Wednesday 21 November 2012

The Mad Professor, part one

The pupils at Bright Futures School have each been hard at work creating their own imovies with the help of one of our staff.

A lovely project has been created that enables each pupil to work on literacy (story telling), dynamic thinking (sharing, negotiating and elaborating on ideas; problem-solving) using our imaginations and creativity and using IT and media skills.....all whilst having a rather large dose of fun.

Here is part 1 of Philip's imovie, entitled 'The Mad Professor'

Oscars all round!!

Thursday 1 November 2012

Does inclusion work in autism education?

This just in from Disability Scoop:
Inclusion is often believed to be the best option for students with disabilities, but a new study calls into question whether or not the practice truly leads to better outcomes long term.
Researchers found that students with autism who spent 75 to 100 percent of their time in general education classrooms were no more likely to complete high school, go to college or see improvements in cognitive functioning than those who spent more time in segregated environments.
The results published Thursday in a special supplement to the journal Pediatrics come from a study of nearly 500 young adults with autism who received special education services at public schools nationwide. Researchers assessed data on the students collected in the federal government’s National Longitudinal Transition Study-2.
“We find no systematic indication that the level of inclusivity improves key future outcomes,” researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Johns Hopkins University wrote.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, students who qualify for special education are supposed to be served in the least restrictive environment. However, the study authors said their results call into question whether or not that requirement is associated with achieving the best long-term outcomes.
I am reporting on a report here without having read the actual article (I cant access it as I’m not subscribed to the journal it was published in).  As far as I can tell from the report in Disability Scoop, the researchers seem to have concentrated on the outcomes of completing high school, going to college and improvements in cognitive functioning.  I wonder what they would have found if they had looked at other key outcomes that contribute to a good quality of life, such as friendships and relationships, level of independence, self-esteem and self-confidence, and maybe even, experiences of bullying.
In 2006, the NAS ran the ‘Make Schools Make Sense’ campaign.  Their report (2006) showed:
- Over 50% of children are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them.
- 45% of parents say it took over a year for their child to receive any support.
- There are more appeals to the Special Educational Needs (SEN) and Disability Tribunal in England about autism than any other type of SEN. 79% of parents who appealed to the Tribunal in this survey won their case.
- Parents say the biggest gap in provision is social skills programmes.
- 1 in 5 children with autism has been excluded from school, and 67% of these have been excluded more than once.
The above statistics are not from exclusively mainstream placements – they include special schools as well as resourced units and mixed placements.
For those of you considering educational placements for your children with autism, in 2011 the UK’s Centre for Research into Autism Education (CRAE) surveyed a diverse range of schools educating pupils from right across the autism spectrum, finding several consistent themes despite the diversity of placement and whereabouts on the spectrum.  Good practice schools:
- Had high expectations for their pupils with autism
- Used multiple assessments to monitor progress beyond those statutorily required in order to monitor children’s progress in terms of academic skills but also social and behavioural outcomes
- Were well versed in individualising and adapting the curriculum for each pupil acknowledging that pupils with autism have additional and unique needs and unique approaches to learning and the broad ‘autism curriculum’ reflected these needs
- Encouraged effective and sustainable relationships with specialist health and social care practitioners, in particular SALTs, OTs and CAMHS
- Nurtured expert, highly motivated staff for whom training was a priority both inside and outside the school gates
- Had very high levels of communication with parents and carers, both about approaches to learning and on strategies to promoting positive social and behavioural outcomes and well-being
- Were characterised by strong leadership and vision, which saw their school as fully inclusive and deeply embedded within the local community, taking on an ambassadorial role to raise awareness about autism
- Worked hard at developing fully reciprocal relationships with families – parents and carers and children and young people.
The full report is available here.
I would be interested to read others' views on inclusion - please post comments!

