Sunday, August 20, 2006

declarative language

Actually, the term NOW being used by Dr. Gutstein is Experience-Sharing Communication. He changed it due to too many people misinterpreting what declarative language is supposed to be. I guess there were a lot of folks who thought that just because they weren't asking direct questions, they were communicating with their child the way Dr. G reccommended. When really, declarative language is about making observations and comments that do not require a response -- in other words, sharing an experience rather than looking for an answer.

In life, most 'normal' (being a loose term for average) people speak with other people in a manner that is pretty much 80% declarative and 20% imperitive. You can't get through life without some imperitives -- "There's a fire -- get out!" is a pretty good example. But even in the course of everyday living, you need to use those imperitives a bit. "What do you want for dinner?" "It's bedtime." "Cream or sugar?" But the rest of the time, we talk in a declarative manner, "What a beautiful morning!" "I had the weirdest dream." "Wow, this coffee tastes like heaven."

However, for some reason, there is a tendency to speak with children -- especially special needs children -- in a most imperitive manner. "Did you hear me?" "Don't touch that." "Come over here right now." There's the interegation: "How was your day?" "What did you do at school today?" "Did you see Mrs. Sonso?" "Wash your hands", and the worse offender of all, the quiz: "What color is this flower?", despite the fact that the child has known his colors for the past 2 years.

One of the first exercises when starting RDI is to think and speak much more declaratively. Drop the quizzing and the grilling for responses. Stop expecting responses at all. Who wants to respond when they are being put on the spot? Instead, speak in an experience-sharing manner with your child. Declarative communication invites the other person to partipate in a shared experience, rather than demanding a response. So the rule of thumb is that you make a statement about something "Oh, my, what a gorgeous day!" and then wait 45 seconds to see if the child wants to add something. If so, great. If not, that's OK too -- there is no response required, or even sought after, you are just sharing something with them. After the 45 seconds, you can make another statement. Or not. "I went to the grocery store today." 45 more seconds. Maybe a response. Maybe not. Doesn't matter. You're communicating with your child, and once they realize that they are not REQUIRED to respond to you, they will start desiring to communicate back.

Now, that all sounds fine and well, but I'm here to say that it's a pretty big leap of faith when the only details you get of your child's day at school comes from your daily interogation on the car ride home. To sooth my own curious nature, I started sending a polaroid camera to school, and asked the teachers in Jacob's room to take two photos a day of something that Jacob did that day, so that at least I could get a glimpse at the day. The teacher also agreed to chat with me breifly when I picked him up just so that I would know a tidbit or two from what went on in the 2 1/2 hours a day that my child was completely out of my realm. With those mommy-compensations in place, I took the plunge and stopped the 10-minute-daily-grilling session and just made happy declarative statements like "I'm so happy to see you!" or "I missed you while you were at school!" or "I'll bet you had a GREAT day today!" or "I saw you going down the tunnel slide on the playground!"

For the first couple of weeks, I got nothing in response, other than an occassional "yeah" or "oh". Great, I thought, this is no better than the "yes" and "no" responses I'd gotten from the grilling sessions, and at least then I had some idea as to whether or not he'd seen his speech therapist that day. But slowly, unfolding like the petals of a new flower, his conversational desire began to reveal itself. "Today is Monday, I think you have music on Mondays" I would say. "Yes, we sang Itsy Bitsy Spider" (followed by a rousing rendition). "We went to Dunkin Donuts this morning for snack" I'd offer. "I ate cookies. I sat with Nathan." It got better and better throughout the weeks, and within a couple months, he was so bursting with things to share about school, that it sometimes took me half an hour to strap him into his car seat because he was sharing all the details of his day.

The photos ended up being a HUGE boon -- not only did I get to see small glimpses into his day, but he would look at the photos with me and describe what was going on in them. It was so successful, that we began doing it in the reverse order -- I'd send in photos from home with him and his SLP would look at them with Jacob and he's share things with her about our life at home. We exchanged the photos in a little photo albumn that Jacob carried around in his backpack with him, called "Jacob's Episodic Memory Albumn" (Episodic Memory -- autobiographical memory -- being one of the deficits of people with Autism and something that we target with RDI), complete with rules of how to talk with Jacob about the photos in a declarative manner (examples and all). We shared this not only with his teachers and professionals, but also family members and friends and basically anyone we could think to hand it to.

My advice to anyone with a child on the spectrum who has gotten this far into reading my blog, whether or not you feel like RDI is something you might want to pursue, try changing your communication style with your child to 80% declaratives. This ONE thing caused such an enormous change in Jacob, and has undoubtably been the single most effective thing we've done with him. He went from a child with 0% desire to communicate (his language was 99% scripts and 1% imperitive demands) to a child with a huge desire to truly communicate with us, in a matter of a few months. His language was (and still is!) an enormous mess, as he had all that speaking in place before learning how to even communicate with non-verbal language (which will be the topic of my next post -- now that I think about it, it probably should have come before this one....ah well), so it's been a long road for him to try to figure out how to put sentences together properly, speed up his word retreival ability, and learn how to convey a thought so that the receiver understands the intent. But I can still feel the thrill of my child actually wanting to share a moment from his day with me for the first time! Posted by Picasa


At 7:09 AM, Anonymous kyra said...

i love that. for us, being more experience-sharing in our communication literally opened up communication that was ABOUT our relationship and not just about facts and figures. when other people are willing to try this sort of communication, they can actually have a short conversation with fluffy rather than be met with his silence (and i imagine, irritation or at least, confusion!)

At 7:34 AM, Blogger Kaethe said...

I followed a path here from MOM-NOS and This Mom. I don't have a child on the spectrum, but this is such fabulously good advice for any parent, I'm going to take it. My eldest is 7 now, and constantly telling her little sister (4 1/2) what to do. I know that I'm giving them too many orders, not sharing with them, but I didn't know what to do about it. Thanks for the tip.

I'll be following you closely now.

At 8:17 AM, Blogger MOM-NOS said...

This is a GREAT post. "Experience Sharing Communication" is so much easier to get my head around (and, therefore, to help others get their heads around) than "Declarative Communication." We built using "declaratives" into Bud's IEP, but I'm going to share this post with his school team. I'll bet they'll find it really helpful as well.

I love your blog, by the way. I'm just eating up your posts!

At 1:07 PM, Blogger Frog's mom said...

Thank you for this post. I am always thinking about how I talk to little frog. His OT (our DIR coach) keeps reminding us to keep it simple and use less words. She also emphasised using declarative language when we told her we would like to work on teaching little frog how to point. With the child directed aspect of DIR, we watch for signs from little frog that he is interested in something then we point to it and make a declarative statement. I've learned to give him time (like your 45 seconds) to make some response. But with DIR we are seeking a response of some sort (closing the circles of communication). I like the RDI principal you disucssed of using this a modeling and not "expecting" a response. This sounds like little frog's style. We'll give it a try!


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