for providing ongoing program supervision to families in Michigan, Ohio, San Jose, as well as the East and North Bay areas.  Specifically, her responsibilities included providing individualized programs, parent and therapist trainings using Behavior Modification technique (ABA).

    In 2001, Maisie co-founded the Comprehensive Autism Treatment for Children (CATCH) clinic in Sunnyvale California.  The clinic was designed to be a facility to combine all aspects of treatment for ASD children and adolescents into one, all-inclusive treatment plan. In 2004, Maisie was a member of the inaugural class of Dr. Steven Gutsteins’ RDI® Consultants Certification program and has maintained her re-certification credentials for seven years.  In 2007, Maisie was one of the first RDI® consultants invited to supersede Dr. Gutstein in his role as host and primary speaker for the Connections Center’s extra-Houston Four-Day Parent Training workshops, and frequently serves as a breakout specialist for the Connections Center’s domestic Parent Training Seminars.  In addition, Maisie is also part of the certification committee for RDIconnect, and she also provides supervision to RDI Certifications program trainees. Email Maisie

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    “The nearer your destination the more you keep sliding away”. (Please visit the site to view this media) We have all experienced when the resolve of a good intention becomes tomorrow’s failure. We have also experienced the opposite— when resolve and good intention are not only today’s success but tomorrow’s as well. Preparing for the slippery slope, recognizing the inevitable setbacks can support the good things we want for ourselves. In RDI™ the habit of...(read more)

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    When I speak with a dad I’m working with to see how his latest video submission has turned out. He tells me it was magnificent.He’s so proud of his son.When next we meet,we agree to watch the footage together.I patiently, quietly take in what I see, and I gingerly reach for the pause button.

    “Dad,” I say.“I am so interested to know what it is that you are seeing in this footage that has made you so excited and proud.”

    He says,“Well, we were baking together, (dad is a wonderful chef as a hobby) and my son knows the difference between an 1/8th teaspoon and a 1/4th teaspoon.Without even reading which one is which.Even if they are not side by side for comparison!He memorized all the ingredients and can practically make the pancakes himself!”

    I smiled and agreed that those were all very impressive elements to what we had been watching together.

    I continued,“However, I don’t care about any of that. At all.”

    “That’s not our work,” I went on to say. “The memorization, the measuring spoon differentiation, all of that is static, static, static.I am interested in seeing, not how he makes the pancakes all by himself, but rather how he collaborates with you, and you with him on making them.I care about how the two of you discover together how much of any given ingredient goes in next. I would be thrilled to see how you put too much or not enough of something in to the mix and afford yourselves an opportunity to problem solve together. Even if it means there’s a cup of salt instead of sugar in there, and you go so far as to fry those bad boys up and find they are harder than rocks…together.That is our work.”

    How difficult it is to avoid the trap of being proud of those exciting moments where a rote skill appears to be extraordinary.Not that a parent shouldn’t be proud of every success, but not at the expense of collaborating and problem solving. 

    Interestingly enough, the following week, when the same dad presented me with another video to watch, he appeared almost crestfallen.He dejectedly handed the dvd to me and said that he felt it was a complete debacle.I assured him that I would, in fact, be the judge of that. 

    We began watching father and son working together to change a light bulb.There were a lot of missteps, it’s true, until there was that flash, that brilliant moment I had hoped would arise.I paused the footage. This time I asked dad what he saw.Dad looked a bit perplexed as he admitted that he noticed a shared laugh between them.I exclaimed that he saw correctly! That was the work I’d been looking for.That fifteen second gem of dynamic collaboration between the two of them.Where his son caught the humor and joined in with his dad as they laughed, together.I told him that I would take those fifteen seconds any day, over the prior week’s fifteen minutes of static.Just then, the proverbial light bulb went on for dad.I could almost make out the glow just above his head. In that precise moment, dad was able to shift his perspective to value the dynamic interactions over the static ones. He got it. 