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Ben's progress

Hellooooo.  It’s been a while.  Mad busy at school, lots going on.  All good stuff, which I may blog about in the near future.  For now, here are some clips of some work I have done with Ben, one of our newer pupils at school.  There are three clips: the first prior to any guiding inputs, the second was the start of us working on joint attentional learning and the third is the latest clip, where you can see Ben has mastered the initial stages of this objective….Go Ben!!  We will now be moving on to elaborate on this objective – Ben will be working in different settings with different people.  The footage is 16 mins 24 and the explanatory commentary is provided here for anyone who wants to look at the detail but I hope you'll agree that the footage is very powerful on its own.
First clip
0.00 – 1 min 54
February 2012, with the white table in shot.  Ben is hardly looking to me at all (social referencing) for the information in my facial expression that will help him to understand my thoughts and intentions. 
I am having to talk a lot to ensure that he understands.  It doesn’t feel like there is much reciprocity in this clip and neither of us seems very comfortable.
Second clip
1 min 55 - Is a series of clips from one session of cooking at school.
Mid September 2012.  This is my first attempt at ‘joint attentional learning’ where I support Ben to reference me for information.  I am scaffolding heavily by saying ‘I’ve got some eye clues for you’ so he knows to look at the information in my face to help him to make his decisions about what to do next.
2.19 I bend down (information in my body language) to help him to realise that where he needs to look is on a lower level.
2.24 (off camera) He references me and I bob down more and look to where he needs to go for the piece of equipment.
2.36 I give him a thumbs up to celebrate his success
2.49 I prompt him to reference by giving the ‘eye clue’ message again
2.50 He references straight away
2.55 I say ‘my eye clue is….’ and he references
3.00 He initiates referencing by looking back to me for reassurance (and I am not looking at him!!  Doh!)
3.01 He glances away and then references again, enabling me to use gesture to indicate what to do next
3.11 A lovely big smile and reference with a turn of his head towards me as he checks in to make sure his last action was on track and look for clues on the next action.  I use gesture and facial expression to convey ‘a really small piece’
3.17 He checks in to see if that does the trick – an even smaller piece is needed
3.22 He checks in mid way through his action with a smile
3.25 Another reference – they are coming thick and fast now without prompting
3.35 We are doing a different part of the measuring, so the eye clues come back in and he references
3.39 He reads the gesture correctly and transfers the butter to the bowl
4.03 He references in response to my next eye clue prompt
4.07 He references again, I shake my head so
4.10 He references in relation to another object.  I nod and smile.  He returns my smile because he got it right.
5.04 He references again in response to my prompt, understands my gesture and references again to check in that he’s right at 5.07
5.40; 5.43;5.46; 5.51  He references in response to my eye clues
6.03 He references me to see what my emotional reaction to his suggestion is
6.04; 6.07; 6.10; 6.12; 6.15 He references in response to the eye clues and looking for my emotional reaction to his suggestion
6.19 I am a bit imperative in my gestures!  But Ben understands and passes me the bowl.
Third clip
6.24 We are sharing a memory of having done this before.  Ben picks up the chocolate and references me with a smile around the shared memory
6.48 I introduce a new challenge for us – trying to break the chocolate up at the same time.
6.57 He has a slight mishap with the chocolate, smiles and references me for my emotional reaction, which I give with facial expression
7.00 He puts a piece to one side (mischievous, as I know he is thinking about eating it) and references for my emotional reaction, which I give by laughing – we are sharing our thinking here (the joke around squirreling the choc away to feast on) without saying anything
7.06 Ben gestures and uses facial expression (eyebrows raised) to see if we should break the choc
7.13 Another reference with facial expression and gesture from Ben (initiating now, no prompts)
7.18 When I spotlight (facial expression and gesture) that Ben may have made a mistake, he references and repairs his mistake, checking in around this at 7.21
7.25 He gives another reference with facial expression and gesture – competent at communicating non-verbally now
7.31 He has gone ahead of me.  I spotlight this, he repairs it with a lovely, confident ‘I can fix this!’ at 7.37 and checks in at 7.45
7.57 I should have scaffolded the breaking of chocolate with a count or something to make it slightly easier for him to co-ordinate.  He makes the repair.
8.21 I think he is a little reluctant to sacrifice the piece that was earmarked for scoffing, but he is able to make another repair so we have equal chocolate
8.28 Again I should have counted here to make it easier to co-ordinate
8.43 We nearly manage to co-ordinate and share a non-verbal  joke about just having missed it
8.54 Ben days ‘re-do’ when we miss again
9.15; 9.18 Ben references me around ‘a reward’.  I nod, he references and we scoff choc with him checking at 9.22 that this is ok (gesture towards mouth)
9.28 Ben mirrors my puzzled gesture
9.35 We have a non verbal conversation about who should get the margarine (Ben is happily and competently ‘conversing’ non verbally here)
9.49 Ben references around the splodge he has on the knife
9.53 He references to see if its enough and reads my facial expression
9.58 He references to see what to do next and reads my facial expression and gesture
10.04 We have an un-scripted accident!  Ben references for my emotional reaction around this and we share a joke about it
10.30 Ben references and reads my gesture for a tiny bit more
10.39 He references again to see if that’s ok
10.46 He plays a joke on me and references for my emotional reaction, which I give with facial expression and gesture
10.53 He knows its probably too much and references around this
11.07 He references and its perfect
11.11 I want us both to carry the butter on the kitchen roll over to the stove.  The carrying will be a co-regulatory pattern that allows me to see whether he will synchronise his pacing with me
11.25 I come in with a verbal scaffold as I can see he’s not understanding my non-verbal communication
11.50 – 12.15 Ben goes straight into referencing around the pouring – no need for prompting
12.18 This is lovely – he initiates non-verbal communication about where the sugar should go…my bowl or his
12.39 I started the ‘excellent’ sign (Mr Burns from the Simpsons).  Since then, we have been using it regularly as a shared non verbal communication
13.03 Ben looks for my emotional reaction to his sharing ‘dump it in then!’
13.07 I share something.  Ben references the object and then me (joint attention)
13.40; 13.43 Ben makes a joke and references for my emotional reaction
13.47 I make a communicative noise to prompt Ben for his attention
13.56 I am trying to coordinate our actions around egg breaking…again I think I should have used a count to make it easier
14.04 I celebrate our achievement at breaking the egg at the same time
14.12 Ben references and co-ordinates the egg cracking
14.22 He references again and we co-ordinate the egg breaking
14.35 He references for my view on the measure
14.37 He checks in to make sure he is on the right track
14.58 Referencing around a question
15.18; 15.19 Checking in again
15.27 Checking to see whether more is needed
15.31; 15.36; 15.41; 15.43; 15.46 Checking for my emotional reaction
16.12; 16.16; 16.18 Checking to see whether more is needed
16.24 I use our new gesture to celebrate his success
Compare the amount of referencing in the final clip to the first clip and you can see how far Ben has come in a very short space of time.  By this time, we had only done 3 sessions on joint attentional learning.  In the last clip, the social reciprocity is really flowing.  We are very co-ordinated and comfortable with each other.  There are lots of successes to celebrate, all around Ben’s competence or the fact that we have achieved things together.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Parental feedback about how RDI is helping their families

