Relationship Based Developmental Intervention
Responsive Teaching (RT) is a developmental intervention curriculum that was designed for early intervention providers, including developmental specialists, special education and early childhood teachers, psychologists, social workers, speech pathologists, as well as physical and occupational therapists, who work with parents and other caregivers to support and enhance their children's cognition, communication and social emotional functioning in their natural environment. The principals and procedures for this Relationship Based Intervention were derived from research investigating how parents’ interactive relationships are associated with the developmental growth and social-emotional well-being of children with developmental risks and disabilities. Responsive Teaching has been under development for more than 35 years through the support of several research and demonstration projects funded by the United States Department of Education. This evidence-based curriculum includes detailed instructional strategies, procedures, and session plans for addressing children's developmental needs across three domains: cognition, communication and social emotional functioning.
Responsive Teaching Resources
RT Curriculum Manual
RT Planning and Tracking Program
RT Training and Certification
Relationship Based Developmental Intervention Manual
Responsive Teaching (RT) was first published under the title Autism and Developmental Delays in Young Children: The Responsive Teaching Curriculum for Parents and Professionals (Mahoney and MacDonald, 2007). A newly revised version of this curriculum called Responsive Teaching: Relationship Based Developmental Intervention was published in July, 2019 by Lulu Publishing. This version includes several new features that make it more user-friendly. It: (1) provides a more effective process for developing and implementing intervention session plans; (2) describes how Responsive Teaching is a "natural environment" intervention that conforms to the requirements for IEP/IFSP's; and (3) provides additional research evidence related to the effectiveness of RT at: (a) improving the quality of parents' interactions with their children; (b) promoting children's development; as well as (c) enhancing parents well-being by reducing the stress and depression that many experience while raising a young child with developmental disabilities or risks.
This manual can be purchased directly from Lulu Publishing in either a paperback edition ($20 USD plus shipping) or a e-book edition ($10 USD).
Planning and Tracking Program
The Responsive Teaching Planning and Tracking Program (RTPTP) is a web-based subscription program that enables professionals to plan, print, and track individualized Responsive Teaching session plans in less than 3 minutes. Each subscriber to the RTPTP is assigned a pass-code protected, confidential user file in which they enter names, Identification Codes and optional demographic information for each of the parent-child clients on their caseload.
After individual client files have been created, professionals can use the RTPTP to generate RT session plans that are tailored to children’s individualized developmental needs as well as to parents’ progress at learning to use Responsive Interaction Strategies. Using a series of drop-down menus, providers simply identify: (1) the Intervention Goal (e.g. Cognition, Communication, Social Emotional) that is associated with the child’s developmental needs; (2) the specific Pivotal Behavior Intervention Objective that is being targeted to address the child’s developmental needs; as well as (3) the Level (i.e., Level I to Level IV) of Session Plan that would be appropriate to parents’ experience or success using Responsive Interaction Strategies previously recommended.
This information is used to generate 3 to 4-page session plans that list the Intervention Objective that is the focus of the session, two to four Discussion Points that outline conversations professionals can have with parents about how their child’s intervention objective relates to their concerns about their child’s development, as well as detailed descriptions of the Responsive Interaction Strategies that professionals will help parents learn to use to address their child’s intervention objective . Level I and Level IV session plans also include Pivotal Behavior Rating Scales that can be used by parents and professionals to assess children’s progress at acquiring their intervention objectives. The RTPTP can then generate PDF session plans for both professionals and parents, that can be downloaded and printed from professionals’ computers or tablets.
The tracking component of the RTPTP can be used to generate reports of the session plans that have been implemented with each client, the date and time that intervention sessions took place, as well as professional notes that are relevant to each session. In addition to Session Plan Reports, the RTPTP can also generate two other reports. These include a client list (Names and Contact information of Clients on their active caseloads) and Intervention Service Logs (e.g. reports of the number of intervention sessions scheduled and implemented as well as the amount of time spent with each client during a previous period of time (month, year, etc.).