    Melissa Reiner has been an RDI Certified Consutant since 2009 and lives in Santa Monica, California. Click here to email Melissa.

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    Most of us who have spent time growing the minds of children on the spectrum agree that teaching static skills teaches static skills. At RDIconnect, because we have observed this trajectory, we have devoted our energy into building the motivation, the 'why bother' and the functions to foster the developmental readiness for acquiring neural flexibility. Still, in the field of autism whether or not to teach language without the concomitant developmental readiness associated with communication...(read more)

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  • 02/11/14--13:59: New RDI Research Published
  • We are excited to share new research that supports the 'utility of the Relationship Development Assessment - Research Version for clinical practice'. This was first published in the Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry in December 2013 and a full pdf version is available from SAGE.

    The aim of this project was to replicate and extend findings from two recent studies on parent-child relatedness in autism (Beurkens, Hobson, & Hobson, 2013; Hobson, Tarver, Beurkens, & Hobson, 2013, under review) by adapting an observational assessment and coding schemes of parent-child relatedness for the clinical context and examining their validity and reliability. The coding schemes focussed on three aspects of relatedness: joint attentional focus (Adamson, Bakeman, & Deckner, 2004), the capacity to co-regulate an interaction and the capacity to share emotional experiences. The participants were 40 children (20 with autism, 20 without autism) aged 6–14, and their parents. Parent-child dyads took part in the observational assessment and were coded on these schemes. Comparisons were made with standardised measures of autism severity (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, ADOS: Lord, Rutter, DiLavore, & Risi, 2001; Social Responsiveness Scale, SRS: Constantino & Gruber, 2005), relationship quality (Parent Child Relationship Inventory, PCRI: Gerard, 1994) and quality of parent-child interaction (Dyadic Coding Scales, DCS: Humber & Moss, 2005). Inter-rater reliability was very good and, as predicted, codes both diverged from the measure of parent-child relationship and converged with a separate measure of parent-child interaction quality. A detailed profile review revealed nuanced areas of group and individual differences which may be specific to verbally-able school-age children. The results support the utility of the Relationship Development Assessment – Research Version for clinical practice.

    Full pdf version available from SAGE

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    "Moods: It’s all in the way you say it game ", by Hasbro, was originally purchased at Walmart and is currently on sale for $90 through Amazon. It’s fun, but quite honestly, not that much fun. A little like Charades, there are two sets of cards; one with a statement or question like “you did what?” and another set of cards that expresses emotions. For example: scared, bored, excited, angry. I was reminded of this game recently when I jokingly emailed a friend who...(read more)

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  • 02/12/14--04:00: Thank you, RDI®!
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    As an RDI® consultant, I have seen the truly wondrous effect Relationship Development Intervention®(RDI®) has on families.I have personally seen parents who have attempted every possible intervention, only to have found hope in RDI®. Instead of using antidepressants to treat M’s Obsessive Compulsive Behavior (which often caused overwhelming stress to the family), her parents decided to train in RDI®. M’s first family-assessment video was taken two-and-a-half years ago.The contrast between M’s behavior then and now is very distinct.She was sixteen years old at the time. She had made several attempts to run away and to break the connection that her parents had tried so hard to build.


    The RDI® program taught the parents to remain physiologically and emotionally regulated, even during emotional hurricanes. Meeting the family for the six-month funding evaluation, her social worker immediately sensed a much calmer home atmosphere. A couple months later, M’s mom even had the courage to take M and her sister on a trip overseas, without having to worry about her ASD daughter’s wellbeing. Everyone started to notice M’s improvement, including her grandmother. Her once-anxious granddaughter, who had often thrown temper tantrums, had become much more resilient.M’s progress has made it possible for grandma to take her on the city transit for a Chinese dimsum.


    The girl who used to resist learning from others is becoming a very eager learner. She is now motivated to ask her mom to teach her Chinese characters, accepts her teachers’ guidance, and is even learning from her siblings solely from observation. She takes pride in her role in the family when it comes to doing the family laundry, dishes, and other daily household chores. She also volunteers at a homeless shelter and a senior home.