A fellow RDI Consultant recently asked a few parents that she works with about why they chose to learn about Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) and what makes it effective for them. 

One parent described how she felt such intense pressure that she would have to teach her child the solution to every problem that he might ever face. In RDI, she has focused on increasing his dynamic intelligence, or his ability to make decisions in increasingly complex and challenging environments. This parent reports that she first had to strengthen her own decision making in relation to her child. She needed to become less problem focused, and more focused on her own thinking. She reports that RDI has taught her how to self-reflect, and that this self-reflection has lead to surprising changes in her child. 

Here is what two other mothers are saying: 

"I started RDI in January and in just a few months have already seen positive improvements in my boys which has helped my household be more manageable and peaceful.  I had problems really connecting with one of my twins, he was distant and not very loving with me and it was painful to see in the videos how much I tried to hard to get him to interact but would get nothing in return.  With just a few guiding activities he learned that I was interesting and that it was fun to do activities with mom.  Now this twin is very close to me, openly loving, caring and shows empathy. It is amazing that growth in one developmental area has helped him blossom in so many different areas.  I can't say enough positive things about RDI, it is life changing and is the missing piece that my kids needed to learn to communicate and interact in a more natural and typical manner." 

Yvette, S., parent of 6 year-old twins with autism

"RDI has been life changing for my family.  Our consultant gets it and works hard to help me get it as well.  Even though we are relatively new to RDI, we have already experienced positive changes in our home. Our interactions are healthier and I am becoming a more confident guide.  I am grateful that RDI is a part of our lives.  It gives me hope for a better future."

