Autism is a developmental disability that affects an individual’s communication and social skills. Many individuals with autism can benefit from therapeutic intervention. Three of the most commonly used, and well-studied, therapy approaches are Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), DIR/Floortime, and Relationship Development Intervention (RDI). This article provides a brief summary of these three approaches to intervention for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

As defined by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD), Applied Behavior Analysis “refers to a systematic approach to the assessment and evaluation of behavior, and the application of interventions that alter behavior.” Practitioners who carry the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) credential must have at least a Masters’ degree and must meet additional criteria. Behavior analysis is based in science and can be very successful in teaching individuals new skills (i.e. self-care and life skills) and by curbing inappropriate behaviors.


Autism Therapy



DIR stands for Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-based approach. The DIR/Floortime model was created by Serena Wieder and the author of Engaging Autism, Dr. Stanley Greenspan. According to the Floortime Foundation, the DIR/Floortime approach “is a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach that focuses on the emotional development of the child.” Floortime can be considered a child-centered approach to autism intervention. Parents and Floortime specialists are encouraged to meet the child on his development level and use the child’s strengths to build new skills. Floortime can be incorporated, rather seamlessly, into the child’s day making it a natural learning process.

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)

Designed by Dr. Steve Gutstein, Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) focuses on quality of life. RDI goes beyond teaching an autistic individual social and life skills. The foundations of the program include fostering genuine relationships, creating a desire and ability to live in a dynamic world, and self-empowerment.

The RDI Connect website states that the RDI program is “a parent-based intervention program where parents are provided the tools to effectively teach Dynamic Intelligence skills and motivation to their child.” Dynamic Intelligence skills consist of experience sharing, dynamic analysis, flexible and creative problem-solving, episodic memory and self-awareness, and resilience.

There are more therapy approaches to autism spectrum disorders but these three are the most widely-used programs. The three approaches are vastly different so it is important that you research each method of intervention thoroughly. Applied Behavior Analysis may work perfect for one family but Floortime might be a better fit for another.

By Morgan