    M continues to make progress in her ability to adapt, change strategies and alter plans based upon changing circumstances. She helped her sister with the newspaper route during summer. On a rainy day, she told mom they couldn’t do the newspaper route. Mom suggested waiting after supper hoping that the rain would subdue. After supper, upon hearing that her sister and mom were getting ready to leave the house, she quickly got herself ready to join the team. One day, she was in the middle of doing her laundry when her driver came to pick her up to go to a church program. Instead of getting upset, she asked her mom to complete the chore for her. This is a huge improvement from not being able to leave a job unfinished. On another day after church, mom changed their plans to just staying home for lunch instead of going to the restaurant that M had been waiting for. Once again, she was able to adjust to the new schedule.


    It is evident that the benefits of RDI® extend from the person with ASD to her parents, siblings, extended family, community, and me. M often expresses her appreciation and love with a big hug, a smile, and expressive language: “Thank you, Hanna! I love you!” And just as she does, I would like to show my appreciation by saying simply: Thank you, RDI®!



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    Hanna Ng is a certified RDI consultant and children’s minister of a Baptist church in Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA. Hanna and her husband, Rev. Peter Ng, have three daughters, ages 21, 18 and 14. Besides English, she also speaks Indonesian, Mandarin and Cantonese. ; cell: 780-720-7297



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  • 02/17/14--14:33: Thinking About Competence

    Sometimes we realize we are incompetent at a skill we value and we create a learning plan to become competent.Playing the piano, becoming a long distance runner, raising a self-confident child and developing skills needed in the workplace are all examples of things we might identify as desired.There are myriad sources of information and guidance in how to learn these abilities and when combined with practice, ongoing evaluation, adjustment and then more practice, we develop competence.

    Sometimes our incompetence catches us by surprise.We discover a missing skill or ability that we had no idea we needed.We unexpectedly discover an ability or skill that we thought we were already competent at but current circumstances reveal a deficit.When this happens it can unsettle us, shaking the foundations of our sense of competence overall.This happens to us all from time to time, but when we are faced with a significant challenge, like having a child with autism or other neuro-developmental disorders, recovering our sense of equilibrium requires more thought.We must become more aware of what we don’t know and create a plan to become competent: a plan for seeking information, guidance and practice.

    My own story of the journey from incompetence towards competence began after 30 years in the field of healing relationships when I discovered RDI.I was astounded by what I did not know and what I needed to become competent at if I were to continue to follow my passion to make a difference in the lives of children and families.  My ego suffered.  After all, I had been doing this work for 30 years and I already felt fairly competent.But following these new discoveries I put a plan in place and went through the information learning, the practicing, the evaluation and more practicing.Now I find myself in the perpetual state of feeling more competent than I used to be but rarely as competent as I would like to be.

    Developing competence is an ongoing theme for each of us.Consultants, parents and students have all developed areas of competence, often because of the symptoms of the neuro-developmental and executive functioning disorders of their child.We become experts on diet, anxiety management and interpretation of the child’s subtle cues.Our areas of incompetence are often the result of those very same symptoms.But they can sometimes be camouflaged within areas that give the illusion of competence.Cultivating language use versus fostering communication is one of the most common examples of a hidden incompetence and one of the first to be addressed in remediation work.In RDI, it is important to discover our hidden areas of incompetence, since these are the areas that are essential to growth in the child.Consultants and parents work together to design and implement their plans for developing their own competence so they can create opportunities for their child to journey towards competence.This is always a collaborative process with each family in which we provide each other with opportunities to discover and learn. 

    An example of this round table style of learning and guiding, so available on the RDI Platform, is evidenced by consultant Amy Otis’ April 2013 post, in which she noted the four stages of competence.  A family had shared this article her and she in turn shared it on the site.I am sure that I am not the only one whose thinking and competence was enhanced by their generosity.  Below I share the four stages of competence as described in this article and invite each of us to think about and share in some way our discoveries of incompetence and the journeys towards competence we have made this past year and those we anticipate taking on in the year ahead.