-Lisa L., Escondido, parent of two children with Asperger's ages 8 and 11 

Friday 7 September 2012

Karen's lovely illustration of guiding

At Bright Futures School, some of our staff have been looking with me at what makes a good guide and what needs to be in place for the guiding relationship to be successful.  One of our staff, Karen, has kindly given permission for me to share her response to an assignment I set, which I'm really pleased about, because she gives a great illustration of the guiding relationship.  Karen is describing what happened when she had a go at mindfully guiding her typically developing son (always good to practise on typically developing children first!!).  Here is the dialogue between us:

Please write me a short paragraph on a time in your life when you took part in a ‘guided participation relationship’ i.e., where you were either: a) guided by someone to learn something new or b) a guide to help someone else learn something new.

Karen’s response:

I have spent ages thinking of particular instances that I have guided someone and eventually realised that I do this much of the time without realising it with my young son, Daniel. I waited for a good opportunity to engage in an activity or task with him and tried to think more and consciously practice guiding with him.

Dan told me he was hungry and wanted a sandwich which he wanted to try and make himself. I said we could both make our own sandwiches as I was hungry too. We discussed what things we needed to make ham sandwiches and assembled them.

With all the ingredients on the table we began our task. I took two slices of bread from the packet and passed the packet to Dan nodding to him when he looked at me and smiling as he copied and took his bread. 

He watched me (referencing) pick up my butter knife and begin buttering my bread and started to do the same looking over at intervals for reassurance which I gave him that he was doing a good job, thumbs up and smiles. He carried on - smiling and pleased with himself. When the bread was buttered I got the packet of ham. Dan said he wanted to open it and get his ham first. I said that was okay but he started to get frustrated and upset because he couldnt do it and said he didn't want to do it any more. 

I suggested that we could share the ham opening as he had done so well making his sandwich so far that it would be a shame to not finish it when I knew he could do it. I said that I would start the lid peeling off and he could finish it, he was happy with that.  We put our ham onto our buttered bread and completed our sandwiches. Dan looked over to me and I told him he had done a good job and made an excellent sandwich. He gave me a beaming smile and looked really proud of himself.

My feedback on Karen’s response:

Thats absolutely correct - what we do as parents with our typically developing children is act as their guides. We do this intuitively, without even thinking about it. In autism, the framework for the guiding relationship has broken down, so we need to put it back in place, which we do with pausing, pacing, scaffolding, spotlighting, authentic roles etc.

I like the way you start off this activity with modelling when you take the bread out and pass the bag to Dan.

When Dan starts to get upset that he cant open the ham packet, you come in with a great scaffold by suggesting you share the ham opening. This part I think is a good illustration of how something small could make an activity fail, if you were working with a child with autism. In the past I have been in situations like that when something unexpected has presented itself and Philip has withdrawn totally. Subsequently I have had to think through what he might find difficult and have a plan to address it so that he didnt experience incompetence. In RDI, we call this 'framing' the activity. So I might have had the whole ham packet open, removing the need for any struggle with opening.

Here, when the ham presented a problem and the problem was what we call 'edge+1' you were able to scaffold Dan so that he was competent. The problem was not at the edge of his competence (he would have been able to resolve it alone if it had been) it was 'edge+1' (a possible tip-over point....usually where a scaffold is needed from the guide in order for the child to safely and competently resolve the problem).

When you told him he had done a good job and made an excellent sandwich, you were spotlighting his competence. He will most likely have laid down a special episodic memory here. An episodic memory is a personal, autobiographical memory. We use these memories to build our resilience. 

When Dan looked at you and gave you a big smile, he was sharing emotion with you. Emotion and experience sharing is something children with autism dont do much of (again, because the guiding relationship has broken down and the framework for facilitating competence (scaffolding, spotlighting, roles etc) isnt there).

I thought what you described was an excellent example of a guiding relationship. Your detailed description allowed me to put an RDI perspective on it and show you some of the component parts of guiding that you were instinctively using.

Hopefully that will be helpful to some families who are at the beginning of learning about guiding.

No video clips this time, so here are some recent photos from school.

Bug collection and forest forage

Some pupils were not keen on the bugs, so they are kept very carefully away from their desks.

Not sure what all these leaves and flowers are, but some of them are providing a good habitat for the bugs and beasties that were found.

Spud harvest!!

All the foliage was cut away and together two of our pupils dug around to see what they could find.

They took it in turns to use the trowel and when we had unearthed a good number of spuds, it was all hands around the bag to give it a good shake up to see if there were any lurkers hiding.  There were.