Training and Certification
Responsive Teaching International is currently offering on-site training on the RT curriculum. Currently there are 2 options for training.
Option 1: “Introduction to Responsive Teaching” provides an overview of this curriculum. This can occur in either half day (3 hours) or full day (6 hours) formats.
Option 2: “Getting Started with Responsive Teaching” is a 3 or 4-day workshop in which practitioners are provided detailed explanations of the theoretical rationale and intervention procedures for Responsive Teaching. This workshop includes practical training exercises that are designed to help professionals develop the skills that are needed to begin implementing this curriculum.
The Responsive Teaching Professional Certification Program is available to all professionals who complete the Getting Started with Responsive Teaching Workshop.
Professionals must conduct a 6-month case study with one family and child with whom they are using RT. At the end of each month, professionals must submit a report on their case study. In addition, at the end of the 2nd, 4th, and 6th months professionals must submit a video recording of their providing RT to this parent and child.
For further information, contact Gerald Mahoney at 01-330-328-6670 or ResponsiveteachingRBI@gmail.com
Evidence Base for Responsive Teaching
Research Origins of
The story of Responsive Teaching began nearly 40 years ago when we initiated a series of research investigations to understand how the quality of parents' interactions were associated with the rate of development attained by their infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children who had disabilities or other developmental challenges. Although these were descriptive investigations and were not designed to identify causal influences, results from our studies suggested that the way that parents’ interaction nurtured and enhanced their children's development was quite different from the types of interventions and recommendations that many early interventionists and therapists had been using.
That is, early intervention had been focused on encouraging parents to teach age-appropriate developmental or functional skills that their children did not yet know but were expected to use at their current chronological age. However, our investigations indicated that at 12, 24 and 36 months of age, the children with the highest levels of cognitive (Mahoney, Finger & Powell, 1985) and communication functioning (Mahoney, 1988 a, Mahoney, 1988 b) tended to engage in interactive episodes in which their parents did little direct teaching. Seldom did their parents request their children to engage in certain types of play behavior or produce words or other communicative behaviors that their children did not yet know. They generally tended to refrain from pressuring their children to say or perform behaviors that exceeded their current level of developmental functioning. Instead, their parents emphasized a set of responsive interactive qualities that included the following:
Respond contingently and encourage most of the behaviors their children initiate;
Engage in balanced reciprocal interactive exchanges with their children;
Engage in non-directive interactions in which they encouraged their children to control the topic or focus of interaction, at least, as often as they did;
Display high levels of positive affect and enjoyment; and
Model, or show, developmental behaviors that matched their children's current interests, level of development, and behavioral style without pressuring children to imitate or perform these behaviors.
In 1984 we began a program of research to determine whether a Relationship Based Intervention that encouraged parents to adopt a highly responsive, reciprocal and affective style of interacting with their children might be effective at addressing their children's developmental concerns. In the course of this work we began to develop a curriculum that focused on promoting highly responsive parent-child relationships that was first called the Transactional Intervention Program (TRIP) (Mahoney & Powell, 1986), and was later renamed as Responsive Teaching (RT) (Mahoney & MacDonald, 2007).
We conducted eight evaluations of this curriculum with more than 200 parent-child dyads in which the children were between 5 months to 6 years of age and had a range of developmental disabilities and challenges, including autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, communication delays, undiagnosed developmental delays, as well as children who were adopted (Note: See numbered RT Efficacy studies listed below).
In general, there were three major findings from these investigations.
First, Responsive Teaching was effective at helping parents modify their interactions with their children. All eight evaluations reported significant changes in parents’ style of interaction as indicated by increases in responsiveness, seven reported increases in positive affect (2-8), and three reported decreases in directiveness (1,4,5).