    The four stages of competence:

    1.  Unconscious incompetence: The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.

    2.  Conscious incompetence:  Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.

    3.  Conscious competence:  The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.

    4.  Unconscious competence:  The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become"second nature" and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

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    Pat Voytko is an RDI® Consultant, special education teacher and early intervention provider.RDI® has become the foundation of all her work as it focuses on the natural process of developing relationships, which, in turn, supports social/cognitive development and an improved quality of life.


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  • 02/19/14--08:21: Check us Out!

    Are you connected with us on our social media channels? We regularly post news, ideas, testimonials, images and information about our programs. This is a great way to help friends and family understand what we do. Like to us and help us get the word out about RDI!





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    The RDI programs are designed to develop dynamic, independent thinking. This goal is attainable for many individuals who face developmental challenges and differentiates us from other 'therapy' models. The following video is an excerpt from a radio interview featuring RDI consultant, Lisa Palasti and RDI mom, Carol. Here, they discuss how RDI programs focus on creating independent thinkers.

    (Please visit the site to view this media)

    The interview was hosted and produced by Wendy McDonnell and can be heard in full at at

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    Being a religious man back in the day, my grandfather loved to dance, but he mostly danced in a circle—one foot stationary with the other soft-shoeing a jig. Referring to the Methodist prohibition, he laughed at the static foot saying, “it’s my Methodist foot”. Conversation with a child who has been taught language or conversational patterns and responses before communication can feel one sided and even tiresome. To keep the conversation going, a parent or professional often...(read more)

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    One of the things I do with parents is to help them understand dysregulation in their child.As we know, RDI® is a relationship based therapy that is founded on the principles of attachment.Helping parents to become “attuned” to their child’s signs of regulation vs. dysregulation is an important first step.In order to help parents attune to their child, we complete what I call a “Dysregulation Scale”.It is a 5 point scale that the parents and I complete over a period of weeks or months.“1” = “regulated” all the way up to “5” = “highly dysregulated”. We work on a master copy of the scale and the parents take home a working copy to continually update.In this context, dysregulation can mean too hyper or over-aroused OR too hypo and under-aroused.  Both over and under are states of dysregulation in which the child cannot learn. Generally, parents are able to quickly list behaviors that indicate a 1, 3, and 5.  Recognizing the more subtle behaviors at the point of a “2” is critical to help them begin to recognize when their child is at the  “edge”. 

    An example might look like this:



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    Rosanne Papadopoulos is an occupational therapist from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.She has been an RDI® consultant for about 7 years and works in her private practice,Discoveries in Therapy.  She can be reached at


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    This week, we completed publishing of the RDI Book on Kindle. If you are looking for more information about RDI, this is the best place to start. This book is a primer for the philosophy behind Relationship Development Intervention and the RDI programs.

    Buy the RDI Book on Kindle on Amazon for $9.95

    Enjoy....and let us know what you think!

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    This week I was able to speak with Dr. Sarah Wayland, a cognitive psychologist, RDI consultant in training and RDI parent. Watch the video here: <p><br /></p> <p><br /></p> <p><br /></p> <p> Read more on Dr. Wayland here: or to order her new book, Technology Tools for Students with Autism, c<a target="_blank"...(read more)

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    This article appeared in the spring 2013 issue of Autism Spectrum Quarterly ( It is also available via free app on all major digital platforms by searching on Autism Spectrum Quarterly.

    In my last article, I explained the difference between active visual referencing and rote eye contact, and discussed the importance of developing the former, for when we do that, we focus on the dynamic skill of using vision to engage with others for the purpose of gathering, or pointing out, information. In this article, I will expand upon this topic by sharing activities that target both visual referencing and other nonverbal aspects of communication and social cognition. Many of these activities are versions of classic children’s games, but with a social communication twist!