A couple of the spuds had fallen victim to slugs - we decided that they looked as if they'd been deflated.

We guessed that it would be hard to completely slug-proof the grow bag and thought about what we might do next year to improve our crop even further.

Here is the crop!  Not a bad harvest :)  We shared out the potatoes amongst the 4 pupils so that each could make what they wanted with their share.

One of the cucumbers we've grown in the green house is providing the snails we found with a luxury we're being quite productive with our haul!

Thursday 2 August 2012

New goal: intentions behind actions

The ability to understand the minds of others plays a significant role in our interactions with others.  We need to understand that others can experience and act upon emotions, desires or thoughts if we are to understand – and respond appropriately to – their behaviour.  The ability to understand others’ minds is an important part of early cognitive and social development.  From birth, infants demonstrate an awareness of the minds of others by the way they initiate communication and respond to others during early social interactions.  Over time, infants develop from having an awareness of emotions and intentions to understanding desires and beliefs.
Even before children can verbally express themselves, they show their understanding of other’s perceptions, emotions and intentions by using communicative gestures.  By age 4, children have an adult-like understanding of states of mind – they can acknowledge different perspectives and understand that others may have beliefs that differ from their own. 
In autism, the guided participation relationship has broken down and so the child has not been able to take part in the reciprocal social interaction with their caregiver that leads to the understanding of others’ minds.
In RDI, once the guiding relationship is in place, the child moves into the ‘dynamic intelligence’ curriculum.  Dynamic intelligence refers to the adaptive thinking that is deployed in settings where emergent change is the norm.  Dr Gutstein refers to these as ‘ "volatile" environments where new situations may emerge without notice and require immediate set-shifting.  They present tasks and problems where even the most careful plans inevitably require multiple revisions, as we encounter unanticipated factors, inherent in dynamic environments.’
Mine and Philip’s current goal focuses on one of the first milestones in developing dynamic intelligence: determining the intentions behind others' actions as the primary observational reference point.  We are aiming to help Philip:
  • Understand that people can take the same actions with very different intentions. 
  • Understand that actions and motivations are not necessarily bound together.
  • Recognize the diverse intentions, for which the same action may be performed (e.g. taking a walk may be for exercise, to go to the store, or just to walk).
The first lesson set by our Consultant is to recognise that we may not know why someone is doing a particular action but we can take a guess.
The challenge here for a young person with autism is to put themself in someone else’s shoes in order to infer why they may be doing what they are doing.
Philip will have mastered this lesson when he is able to come up with multiple ideas but can also integrate & grow from other people's suggestions too.
Our Consultant said the more outlandish the suggestions, the better (we get very silly with this!)
Our first session involved looking at the two different pictures below and guessing the reasons for the actions that were taking place in the pictures.
Why are the children running?
  • They are late for school
  • They are in a race
  • They are running for a bus
  • They are in trouble for throwing stones & are running away
  • There's a monster / alien chasing after them
 Why is the man running?
  • He's late
  • He doesn't like the other man
  • He is trying to get away from the police
  • He committed a crime (stabbed the other man)
  • He is exercising
Then we moved on to watching ‘The Middle’ – a favourite TV programme of ours.  Here we are looking at the DVD, stopping it at points where there is an obvious action that we can interpret.

As you can see from the clip, Philip has no problem getting into the swing of this – several of his variations are a lot more creative than any I come up with. 
The feedback from our Consultant was that this illustrates exactly what we want (hooray for us!)
Our job now is to now to take it into everyday – e.g. starting by sitting in a open space & watching people around us i.e. running, walking, throwing a ball, shouting, skipping, cycling, laughing etc.
Then starting to think about things on the fly - so people standing staring at something, someone about to clean windows, someone going up a ladder/down a manhole/digging up the road - are they laying cables/doing roadworks/looking for treasure & so on.
I’m now working on this with both Dixon and Louis so that I can include either/both of them in the next stage of working on this lesson, which is to elaborate by bringing other communication partners into the frame.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Changing our communication style: declarative language

One of the most simple and powerful changes we can make to help our children and adults with autism improve their thinking and communication competence is to use declarative language.  My guest author for this blogpost is Linda Murphy, a Speech and Language Therapist and RDI Consultant who also has a Masters in Communication Sciences.  This article was first published on the Connections Centre web site and is reproduced here with kind permission from Linda.

