Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Changing Your Communication Style - Part 2

Declarative vs. Imperative Language

One of the first changes we as parents to make when starting an RDI program is to increase declarative communication with their child. Declarative communication is any communication that is designed to share your perceptions or experiences. It is often referred to as "experience-sharing communication". Declarative language requires no specific response.

Imperative language is any communication desgned to get a specific response. Any type of command or question with a "correct" answer is imperative.

Here are some examples:

Pick up your shoes.
Look at me.
What color is this?
What sound does this animal make?

I went to the store today.
I enjoyed that movie.
I hope it doesn't rain today.
I am looking forward to the holidays.

These are just a few examples.

In typical interactions, the ratio of declaratives/imperatives is 80%/20%. This ratio tends to be reversed when we have a child on the autism spectrum. Many behavioral therapies encourage parents to increase imperatives in order to "get" their child to say words. Asking a child to answer a question that you already know the answer to is not fostering communication. Your child may add a new word to his vocabulary, but he will not know how to use it for communicative purposes.

The true purpose of communication is to share your perceptions and experiences, and to learn about the perceptions and experiences of your partner. This can only take place through declarative, experience-sharing interactions.

At first, it can seem scary to reduce imperatives, as this may be the only way you've ever felt that your child has really interacted with you. Have faith, if you practice using declaratives consistently, and give your child adequate time to process your communication, s/he will eventually respond. By having patience and practicing this faithfully, you will be giving your child practice at communicating in a natural fashion.

Here are some strategies for learning to change your communication style:

1. Keep an index card or small notebook with you. Make two columns, one for imperatives and one for declaratives. Draw a tally mark under the appropriate column every time you interact with your child. You will probably be surprised by the number of imperatives you are using on a regular basis.

2. Start by choosing a specific time of day to focus on using only declarative communication. Choose a time when you and your child will be feeling relatively unpressured (Don't try to get through the morning before-school routine without using imperatives, for example). Some families take a daily walk together, or spend time hanging out in the backyard.

3. As you start to feel more comfortable at your appointed time, expand it into other parts of the day.

4. Practice declarative, experience-sharing communication with your partner or other children. This will give you an idea of what it feels like in typical interactions, and show you what your ultimate goal is with your child.


The Glasers said...

Another great post! I found it so hard to change my communication, but thankfully it is almost second nature now!

Laurel said...

Changing communication style is one of the most challenging parts of RDI for new families. It is also one of the most effective strategies! Glad to hear you're feeling comfortable with it now :)

Anonymous said...

I am enjoying your blog! Thank you for what you do.

The Headmistress of the Monkey House

Jennifer said...

Your website is so helpful, thank you for sharing such information! By the way, I used to live in Chicago Ridge when I was a child...I am not too far from you.

Jennifer said...

Sorry, I have a question from reading this post, too. What do you do if all your child does is echo what you say when you use the declarative communication?

Laurel said...

If your child is echoing, I would work on using as few words as possible and really focusing on the nonverbal communication. Exaggerate your facial expressions, your gestures, your body language. Respond to your child's verbaliztions with nonverbal communication. I will be posting an entry about nonverbal communication soon.

Hope this is helpful.