Sunday, October 19, 2008

Changing Your Communication Style - Part 1

Changing your communication style is one of the most important steps you can take. It is also one of the most difficult. Communication deficits are common in autism spectrum disorders. This is an especially sensitive area for many parents, especially those who have children who are nonverbal or have limited verbal ability.

One thing you must understand: teaching your child more words will not cure their autism. In fact, teaching words without the foundations of communication is like teaching algebra to someone who never learned how to add. They may be able to repeat specific problems that they’ve memorized, but they will not be able to use it in any functional manner.

Most traditional autism therapies are geared towards increasing your child’s vocabulary. As parents, we are given strategies designed to “get” words from our children. Strategies like fill in the blanks or social scripts only reinforce the instrumental reasons for communication, and will not strengthen your child’s ability to communication in a truly connected way.

Most of the RDI® communication strategies will feel strange at first. Many parents struggle with changing habits they’ve cultivated over years, using strategies they’ve learned from experts. It is normal to go through a period of discomfort when you are changing long-term habits, so go easy on yourself. However, it is important to realize that you came to RDI® for a reason. If your prior habits were getting the results you wanted, there would be no need for you to seek out other therapies. Doing what you’ve always done will get you what you’ve always got. If you want different results, you must use different strategies.

The good news is that changing your communication habits will garner amazing results, if you make a conscious effort to alter your habits and give it enough time. Don’t try to do them all at once. Start with one, and add new ones as you become more comfortable.

Model slow, deliberate communication

Many parents of children on the autism spectrum develop a habit of talking “at” their children. I believe this can develop for several reasons. Some parents believe it will help their child to develop language. Some are trying to fill in the silence. Others are trying to “get” their child to interact with them. Some are just talkative by nature.

Conventional baby and toddler books often advise parents to narrate their activities for their babies, in order to help them develop language. This works fine, for typically developing children. Children who are on the autism spectrum often have difficulty processing verbal communication. Many need extra time to process what is said to them. Here is an example:

Parent: “Bobby, we are going to grandma’s house. You need to put on your shoes and get your coat. Remember to bring your favorite video and your juice box.”
Child: (still trying to process “we are going to grandma’s house”). Is unable to keep up with the stream of words. Gives up trying and zones out.

When we talk at our children constantly, they cannot keep up with what we are saying. It becomes too challenging for them, so they give up. People often say that children on the spectrum do not listen. Children on the spectrum will listen, when the communication is presented in a way they can process and understand. Exposing them to more words is like raising the volume of your voice when you are speaking to someone who does not speak your language: it will not help because it is not addressing the real problem.

Here are some tips for using slow, deliberate communication:

1. Use fewer words. Think about what you want to communicate, then use simple, straightforward language.
2. Get comfortable with silences. If necessary, count to 45 silently to give your child time to process what you’ve said.


poohder said...

You will be truly blessed for doing this... so many people can benefit.

The Glasers said...

I agree with Rhonda! I am definitely recommending your blog to newbies who either can't afford or are not quite ready to commit to paying for RDI!!!!

bergblog said...

Thank you so much for this blog. We need this.

Anonymous said...

I followed you over from Tammy Glaser's blog. We are in the process of doing the RDA now. I am adding you to my bloglines subs. Thank you!