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.

If truth be told, children with ASD do not need language models that lead to the development of instrumental language use, for it is common knowledge that as their language progresses, it is often characterized by scripts and rote language that is instrumental, as opposed to social in nature. Furthermore, children with ASD often become "stuck" at the instrumental level and fail to reach the next (higher) level of language development which involves generating the creative, flexible, and dynamic language that comes so easily to typical language learners.

The question to ask is: What can we do to help the child with ASD generate creative language? The first step in this teaching process actually begins with the adult (which is very good news, because we are in control of what we do!). So, we need to take a step back and become aware of the type of language that we are using with the child. Are we asking the child with ASD a lot of questions (many of which we already know the answer to!)? Are we using too many commands? Is most of our language input designed to get something from the child? Or, are we generously giving information and sharing experiences so that the child can learn, over time, to do the same in return?

In contrast to the erroneous assumption that children with ASD cannot learn from this type of language input, I have found that mindful use of declarative language with children with ASD can make a huge difference in their ability to share experiences and memories; notice things; problem solve; understand perspective; and communicate on a more dynamic and creative level. That said, it is important to note that the language gains that result from ongoing exposure to declarative language take time, for the focus is not on words, per se, but rather on the use of those words for authentic communication. The challenge then is for us to make the commitment to change how we communicate with children with ASD, and to exercise the patience required to see results.

The following contains additional information on the benefits of using declarative language input with children on the autism spectrum:

Model self-narratives to help your child develop his or her own "inner voice"

A critically important by-product of language acquisition is that of developing an inner voice to problem-solve and plan. For example, imagine that you are getting ready to go to work and you can't find your keys. Your inner voice may say something like, "Now when did I last see my keys? What jacket did I have on?" Basically, your inner voice helps you think through the problem calmly and gets you started on a plan of action to solve it.

Children with ASD do not usually develop this inner voice to regulate their thoughts, actions and emotions. To help them to develop this ability, think out loud. For example, make predictions; ponder opportunities; consider possibilities; and reflect on past experiences when you are with your child or student. By so doing, you will be providing a clear language model from which the child can begin to form his or her own inner voice.

Provide a window into another person's perspective

Most of us know that children with ASD have difficulty taking perspective. Using declarative language to share your thoughts and feelings provides children with a window into the way you view the world in an inviting, nonthreatening way. In addition, if different people regularly use declarative language for this purpose, we help the child to understand that different people have different thoughts, opinions, perspectives, and emotions.

Help your child "zoom out" to see the big picture

It is well known that children with ASD tend to focus on details, but fail to put them together to understand the big picture. When we use imperative language, we inadvertently promote this focus. For example, if we tell a child to "put the toy in the toy box" or "say goodbye to Grandma", we are zooming into the details and creating a situation where there is one and only one right answer. If, on the other hand, we use declarative language to comment on what we see in the big picture, we help the child to notice the context; integrate this new information with previously stored knowledge; and subsequently form a plan of action that makes sense to them. For example, instead of using the imperative language noted above, use the following: "I see a toy on the floor" or "I notice Grandma is leaving."

Empower your child to be a problem solver rather than direction follower

When we give a directive to children with ASD, we leave little room for them to go beyond the response the directive requires. The same is true for asking questions. In contrast, when we use declarative language to share information about the environment or situation at-hand, we provide opportunities for them to expand awareness and practice problem-solving. Think of it this way. From a young age, the type of language input that has been used most often with children with ASD has been that of asking questions and giving directives. Clearly, they do not need more practice in that area! Rather, they need practice in problem solving, and identifying themselves as competent problem solvers. That said, success at this level is more likely if you have been diligent in the use of self-narratives. For example, if you have staged situations in the past where you have said on several occasions, "My pencil broke. I need to sharpen it," then when the child breaks his or her pencil, saying "I see that you broke your pencil," (and waiting expectantly) enables him or her to generate the solution. In contrast, telling the child to "Go sharpen your pencil" robs him or her of the opportunity to solve the problem on his or her own.

