This guest article was published by RDI® consultant Linda Murphy

One thing that we feel makes Peer Projects Therapy From The Heart unique is our communication style with our clients. We mindfully use declarative language in all of our interactions, because we know this speaking style does so many things! For example, it helps children feel comfortable because it is inviting in nature, rather than demand based. So many of the kids we know with vulnerable language or social communication abilities shy away when faced with interactions that are based in questions or commands. It develops inferential thinking: declarative language does not tell children what to do, but helps them to know what may be important to notice, so that they can then draw important conclusions on their own. It leaves room for children to take action, thereby encouraging spontaneity and independence. It helps develop curiosity, as it plants seeds of wonder in the minds of others. It supports problem solving because it emphasizes and spotlights the process of problem solving, over getting the right answer. It creates reason for social interaction, as it helps kids notice and think about others within naturally occurring opportunities.

Previously, when I have written on this topic* (here), it has been in relation to individuals with ASD. However, those who use declarative language and promote its use (such as Kristen Jacobsen and Sarah Ward, the gurus in executive function), know that it is truly an effective strategy for most language learners and communicators.  It is especially effective for those struggling with executive function, and more subtle social communication difficulties. A child need not have a diagnosis of ASD to benefit greatly from this strategy.

So, what exactly is declarative language, you wonder? With declarative language, we are essentially thinking out loud for the child to hear, so that he or she can benefit from our models, and start to do the same for themselves: Think, notice, wonder, and essentially, appreciate that there is a thinking process behind all that we do. Declarative language allows us all (kids and adults) to slow down and think, become better observers of our environment and other people, and take note of those moments when a decision may need to be made.

Related: 23 Ways to Help You Communicate with your Child

Declarative language helps us move away from being product focused (do XYZ!!), and instead appreciate the process behind all that we do. It allows us all to hang out in moments that are less certain, rather than panic or feel like we have to do something quickly, simply to get it done. If we can help our kids become more comfortable with those moments where they feel less certain, or less sure of themselves, we will most definitely be on our way to great things.

Here are some nuts and bolts:

Declarative language is:

  • Commenting, or making statements, out loud about what we think, notice, remember, feel, wonder about, observe, etc.
  • Flexible. It allows for more than one possible way to respond. Often we may not even realize this until the child responds in a way that is different from what we were expecting, yet still completely acceptable to the situation!

Declarative language may include:

  • Cognitive verbs, or verbs that talk about our thinking process such as think, wonder, know, remember, forget, decide, and imagine.
  • Observational words related to our senses such as notice, hear, see, smell and feel.
  • Words or phrases that communicate emotion such as I’m not sure, I like, I don’t like, I feel happy, silly, excited, afraid, nervous, embarrassed, or upset.
  • First person pronouns such as I, we or us.
  • Words of uncertainty or possibility such as maybe, might, possibly, perhaps and sometimes.

Declarative language is NOT:

  • Questions or commands that have a specific right and wrong answer.
  • Demanding. With declarative language, we make a statement that invites a response, but does not require, or demand, it.

Here are some examples to get you started:

I’m wondering where your shoes are.

I notice your clothes did not make it into the hamper!

I’m thinking we might need some forks.

I heard your friend say that she wants to use the red crayon when you are done.

I notice that you really like that swing.

I forget what you said you wanted for lunch.

I notice it is almost time to change classes.

I see the other students are starting to pack up their belongings.

I just remembered that we need milk for this recipe.

I could really use some help carrying this bag.

I realized both you and your classmate like Legos!

I didn’t like when that happened. It made me feel a little nervous.

It made me really happy when you said you like playing with me.

In my experience in working with parents, I know that shifting to this speaking style can be hard work. It requires us to be more thoughtful in our communication with kids, and therefore requires us to slow down (and who has time to slow down, right?!). But, because this is what we want our kids to become someday: independent individuals who can problem solve, connect with others, and be thoughtful in their decision making, it truly is worth the effort.


__8149590Linda Murphy has been a speech language pathologist since 1999. She is also a Certified Early Intervention Specialist and an RDI® Program Certified Consultant – in fact, she is one of the few people in Massachusetts certified to offer the RDI® program. She graduated from Boston College in 1993 with a degree in Mathematics. After spending two years working with adults with autism, she decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders at Emerson College. Since then, Linda has provided services to children ranging from toddlers to young adults in a range of educational and other settings, including schools, daycares, homes, summer camps, playgrounds, her office and university clinics. She enjoys working collaboratively with families and other members of a child’s team. She has a private practice in Beverly, Massachusetts. For more information, visit her at www.peer-projects.com or read more of her articles at www.examiner.com/x-39111-Boston-Autism-Parenting-Examiner.

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