    Aspects of nonverbal communication and social cognition that these activities foster include:

    Visual referencing, or looking to communication partners or the environment for information

    Use of gestures (for example, head nods, head shakes, directed nods, pointing, etc.)

    Use of facial expressions

    Coordinating actions with communication partner (for example, if one person holds out a cup, a communication partner responds by taking it)

    Orienting body toward communication partner

    Prosody (vocal intonation / emotional tone)

    Theory of mind (understanding that we all do not share the same information)

    Collaboration / working as a team to attain a common goal (Embedding opportunities for collaboration into activities often leads children to reference each other for opinions and ideas!)

    Many of these ideas have evolved during my peer-group sessions with clients! While I may enter a session with a game idea, it inevitably becomes richer and more enjoyable when the kids expand upon the game and add their own creative “spin.” As a professional, I have found that one of the most important things to keep in mind is that our kids have some of the best ideas! The winning formula then is to first structure activities to help kids get started, learn the basics of the game, and experience success. Then, leave things open enough for them to add their own creativity to the process.

    Here are some of my favorite nonverbal communication / social cognition games: 


    Game: Who Has It?

    Areas targeted: Coordinating actions; visual referencing; theory of mind

    Materials needed: Any small object that can fit in one’s palm

    Number of players:3 to 6

    How to play: Kids sit in a circle. One child is chosen to be IT. Let’s call her Susie. Susie walks away from the circle, faces the other way, covers her eyes, and counts to 20. While she counts, the other children pass the item around. When Susie reaches 20, the person in the circle holding the item hides it – for example, within his or her folded hands or under his or her leg. Susie asks, “Are you ready?” Once the kids respond yes, Susie comes back to the circle and tries to guess who has the object.

    Things to keep in mind: Help kids to remember not to grab the item out of each other’s hands, but to allow each other enough time to pass it on his or her own. Emphasize that the kids in the circle KNOW something that Susie doesn’t know (theory of mind).

    Variations: Susie can guess nonverbally who has the item—for example—by pointing or using a directed head nod. Kids in the circle can also answer nonverbally using a head nod/head shake, thumbs up/thumbs down, or a prosodic uh huh (affirmative) or uh uh (negative).


    Game: Prosodic Hot/Cold

    Areas targeted: Theory of mind; prosody (vocal intonation / emotional tone); visual referencing; gestures

    Materials needed: Any item of choice

    Number of players: 2 to 4

    How to play: Play a regular game of hot/cold where an item is hidden by one child, and the other child needs to find it. The Finder is instructed to take one step at a time, and after each step check-in with (i.e., look to) the Hider for information. The Hider then communicates whether the Finder is getting closer or farther away from the object by using prosody instead of the words hotandcold(uh huh for hot or getting closer; uh uh for cold or getting farther away).

    Things to keep in mind: If there are more than two players, kids can work in teams. Be sure to explicitly label roles for children (Hiders, Finders) as this helps kids to understand what they are supposed to do on each turn. Also, honor spontaneous requests by peers to swap roles.

    Variations: Use head nods/head shakes or facial expressions (happy/sad) to communicate hot/cold.


    Game: Water Pass

    Areas targeted: Coordinating actions; orienting body toward communication partners; visual referencing

    Materials needed: An assortment of containers (for example, cups, yogurt containers, buckets, etc.) and a small amount of water in a pitcher.

    Number of players:3 to 6

    How to play: Kids sit in a circle with containers in the middle. Adult holds pitcher with water and sits as part of the circle. Kids are invited to choose a container. The adult chooses a container after the children have chosen theirs, and then pours a little bit of water into it. Adult explains that the group will be passing the water around the circle. The goal is to make it around the circle as many times as they can without spilling the water. Kids work together to pour water from their container into that of their adjacent peer. Every so often, invite children to choose a new container or swap containers with a friend.

