Declarative language

One of the first RDI principles I put in practice was to change my language.

In general conversation, studies have shown that about 80% of our speech is declarative. That means, we make comments or observations. We describe something. We point out something. We tell someone what we've been doing.

Examples: "Wow, look at that bird over there." "Yesterday we went to the beach." "That's a nice bag."

The other 20% of our general communication is instrumental - that is, we speak to obtain a response - typically asking a question or giving an instruction.

Examples: "What kind of bird is that?" "Where did you go yesterday?" "Pass me that bag please".

Often, though, when adults talk to children, the proportion of declarative to instrumental language gets reversed. We ask a LOT of questions and give a LOT of directions. We typically require immediate and specific responses from them.

Unfortunately ASD children often do not have the language or cognitive abilities to process lots of questions and instructions. People talk to them and get blank looks in response.

The RDI principle is to model normal language for these children - and keep to 80% declarative and 20% instrumental speech as much as possible, thus inviting rather than requiring a response. Secondly, to slow down, leave lots of gaps and encourage original thought.

So before, I would say to Bright Eyes: "What colour is that flower?" And sometimes I might get the right colour as an answer, but more likely he would resist answering and yell instead because he knew I was putting pressure on him.

Following RDI principles, now, I might say, "Oh wow - there's a flower over there," wait wait wait wait - up to 30 seconds - and usually he will make a comment back, like "red flower"or "big tree".

It was a real challenge to change the way I spoke to him - and to the other children too - and I wondered at first if it would make any difference. But even after a couple of days I could see him processing more, speaking more relevantly and clearly interacting better with me.