This tip on declarative communication is another in the series that has appeared here under “Tip of the Day” that is based on the principles of Relationship Development Intervention (the RDI® Program) developed by Dr. Steve Gutstein. The following information on communication is taken from that program.
Children and adults on the autism spectrum vary greatly in how much they talk. At one end of the autism spectrum, when a child is non-verbal, parents want nothing more than for their child to start talking. They feel ANY words would be welcome! So parents ask many close ended questions and meaningless questions (e.g., What color is that?) just to hear them speak. That is where I was as a parent not too long ago. At the other end of the verbal spectrum, are those who talk a lot informing or incessantly asking questions, but they often miss the cues that the other person has quickly tired of listening to their favor topic. Individuals on both end of this spectrum have big problems with communication which greatly hampers their ability to have meaningful, reciprocal relationships.
So how do we teach our children to use language for experience-sharing?
We need to use more declarative communication and less imperative communication. Declarative communication is really about the intent and the use of declarative language reflects a specific kind of interaction. It is a social-sharing type of language as it is about wanting to share the actions, emotions, perceptions, ideas, feelings, opinions, preferences or beliefs of the other person. Declarative communication is when we verbally and/or nonverbally share something in our experience with no specific response required. It’s for the reciprocal exchange of ideas and requires genuine mutual curiosity.
-make narrative sentences about joint experiences, (“Remember when we were giving the dog a bath and we got soaked?”)
-make exclamations, (“Look! There’s a beautiful butterfly!”)
-make comments on another’s actions, (“Grandpa loves to tickle you.”)
-give compliments, (“Your bike to cool.”)
-make simple statements about ourselves, (“I am excited about that.” “We had a good time today.”)
-sharing emotional reactions, (“That was really hard. I am disappointed.”)
-giving ideas, (“Doing it like this might work better.”)
For non-ASD children, learning this type of communication happens virtually automatically. But individuals with ASD appear to learn to communicate almost exclusively for instrumental (means to an end) purposes. In fact, one study found that children on the autism spectrum used declaratives less than 1% of the time, in high contrast to other types of developmentally-delayed children, who used declaratives over 33% of the time! Another study found that parents of ASD kids used declarative communication with their children only 20% of the time, but parents of neurotypical children used declarative communication 80 % of the time.
Children on the spectrum and their parents are using imperative communication including making requests and asking questions and making demands—all language which is used for instrumental purposes. There are only a limited number of responses possible.
-obtaining desired information, (“What did you do at school today?”)
-testing knowledge, (“What color is that? Name three animals.”)
-cueing for specific response, (“Say ‘thank you.’ Look at me.”)
-give commands, (“Pick up your coat.”)
Using declarative language with your child is so important because it promotes thinking and experience sharing which is needed for reciprocal relationships. Imperative language is static and it promotes static thinking and perceiving. Declarative communication is dynamic and promotes flexible and dynamic thinking. Imperative language limits their understanding of what they can obtain through a relationship with another person.
Here are some other communication tips:
Increase your nonverbal communication.
Do not speak to your child without them looking at you.
Slow down the pace of your speech and use fewer words.
Only use as many words or phrases at a time that your child is capable of using.
Wait until your child has responded to your first communicative attempt before asking another question or giving another statement.
Allow your child longer processing time to respond to your communication.
There will be more tips in the near future on this webpage describing activities you can do with your child based on these principles.
RDI information contributed by Nebraska parents Steve & Meg Westby
(For more tips please visit our Autism News section where everything is archived!)