Give your child reasons to visually reference and read what is going on in his or her environment

We know that it can be difficult for children with ASD to tune into the social information that is going on around them. Rather than telling them exactly what to do and when to do it, use declarative language to help them to notice what is important. For example, if it is time for a transition, instead of telling your child to "go to the table for snack" or "put on your coat," direct his or her attention toward the changes in the environment: "I notice that all the kids are at the table" or "I notice that all the kids are putting on their coats." Using declarative language in these situations helps children with ASD to recognize the importance of periodically checking in on one's environment to obtain the information they need. Over time they become information seekers rather than passive recipients of information that comes to them when there is an overuse of imperative language.

Linda Murphy has been a speech and language therapist since 1999. She is also a Certified Early Intervention Specialist and an RDI® Program Certified 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, MA. For more information, visit her or read more of her articles at

Saturday 14 July 2012

Talking to your child about their autism diagnosis

One of my families asked me a while ago for some ideas about how to broach the subject of their child's autism diagnosis.  I put together this collection of excellent resources that had already been shared amongst my RDI colleagues as the result of a former query, and thought it might be useful to others, so am sharing it here.

With grateful thanks to Terry Frank; Barbara Avila; Lauren Wilson and Kathy Darrow.  Here goes.....

From Terry (initial query)

I am looking for suggestions and resources for parents who are wanting to help their high functioning ten year old understand his autism diagnosis. Also I'm interested in opinions from parents on the timing of this. We are feeling that he needs to understand the reasons for some of his behavior and difficulties in friendship.

From Barbara

1. Stephen Shore (adult with autism) youtube interview when Stephen is asked ‘should you tell your child about their autism diagnosis?’


From Lauren

It maybe important to emphasize the fluidity of an autism diagnosis. Just because it looks one way today, doesn't mean that's the only way it will look. And the child has some control over it- as we all do over certain innate differences
Carol Dweck has done some interesting research (not related to autism) about the impact of teaching kids about their brain and what they can do with it. The impact for kids of knowing that their brain is like a muscle that they can make stronger was a positive one. Some of her work on the subject is found here and here.
One family shared that to normalize the idea that everyone has differences they "work" on each member of the family shared goals they were also working on. We're all in process.

From Kathy
For my own kids, I have taken the route of letting all my kids know that they are all individuals with strengths and weakness. Mom and Dad have different strengths and weaknesses too! We all work on what we want to get better at. My son no longer asks about this ( he is 14 and really is not struggling socially in school at this point) but when he was younger he did alot of comparing himself to his older brother. I did not feel it was going to be beneficial to bring up autism with him over and over so making it more a family affair where we all see what each other is good at etc. From doing this he learned to process how everyone is unique apart from labels. Every person has weaknesses. He typically loved hearing stories when he was younger about all my weaknesses!

Thanks again to the above RDI Consultants.  One of the best things about the RDI community is that you always know that someone will be able to help with guidance and suggestions.
Hope that is useful for people.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Philip's school newsletter: 'The Nut'

I’ve got a treat in store for you all today. Philip has been writing a newsletter about what’s been going on at school and he has agreed to share it via my blog

Just to give some background – the ‘gang’ at school is called ‘The Nutters’.  Hence the newsletter’s title.  Philip (aka Philnut) is The Captain. B is ‘The Noggin’ (brains); I is The Tactician (strategist); and L (part time member – Philip’s brother) is ‘The Marine’ (covert operations). Our newest pupil, T, has yet to be inducted.


The Nut

The stones for the visitors are all set*.
We now have four permanent students at Bright Futures!
Bright Futures hits an all time high!
The heavenly strawberries in the greenhouse have grown red, yum yum!
*Except for colour blind people.
The stones
Recently, visitors have had a hard time finding our school, (as if their useless sat nav wasn’t annoying enough.) Even though we put up a sign saying ‘Bright Futures’ it is still hard to find.
So the teachers and Zog decided we should get some rocks, paint them in different colours, cover them in PVA glue, and put them outside for the visitors to see. So then they can go right into the school instead of going up the road and down the road and up and down then finally calling Zog on the phone to help them.

This should make much less hassle, and stop wasting people’s time. There is only one more small problem. People who are colour blind will still need help, but that’s not a problem for now. I’m sure when the time comes we’ll be ready.

Pupil numbers growing!

In 2011 Bright futures only had one pupil, that was Philnut. 4 months later I got a placement at the school as well. 1 month after that B started to come to the school on Tuesday, then after 3 months B’s mum and dad asked for a statutory assessment and with SR’s help (Educational Psychologist - Ed). Oldham’s local authority gave up and let B be a permanent pupil at Bright Futures.
Today we have 4 pupils at the school and 5 try to get a placement that means more money more Nutters and more friends! However B and T are not coming full time.