    Things to keep in mind: Emphasize that it is okay if the water spills! Be sensitive to children who may become bothered by wet clothes (for example if water spills on them).

    Variations: Use different materials such as pasta, pom poms, or marbles. After kids have gotten the hang of it, introduce “Reverse!” where the teacher (or a selected child) can direct the children to pour items in the opposite direction.


    Game: Like/Don’t Like

    Areas targeted: Visual referencing; use of facial expressions

    Materials needed: Play food, two bowls

    Number of players:2

    How to play: The adult chooses approximately 10 items from various categories of play food (e.g., vegetables, cookies, ketchup, eggs, etc.). Two bowls are placed in between the children, side by side. One bowl is named the like bowl, and the other is named the don’t like bowl. Visuals can be placed inside the bowls to help children remember which is which, or they can be color-coded (e.g., green=like; red=don’t like). One child is assigned the role of Asker and the other is assigned the role of Answerer. The Asker holds up the food items, one at a time, and asks his or her partner, “Do you like . . . .?” The Answerer responds using a “yuck!” or “yum!” facial expression. The Asker then places the food item in the appropriate bowl. Once finished, kids swap roles.

    Things to keep in mind: Along the way, help kids to form memories about each other’s likes and dislikes, and compare/ contrast their reactions by reviewing what they have learned about one another. For example, “Let’s remember, Joey likes cookies but he does NOT like eggs!” or “Wow! You both do NOT like strawberries!”

    Variations: Use magazine photos or picture symbols instead of objects. Change the category—for example—to animals. The following game was created and practiced as a means of helping one group of students get ready for a school field day:


    Game: Three-Legged Walk

    Areas targeted: Coordinating actions; collaborating

    Materials needed: A small rope or shoelace; an item of choice; masking tape

    Number of players:2 to 4

    How to play: After choosing an item, invite two children to place it somewhere in the room. Then, have kids go back to a “starting line” (marked with masking tape), stand next to each other, and tie their two adjacent legs together. Invite the children to work as a team to go get the item.

    Things to keep in mind: It really helps if two adults model this activity ahead of time so children know what “working together” looks like. Part of modeling should include what not working together looks like, as well! Be sensitive to children who may feel uncomfortable having something tied around their leg. If that is the case, the children could try to keep their legs together without the rope, or they could be in charge of other things, such as placing the objects in the room. Last but not least, have only one team of kids go at a time so that it is not perceived as a race.

    Variations: If there are two to three teams playing, each one can take turns placing the items for the other teams.


    Final Thoughts

    The simplicity of these games belies the fact that they target areas of nonverbal communication and social cognition that don’t always get the attention they deserve. In fact, it’s the simplicity of these games that truly allows our kids to focus on skill development. Hopefully, these games will enable readers to work on these critically important skills in dynamic and enjoyable ways, as well as inspire them to develop games of their own.


    Linda K. Murphy M.S., CCC-SLP has been working with people with ASD for almost 20 years. She first obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics from Boston College but after working for two years with adults with ASD in supported work and residential settings, she found her true passion and pursued a Master’s Degree in Speech Language Pathology from Emerson College. She added Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)® to her practice in 2007 in order to serve families of individuals with ASD in more effective and meaningful ways. Linda has a private practice in Beverly, MA that offers services including speech language therapy, communication assessments, school consultations, professional trainings, social pragmatics groups and RDI®. Her website is and she can be reached at


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    “Button, Button, who’s got the button”, an age-old game, variations of which seem to exist in most cultures. In a classroom, children sit in a circle with hands behind their backs. One child who is “it” counts by 5’s to 100 as the seated children pass the button from person to person stopping at 100. The counter turns, the children shout “button, button, who’s got the button” . He has three or five guesses and if he’s right, he switches...(read more)

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  • 03/13/14--13:19: New Progam Consultants
  • We are excited to announce these new certified consultants who have completed the Professional Training program over the last few months:

    Gina Underwood: Pearland, Texas USA

    Rashmi Sen: Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India

    Cheryl Thompson: Silverdale, Washington USA

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  • 03/19/14--10:00: Afikomen
  • As Passover approaches, many parents face Seders with very young children who fidget. Fairly standard to work around the dilemma is the hiding of the Afikomen (an unleavened bread called matzah). Mostly a ritual designed to keep children engaged, each family seems to do it differently. Ours consisted of the grandfather hiding part of the matzah, the children finding it, and ransoming it for a dollar or two. At least, that’s how it got started. Each year the hiding changed and became increasingly...(read more)

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    This story was sent to us by our RDI consultant, Prue Watson, from one of her families. Prue Watson (B. Occ. Thy. (UQ), Grad Dip Ed UNE)  lives in Australia and has been an RDI Certified Consultant since 2007. The focus of her Occupational Therapy practice is to provide Remediation of Autism Spectrum Disorders, including Autism, Asperger’s and associated diagnoses under the ASD umbrella through the implementation of the Relationship Development Intervention RDI® programme. Email Prue or visit her website.





    My son Eban (6) and I have been doing RDI for almost 2 years now. He spends three days each week at his father's place and I pick him up from school every Tuesday afternoon.

    It's always the same.

    I say, "Hello" (very enthusiastically because I've missed him).

    He says,  "Hi" in the most deadpan voice.

    I never take it personally because I know that by the next day, we will have re-connected and he will be an affectionate and different person. Just right now, surrounded by other people and having spent three days with his dad, who has no interest in doing RDI, this is all he can handle in that moment.

    A few days ago, we were driving along and Eban said,"Mama you know how when I come back from papa's place and I didn't see you for 3 days, and you're happy to see me but I don't look happy and just say"Hi" like I don't feel anything?" He continues, "well, I do feel happy to see you but the outside of me is not doing the same as the inside of me."

    I think back to who Eban was two years ago and how I was afraid to go out with him. How when he was upset, I could not reason with him and just had to hold him tight so he wouldn't hurt us until he calmed down.

    Now when Eban is angry and starts to hurt me, I can look him in the eye while touching him, and say "Eban, do you really want to hurt me?"

    And he will stop and say, "No Mama" then I can help him redirect his feelings.

    This was not our reality two years ago, and I feel so grateful for RDI. Through the love and dedication of our consultant Prue and myself, and with many, many, many small steps I have regained a relationship with my son and a better life for my family.

    At first I chose RDI because it was the only therapy that taught that neural connections can be grown and the brain is not "A hard boiled egg" or without the ability to grow. Everything else I was offered was aimed at dealing with the symptoms of a diagnosis that was seen to be fixed and unchangeable. I loved the theory of RDI but in the beginning, I could not imagine what it would be like to see it work. I found it all very intellectual and frankly, did not trust it that much.

    But....we kept going, and going, and going.

    Have we arrived?

    I do not know. I do know that connections continue to grow and I watch how I can instigate the growth and reinforce it. That once you make a path, it grows itself (the brain), in it's own way and you can stand back and watch it go!

    After seeing this in action, RDI works!

    Thank you RDI,

    Melanie (RDI parent)

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    Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Stephen Shore on a variety of topics, including helpful steps on how to tell your child they have autism. Watch the interview here: more)

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  • 03/26/14--08:00: Mindful Interaction
  • "Mindful guiding is a very deliberate process. It has a clear intention. So when we engage in guiding we are intending to increase neural complexity and trying to build the foundations of dynamic intelligence. We go one step at a time. To be careful and thoughtful requires preparation and evaluation."    Dr. Steven Gutstein




    When you are with your child, what do you say and do?

    Below are examples of interactions between parents and children displaying different levels of mindfulness.

    Mom 1:

    "Yuck" says Saritaas her son puts a cake of soap in his mouth. She freezes with this expression on her face so she is affirming that it did not taste good and it is not something one eats.