Second, all Responsive Teaching evaluations reported significant improvements in children's development. All eight evaluations found significant improvements in children's cognitive functioning, six reported improvements in children's communication (3,4,5,6,7,8), five reported improvements in children's social competence as indicated by increases in their ability to interact with their parents and others (2,3,4,5,7), and four reported improvements in children's social emotional functioning (2,3,6,7).
Third, the developmental improvements children made while participating in Responsive Teaching were associated with the degree to which their parents increased their responsiveness (2,3,4,5). These findings added to the increasing evidence that parental responsive interaction plays a major role in promoting and supporting the developmental functioning of young children with developmental disabilities and risks.
RT Effects on Parents' Interactive Style
Average Intervention Changes Across 7 Studies
RT Effects on Child Development
Average Child Development Improvements Across Multiple Studies
RT Efficacy Studies
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Mahoney, G. & Powell, A. (1988). Modifying parent-child interaction: Enhancing the development of handicapped children. Journal of Special Education. 22, 82-96.
Mahoney, G. & Perales, F. (2003). Using relationship-focused intervention to enhance the social-emotional functioning of young children with autism spectrum disorders. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 23 (2), 77-89.
Mahoney, G & Perales, F. (2005). A comparison of the impact of relationship-focused intervention on young children with Pervasive Developmental Disorders and other disabilities. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 26(2), 77-85.
Karaaslan, O. Diken, I., & Mahoney, G. (2013). A randomized control study of Responsive Teaching with young Turkish Children and their mothers. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 33, 18-27.
Karaaslan, O. & Mahoney, G. (2013). Effectiveness of Responsive Teaching with children with Down syndrome. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 51, 458-469
Mahoney, G., Nam, S. & Perales, F. (2014). Pilot study of the effects of Responsive Teaching on young adopted children and their parents: A comparison of two levels of treatment intensity. Today Children Tomorrow Parents, 37-38, 67-84.
Mahoney, G., Wiggers, B., Nam, S. & Perales, F. (2014). How depressive symptomatology of mothers of children with pervasive developmental disorders relates to their participation in relationship focused intervention. International Journal of Early Childhood Special Education, 6, 204-221.
Alquraini, T, Al-Adaib, A., Al-Dhalaan, H., Merza, H., & Mahoney, G. (2018). Feasibility of Responsive Teaching with mothers and young children with autism in Saudi Arabia. Journal of Early Intervention, 40, 304-316.
One of the major considerations related to parent implemented interventions is how they are associated with parental stress or depression. These two psychosocial conditions tend to be problematic among parents of young children with disabilities, especially parents of children with severe disabilities such as autism. The first question is “Do high levels of parenting stress and depression interfere with parents' participation in these interventions?” The second question is “How does parent participation in these intervention affect their stress or depression?”
Two studies have been published which have addressed these issues in Responsive Teaching (Alquraini & Mahoney, 2015; Alquraini, et al., 2018). In both studies parents with clinical levels of parenting stress or depression attained equal or even greater improvements in responsiveness with their children as parents with non-clinical levels of stress or depression. Furthermore there were no differences between the developmental improvements made by children of these two groups of parents.
In addition, both studies reported significant improvements in parents' psychosocial functioning. As depicted below, Alquraini & Mahoney (2015) reported that after one year of intervention there was a 41% reduction in the number of parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who reported clinical levels of parenting stress.
In a six-month evaluation of Responsive Teaching conducted in Saudi Arabia with mothers of children with autism, as also depicted below, Alquraini, et. al. (2018) reported that the rate of clinical depression for mothers who received RT declined from 77% to 15%; while clinical levels of parenting stress defined from 100 to 31%. This contrasted with Control group mothers who showed no improvements in parenting stress or depression during this same period of time.
RT Effects on Parenting Stress (Alquraini & Mahoney, 2015)
Responsive Teaching in
RT Effects on Parenting Stress (Alquraini, et. al. 2018)
Responsive Teaching In
RT Effects on Parents' Depression (Alquraini, et. al., 2018)