Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Declarative language and questions – A CPS/RDI view

The CPS – collaborative problem solving approach's mantra is kids do well if they can and not 'kids do well if they want to'. Kids on the whole would prefer to be successful and adaptive. These kids are lacking crucial cognitive skills needed to help them be more flexible and adaptive – skills which would include executive functions, language processing, social skills, emotional regulation skills, and cognitive flexibility etc.

The way to learn how to teach these lagging skills is to ask how we teach  kids on the autistic spectrum these skills. The traditional ABA – applied behavior analysis approach focuses more on compensating kids for their missing skills rather than helping kids develop authentic communication and life skills ,  which is the goal of the RDI – Relationship Development intervention approach .

One of the ways RDI teaches skills is to use Declarative language with kids.

 Here is  an excerpt  from an  article by Linda Murphy  'Using declarative language with children on the Autistic spectrum '   . The whole article is worth reading.

'Declarative language, plain and simple, is stating out loud what one knows or thinks in the form of a comment. It may be used to share an opinion (I love spaghetti!); make a prediction (I think we are going to the movies tomorrow.); announce / celebrate (We had a great time today!); observe (I notice that your friend wants a turn.); reflect on past experience (Last time this stopped working we checked the batteries.); or problem solve (We need tape to fix it.). Declarative language does not require a verbal response. Rather, it invites experience-sharing, and provides an ideal social framework for later conversational interactions.'

'Unfortunately, however, when people talk to children with ASD they frequently use imperative language, which is in the form of questions or commands that require a particular response. For example, "What color is that?"; "What is your name?"; "Say: block;" and "Look at me", are all imperatives. The problem with this type of language is that it does not teach children how to become authentic communication partners, because its circumscribed nature does not invite experience-sharing, which is the basis for interactive language use. Indeed, when people primarily use imperative language with a child, he or she learns, incorrectly, that communication consists of right and wrong answers and questions and directive. It also teaches that the main purpose of communication is instrumental; that is, to "get" something from another person. In truth, authentic communication is primarily about experience-sharing. We communicate with others to share memories, gather information, learn about one another and the world, seek different opinions, and share emotions. While it is true that we sometimes need to communicate in order to "get" something, if children with ASD are to learn how to socially communicate with others, they need a linguistic environment that is rooted in declarative language input.'

The CPS approach teaches skills indirectly when care givers solve problems with kids in a collaborative way. Problem solving requires skills such as perspective taking, using hindsight and foresight, language processing , articulating concerns, being flexible , brainstorming solutions, consequential thinking etc . Successful cps relies on the caregiver's ability to ask the kid questions, to probe and drill down for information that will give them  a clear and accurate picture of the child's concerns. 

If the RDI approach is encouraging us to avoid asking questions and rather use ' declarative language it would seem that CPS and RDI differ when it comes to questions.

How can we reconcile the 2 approaches?

Declarative language gives kids a point of reference, some information to reflect on , a springboard to use ,so that the kid can respond and share some information , or an experience . Instead of asking questions, we should precede them with declarative language – first make an observation and then follow with a question.  

The ' empathy stage'  = the information gathering stage about the kid's concerns  in the cps process  starts with a neutral and specific observation ..  ' I have noticed that when you are watching TV and we need to go and have a bath , you are not so happy about it , what's up ? We first give information and then the question. When we use reflective listening and then follow with a question we provide information on which our question is based. This gives the kid a clear idea of what we are talking about and puts him in a position to share his input.

The type of questions used in CPS are not the imperative type, seeking the ' right answer ' from the kid , but rather an attempt to gather information about the kid's concerns, perspectives , and perceptions.  It is more about the kid's authentic thinking .

So in a nutshell , we use both Declarative language and information gathering/sharing questions in the CPS process.

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