Monday, November 28, 2005

I do declare

I posted yesterday about my efforts to give Bud more processing time when I ask him questions. I neglected to mention, however, how hard I'm trying to ask him fewer questions to begin with.

I've been working on integrating RDI into Bud's life, and one of the goals in RDI is to shift the way we speak to children on the spectrum to use 80% declarative language and 20% imperative language. Imperative language is the language that children on the spectrum tend to use most (99% of the time as opposed to 67% of the time for children with other types of developmental delays, according to one study.) Imperative language is that which is used for instrumental purposes like making requests, asking questions, and stating demands. It is the language of a black-and-white world in which there is One Correct Response.

Declarative language, in contrast, does not have utilitarian functions; it's goal is experience-sharing. Declarative communication does not require a specific response; instead, it's intention is to promote interaction, and share thoughts, ideas, preferences, and emotions with another person. It is a form of communication that by it's very nature says "I am interested in you, and I hope that you are interested in me, too." And it does not come easily to children on the spectrum.

As we work with Bud and try to help him develop language, it is really declarative language that we're working toward. He knows how to ask for what he wants. He even knows how to say please and thank you. He will be able to "get by" in the world with that kind of language. But I want more than "getting by" for Bud; I want him to engage with and be curious about people, to develop deep friendships, to fall in love and have someone fall back. So right now, I have to help him build a solid foundation from which to make those leaps. I need to help him learn to ask "how are you?", yes; but more than that, I need to help him care how you are.

And so, I try to role model declarative language for Bud, and give him small jumping-off points for experience-sharing conversation. Instead of "Bud, it's time for bed," or "Are you tired, Bud?" I try "You look a little sleepy," or "I'm feeling tired." Instead of "What did you do in school?" I try "I love the picture you brought home in your backpack." Instead of "Bud, put on your shoes so we can go," I try "It's almost time to go; I wonder what we should do next." It sounds easy, but I find that 80% is a real challenge. Imperatives roll off the tongue; declaratives take thoughtful intentionality.

And that, I think, is the point.


kristina said...

In Latin, there's the imperative (mood) for regular commands--"be quiet!"--and the hortatory subjunctive for what I term "gentler commands" or "suggestions" or "when you mean to urge someone": "let's be quiet," "let's go use the bathroom!" (said with a big smile on my part, "Let's do this!"

It often does not occur to my students, until I point it out, that "let's" is an abbreviation for "let us." So I use of lot of hortatory subjunctive with Charlie to we can both be part of whatever I'm requesting ("let's read these words together! let's go for a walk, Charlie and mommy!".

And I also strive to speak with such "partnership" and togetherness with my students, too.

Anonymous said...

I love this blog, your attitude, your perspective on autism and the stories about your son! Thank you for sharing the joy and laughter that comes with raising a child with autism. I have worked with children with ASD for over twelve years and have so many stories about these wonderful kids and i can relate to so many of yours. Keep up the wonderful blogging!

Jenn said...

This was a fantastic blog! I just realized that my middle son uses 100% Imperative language. I will have to use some of those techniques, although it sounds really difficult to come up with phrases that encourage them to be declaritive. (Is that the right term?). I am still relatively new to this whole ASD world, but I love reading these blogs - I am gaining so much insight into my kids, and learning little things that I can do to help them. Thankyou!

Lora said...

Thank you so very much for your insight, I have found it to be quite helpful and am going to start to use it with Griffin. As you probably know from reading my blog that I am learning how to talk to my child and this is just the recipe that I need. I will let you know how it goes, I bet it's going to be great. I am so excited to start trying it out tomorrow!
Lora :)