hands-423794_1280This article was originally written and published by RDI Consultant, Carol Subramani in 2011. 

“You look really handsome in this photograph”, Sara nonchalantly commented as they viewed family photos from their last vacation. “I’m setting it as my desktop background”

Her son stops and looks on as she pauses and sits back in her chair admiring the picture. Nothing more is said and she slowly moves on and he does too.

Later that evening she notices the fuzz is off his face and his hair is combed! (All the prompting in the world could not have gotten him there and so much has been left unsaid “If you combed your hair and got that fuzz off your face, you could look as handsome as this. I wish you would listen ….blah…blah). At their first opportunity to share a gaze, she just gives him an appreciative smile. Sara made the comment, paused and gave him time to process and dwell on the good feeling moment.

Dr. Gutstein, Founder of RDI, guides our thinking when he asks us to consider:

Who is the weakest communication member in the family and what kind of communication would you have for this person?

This is important because thoughtful, reciprocal communication impacts a person’s ability to think, remember and relate to others.

It directly impacts initiative and motivation to interact. We need it to survive in the dynamic world that requires interaction with other people.

So when you use declarative, experience sharing communication, you invite your partner to ‘think about’ something with you (Sara’s son felt invited to think about the feeling of feeling good – about the vacation and perhaps on being appreciated).

Imperative communication (what we tend to use with children with special needs) is about knowing, accumulating, obtaining and extracting. It is often perceived by the child as a demand. Examples:

* What did we do today?

* What do you want to do?

* Which one do you want?

* Pick up your cap!

* Do you like ice cream?

* What did you do at school today?

* Slow down!

You could say it differently and provide an opportunity for the child to think and share. Examples:

* We had fun today!

* Let’s go swimming!

* Not that one!

* Uh oh! Your cap is on the floor.

* I like ice cream the best.

* I heard you went on a school trip today.

* You’re walking too fast for me.

A useful keep-in-mind is: If you already know the answer and do not expect an answer from your child, the question is not declarative. It is an imperative because a response is required.

With many families, just the change from imperatives to declarative experience sharing has a profound impact. It communicates that ‘thinking about’ is just as important as ‘knowing’. When reading a story for instance, we can make declarative comments about the meaning of the story or our emotional reactions to it (without asking for or expecting the child’s response).

In RDI, parents work right at the start on increasing declarative, experience sharing communication, reducing verbal prompts, increasing nonverbal communication, and find that their child starts to respond.

Try using declarative, experience sharing communication the next time you interact with your child – you’ll find while it requires more work initially, it begins to feel good once it becomes your style of communication and it is more respectful. The shift can only bring a qualitative change to your relationship.


Carol SubramaniCarol has a background in communication, education and behavioural intervention for children with ASD. She is passionate about RDI and feels blessed for the opportunity to work with caring and nurturing families who are brave and have faith in themselves to take the steps for change.

Carol Subramani RDI® Program Certified Consultant
Certified HANDLE® Screener
ROOTS Consulting
Phone: +91 9820356664

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