     Mom 2:

    Jo calls out loudly to her daughter Rumi who is busy hitting a plastic water bottle against the table. "Why don't you stop it! What do you want, Rumi?" Jo questions. After a minute of reflection, she realizes what Rumi is requesting and states, "Ohhhh!, Rumi wants water?" while taking the water bottle out of her hands. "I'll open it!" Jo says as she opens the bottle and pours some in a glass. Rumi drinks the water and Jo physically moves her towards the fridge saying, "Close the bottle, keep it in the fridge, Open the door, keep the bottle". Rumi does this following Jo's instruction and turns to move away. Jo snaps "Close the door! Good job!"

     Mom 1:

    Sarita notices her son hitting a bottle of water against the table. She moves towards the table with another bottle and opens it slowly, saying "I'm thirsty". She slowly pours the water in a glass. Her son stops and looks at her so she smiles and tilts the glass in his direction with an inviting "want some?" expression. He leaves the bottle he was hitting, comes to her and sips from the glass. She comments"Cold water, I love it too." She then pours some more for him and for herself in another glass. They drink and share a smile. Her son then runs off and she is okay with that. She is working on small moments of mindfulness.

    Mindful moments

    The above moms want their children to become an apprentice who is interested in learning about the world through and with her. Mom understands that he is currently experiencing things now to meet his needs and not as a way to share and learn through her. So she is slowing down each sensory experience in order to create a meaningful shared moment that her son can learn from. She focuses on providing sensory experiences through touch but in a mindful guiding way so her son begins understanding her and learning about these sensations and feelings through and with her. She wants to be able to change his thinking - from impulsively seeking to experiences with her as the guide. In order to do this, she ensures she sets limits when something is not acceptable.

    She also limits distractions and slows things down so the child's focus is with her and not on the task. If she knows he is seeking touch, she provides that experience in a mindful way.  For example, when in the tub they feel the water together and splash it about. However, when she is getting ready to pour his milk from the jug she lets him know it is not for splashing.

    Autism is a lack of mindfulness

    RDI is a process of building one's mind and creating a pathway for thinking

    When you are an RDI Mom:

    • You want to be mindful about what you say and do with your child.
    • You begin by recognising your triggers and your child's triggers. 
    • You remain non-judgmental of experience e.g.: Not criticizing yourself for having irrational or inappropriate emotions.
    • You perceive feelings and emotions without having to react to them. From this place of heightened awareness, you are able to respond after processing as you begin to create opportunities for your child to feel safe and to be perceived as an active participant along with accepted and competent.
    • You focus on mental engagement and use carefully planned authentic activities just as a vehicle.
    • You are witness to how mindfulness reduces emotional reactivity and improves resilience. As your child becomes more mindful and as his ability to think dynamically increases,  his ability to communicate increases.

    This all starts with you.

      Try this exercise today:

      Step back and listen to yourself. Record a 5 minute interaction with your child where you are getting him to do something then listen to the audio. How do you feel about the communication? Are you doing all of the work to keep the interaction going? What's the tone of the interaction: are you teaching, commanding, begging, bribing or inviting, respectful, sharing?

      It certainly will get you thinking!

      From an RDI mom used as an example above, "I feel good that I am moving my son towards mindfulness step by step." says Sarita, "RDI feels like such natural, mindful parenting." 

      Sarita continues, "RDI is just like regular parenting, just more mindful and deliberate. Self reflection can be hard - I have to be mindful about what I say, how I say it...with the ongoing support and guidance from my consultant, I am able to be mindful about things I am not usually mindful about. I know that this is a process of learning and growing and I am happy with how far it's brought our family and our son."

      The mind is like tofu. By itself, it has no taste. Everything depends on the flavor of the marinade it steeps in. ~Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

      Carol Subramani, Certified RDI® Program Consultant

      Carol Subramani is passionate about RDI and enjoys supporting families in their journey of remediation and improving quality of life for the whole family. She takes a keen interest in holistic and neurodevelopmental intervention for children with ASD. You can reach Carol at