RDI and me: How this amazing autism programme has helped me thrive

RDI and me: How this amazing autism programme has helped me thrive

Having had a couple of SNJ articles out now, I recognised I was running into a theme of throwing up frequent bad news and depressing stories without counterbalancing it with joy. So I’ve decided to relay what the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) programme has brought to me.

To recount this, I’ll be detailing some of the better things that I’ve done and felt in recent times. And I'll be showing how the RDI programme has enabled them. (For new readers: there are some explanations of RDI here and here)


What was once a chronic and suffocating pain – catastrophizing - is now mostly an inconvenience. Catastrophizing is the unintended act of feeling horrifically stressed over spilt milk inconveniences.

The best way of framing or explaining it is this: Take the worst conflict you’ve ever had. A fistfight, a massive argument, being bullied, or some other undesirable scene you’d never want levelled at you. Now recall the easiest way you’ve been troubled. For me, it would be getting threatened for a small cough that wasn’t even in someone’s direction. Or for nothing at all, completely unprovoked.

Catastrophising works in the autistic condition, by making you believe the easiest method of getting into trouble, such as a small cough, will lead to the worst conflict. RDI has helped me to see mistakes are not the end of the world. In some cases, they can even bring useful learning experiences.

Mistakes and rumination

Another effect spawning from the autistic condition is believing people will come down on you like a storm for the slightest of mistakes. Not having the ability to view something as a small inconvenience, causing severe and painful stress over small things.

For reference, back in the day my Mum and I had to take our council to Tribunal, to secure a bespoke Post-19 education package.

Whilst I was waiting for the Tribunal to end and struggling with suicidal feelings due to the stress of it all, I’d play Civilization 6 on my computer, as I had nothing better to do. However, if I was hit with even the slightest of mistakes in the game, I’d feel a compulsive need to quit and restart. I hated this as it made me feel that I could not see anything through. I told myself I’d get better with treatment.

Using RDI to work on mistakes and mishaps, indeed I did get better. Now I can outright not even see these mistakes, much less plummet into depressive rumination over them. I define rumination as an endless cycle of negative thinking which it is really difficult to break out of.

This is another example of the RDI programme working its wonders better than anything else ever could. I explained here in a previous post for SNJ how R.D.I. has helped me to address my autistic rumination.

Reduction in stress and increase in sociability

I’ve become far more sociable and less stressed. This means I can now make for good company. It means I can allow compassion to blossom in ways such as helping Zoe (my Mum). This buys her more time with paperwork (mostly relating to my old school for pupils with autism), by doing some of her work around the house. This has the added benefit of making me feel like I’m part of something useful.

Man looking at map

RDI allowed this by slowing down rumination and letting me think clearly. I spent the time and resolve provided for me by the impact of our RDI work in assisting others. This was a previously impossible task, as the rumination would strike so unrelentingly I was too busy trying not to kill myself to think about anyone else.

I feel relieved every day. I will hold on to my improved and re-invented ability to see myself through challenges and turmoil with all my spirit and desire to live a happy and healthy life.

Another key source of joy and fun is my time working in the Foodbank of Oldham. Doing this alongside the many fun-loving and welcoming staff there ensures there is never a dull moment. From pretending to be doctors and messing about together, to exchanging stories, we entertain each other with ease, while also helping people. These interactions are one of the best ways to make certain that hilarity is present in my life and theirs. The feeling of amusement and purpose is a golden experience I rejoice having a hand in.

RDI made this possible by enabling me to manage rumination, mistakes and mishaps. It allows otherwise obstructed personal growth to occur. Given the chance, I’d assign it to anyone with the same condition. This article is a step to that via advertising said programme.

Ability to feel happiness

Another prime example of how RDI has helped me is enabling me to tap into the joy other people can bring. Through my bespoke educational package, I was fortunate to meet a small group of people who run a Thursday café, primarily for the elderly. During one of my volunteering sessions, one of the organisers kindly asked me if I was all right. I told him I was ruminating a little and recalled I did it less when I had something to do. He told me I could return some of the equipment to the backstage.

Afterwards, I told him I felt looked after and was very grateful that someone was considerate enough to help me.  I'd promised myself I would get to this point if I was able to endure the Tribunal wait. Then there we were at greener pastures, with a warm sense of happiness and joy I'd not been able to feel for a long time. 

Episodic memory

I’ve felt it many times since as a result of RDI and my provision. Part of what the adults who support me (including my Mum) do when using RDI is to make sure I have positive experiences and that the positive emotions I have as a result are encoded in a special memory called ‘episodic memory’. My Mum has written previously about episodic memory here. The most important thing to understand about episodic memory is that research shows that it is weak in people with autism. RDI helps to strengthen it, increasing resilience as well as the ability to use past experiences and emotions to think and plan ahead. This has made such a difference to me that I thought to relay it here to show that it is worthy of consideration for others.

