Monday, December 28, 2009

Experience Sharing Communication - my a-ha moment

As we made a major switch from a behavioral intervention for autism to Relationship Development Intervention over five years ago, one of the changes I was told to make was to use more experience sharing communication and fewer prompts, demands and wh-questions. [RDI(r) used to refer to experience sharing communication as "declaratives".]

I had a lot of trouble making the switch. After three years and 3 months of "aba", I thought my daughter was not able to process and respond to declaratives and experience sharing communication. I thought that our consultant was well meaning, but that he didn't understand how we needed to talk to our daughter in order to interact with her. I was missing a huge concept, and that was the concept of helping her experience the way the world communicates instead of expecting the world to communicate in the bizarre way we'd shaped for her via a behavioral intervention.

Here's a recap of one of my first "lessons":

One Saturday in January a couple of years ago, we had an afternoon appointment w/our RDI(r) consultant. We live 30 minutes away (on a good day) from his office.

The night before the appointment, weather forecasters were predicting approximately a foot of heavy snow, to begin in the wee hours of the morning. I don't like driving in the snow. I was dreading the appointment because of the snow in our forecast. We woke to more than six inches of snow on the ground, with snowflakes the size of half-dollars falling fast.

I called the consultant, and he answered his office phone. I wanted to cancel, but because he'd been able to leave home and make it to the office, I felt obligated to make our appointment. I told him that if he is there, we're still planning to come. We were planning to leave an hour early. He said he'd see us after lunch.

I began to prepare an early lunch, plan snacks for the trip (we could be gone more than three hours in this weather with an hour on the road each way and an hourlong appointment), while my husband was snow-blowing the driveway. We'd be gone a long time in this weather because driving would be slow. Did I mention I don't like to drive in the snow?

As I was getting ready, the consultant called.

Here's what he said to me: "The maintenance man has just informed me that the snow is falling faster than the road crews can handle."

I had absolutely NO IDEA what he wanted me to do with that statement.

Did he want me to cancel and reschedule because he wanted to go home? If I cancelled, would I have to pay the cancellation fee?

Did he have other people coming after our session, and needed us to be on time, and was afriad we'd have a delay because of the weather? Maybe he had plans that afternoon and wanted to get out on time, which means we'd need to get started on time, which means we might have to leave earlier to make sure we were there on time.

Did he want to warn us to leave earlier for his office? After all, he put forth the effort to be there for us in the snow, the least we could do was try to get there on time.

I really wanted a way out--because I didn't want to drag my family out in the snow if I didn't have to, so I wondered, was he trying to say he'd be there if we were set on coming, but he was giving us a way out if that's what we wanted?

What if he had called to say, "The weather's bad, I'm going home, let's reschedule." ? He would have robbed me of all that thinking and perspective taking. He would have put me into a passive position, instead of one of "active thinker".

That day, I began to see how, in autism, we tend to ask questions and make demands instead of provide opportunities for thinking and mindfulness. Today, I began to see clearly how EXPERIENCE SHARING LANGUAGE plays a major role in that. Imperatives require a reaction, often the correct response.

In autism, we overwhelmingly OVERuse imperatives while at the same time, we wonder why our kids can't experience share.

Experience sharing does not require a response, but does allow for a thoughtful (unprompted, unscripted) response.

We're told as we begin RDI(r) that most of the world communicates using 80% experience sharing and 20% imperative communication, both non-verbally and verbally. And 80% of our communication is non-verbal, which means that kids with autism need a lot of practice interacting non-verbally, feeling themselves taking an action with another person.

"The snow is falling faster than the road crews can handle," was an a-ha moment for me.

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