At the same cafe, I met many who were impressed at my locking horns with the council to access my bespoke educational provision. One person was willing to shake my hand after hearing how I pushed through over 200 days of torture throughout the Tribunal process. I felt very celebrated and happy to be able to share this and have it appreciated.

I never quite knew this kind of fulfilment until after the Tribunal but it’s something I’ll hold on to forever. An effective counter-agent to the dreaded and once-unstoppable rumination that had me within an inch of suicide a year ago. 


I’m happy to relay examples of interaction enabled through the RDI programme. On a recent trip to the nation of Portugal, famed rightfully for its wine and ocean coasts, I met with another thing RDI should be revered for. I had the blessing of staying in a holiday villa with David and Andrew Hawthorn-Barr. Unfortunately, I caught a bad cold, which dogged me for the duration of the break. I have to commend David and Andrew as the best hosts I’ve ever known. They were able to care for me and involve me in their activities despite my illness.

Man looking at information board

With the help of RDI, I was able to be thankful and relieved to have them there to support me and allow my family to enjoy their stay. It meant so much to me that at least my family enjoyed their time and I was able to enjoy myself as much a sick person can.

I sincerely hope to be able to return there when I’m not poorly and let them show me the best of Portugal. There a lot to be said for the villa of Casa Santo Óscar Romero! In the village of Salgueiro near Bombarral, 40 mins north of Lisbon on the Silver Coast (Costa Da Prata). I wholeheartedly recommend trying it yourself through Facebook if you wish.

What’s more, RDI, helped me retain some composure despite the sickness. I didn’t take it as badly as I have done in the past. I’m sure if this happened a few years ago, the sickness would have caused extreme stress and I’d have refused the holiday completely.

Many of you will feel able to relate to the joys of vacation. In the past, I have not been able to enjoy family time together. This time, even though I was sick, I felt happy that my brother and mum were now able to enjoy their holiday.  It was a great feeling, one that I want to feel again when I’m in good health.

Emotional range

Another effect of my autistic condition is the blunting and diluting of my ability to embrace emotional range. By this, I mean the sorts of emotions that require reflection and don’t just come on instinct alone.

I experienced an embarrassment at a small party with a friend of mine. He'd invited their father to join them, a man who makes for good company, though I didn’t always know that. At one point their dog began barking loudly. I have hyperacusis, which means loud noises really hurt my ears. I understand that this is a common trait in the autistic condition. The man mentioned laughed at my reaction in covering my ears and leaving the room, to avoid the sound.

This wasn’t done with a vindictive motive, but at the time I believed it was. It caused me to refer to him (not to his face) as stupid and mean-spirited. Time passed. Zoe told me he was “mortified” at what he'd learned about my condition and his handling of it.

I regretted how I'd viewed it. Especially when Zoe explained he didn’t realise the sound was painful for me, and some people laugh when they're nervous in social situations. I resolved to forgive him and I’m glad I did because since then, we’ve had good fun. I credit this to the R.D.I. programme, as it has helped me to take on board different perspectives. I’m still working on being able to do that ‘in the moment’…..it’s a slow process but I feel I’ve made progress.

It’s odd that without the influence of RDI, I’d never have thought that there was anything worth correcting…I’d just have thought my interpretation of events was correct.  I don’t want that life of dim-witted and narrow-minded thinking. I renounce it whenever possible and plan to use R.D.I. to remain fully intent on doing so. 


A large part of why I wrote this article is to show I don’t always bring misery and negative subjects to my blogs. I work to offer some happier and brighter subjects, rather than offering what might be seen as endless swathes of bitter and spitefully motivated ice-cold diatribes.

This mirrors how I try to be in my daily life as well. Since shattering an excruciating depression last winter, thanks in large part to the work done using RDI, I’ve grown more able to raise my spirits rather than let them decay. I’ve applied myself in this many times.

Let this serve as a glowing example of how RDI can reinvent a life that was once bleak and unforgiving into ventures of warmth and cheer. I want to grow and cultivate relationships and to display I can smile every now and then. This isn’t the first time either, there was that time back in 2002 (that was a joke).

Thank you for reading my think piece. I hope it taught you something valuable, and that you find my perspective to be one worth having.

Note: Our next webinar will be on RDI, with Zoe and maybe even Philip! We're just looking for a workable date. Stand by! And remember, it's free for patrons

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Philip Milburn

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