On the up

Bright Futures is in full bloom today! We have 4 permanent pupils at the school the rabbits feel at home and our clock business is up and running.

The Nutters have predicted that the local authority will be paying sacks of money to us so we will be able to build the treehouse! We will also become very famous across all of Britain, so we will get lots of people trying to get a place at the school so, more money! If we had a sales chart for how successful we are it would probably look like this:

Strawberry delight
Our strawberry plants in the greenhouse are red and good to eat! Our strawberries are better than any strawberry you can go and buy in the shop. Since there fresh from the plant and haven’t been driven from Canterbury in a filthy truck they are softer than a cloud and juicier than the storeys news of the world wrote before anyone knew about phone hacking.

We hope to keep on growing these gorges strawberries every spring so we can all enjoy them. There may be a few left from this spring and maybe more to come, but if you want one you better hurry because they don’t last long around other people yum yum yum yum.

Job jar
1. Someone needs to tie back leaning branch on patio.

2. Someone needs to cut the two long plants leaning in the way of the patio back.

3. Someone needs to make a list of light bulbs that don’t work.

And there you have it – a synopsis of recent developments at Bright Futures School

Thanks Philip! (from a very proud Mum)

Monday 4 June 2012

Example of an RDI assignment: working on 'Planning for imperfection and mistakes' with a child

A fellow RDI Consultant, Libby, came up with this great idea of sharing an example of the kind of assignments we work on in RDI so that people can see how RDI is put into practice in real life family situations. Libby was kind enough to agree to share some of her assignments on my blog (big thanks Libby).

Please note that this is being shared to show how parents can become empowered through working with a highly trained consultant when take the Consultant’s guidance and apply it on their own without waiting for next therapy appointment, social skills class, etc.  
It is not recommended that parents who want to try RDI dive in with this objective as there may be many foundations that would need to be mastered before a child could work at this level as well as many objectives that parents would need to work on in order to be able to competently guide their child at this level.
For those who are interested in working directly with a consultant to create an individualized plan based on a rigorous assessment of the parent-child guiding relationship, please visit

Sample Parent Assignment

By Libby Majewski, RDI® Program Certified Consultant

As posted on Facebook (www.facebook/ 6/3/12

Dynamic Intelligence Objective: Planning for Imperfection and Mistakes

Here is an example of an assignment I recently wrote to a parent who was working alongside and guiding her son as they planned a big lemonade sale at their church. This was a project that took several weeks of planning and preparation and the mom shared every step of the way with me (I'm very lucky). I, in turn, guided her with assignments and feedback. Below, I am guiding her to make sure she works with her son on "When Things Go Wrong" as they always do in any big project. Please note that all names and personal information have been changed - the purpose of sharing this is to give the community an idea as to how a developmental/cognitive approach can empower parents.

Please share thoughts or questions.

Hi J,

Here is your next assignment as you continue on with the lemonade sale project. I'd like to explore with D his expectations for the sale and also the theme of ‘Mistakes or When Things Go Wrong’. Although he is practicing a lot at home and is working hard and preparing, the sale, in fact, is probably going to be VERY different than the times he's been practicing. With that in mind, I'd like to work a little on planning for imperfection and having realistic expectations (that mistakes will happen, that it's going to be hectic maybe, that he may run out of certain things that he is selling, etc).

Here is some info from Dr. Gutstein's new dynamic intelligence curriculum that equates to where D is at this point:

- Constructs realistic expectations for mistakes.

- Does not routinely predict perfect performance and is not surprised or upset when he makes mistakes.

- Understands that there is no reason to get upset when you make a mistake, because everyone makes mistakes. Communicates about mistakes as a normal part of life

- Willing and able to co-participate with Guides to productively evaluate mistakes and learn from them

(by Dr. Steve Gutstein,

Work Product: Please show me 1-2 clips of film footage where you and D are discussing (you can make a list if you want) about how the sale will be great especially because you prepared and planned so well and that D took on so much responsibility and made great decisions. In addition to all the positives, show me how you guide D through a discussion about potential things that could go wrong such as if he makes a mistake, or if things get too hectic, too confusing, etc.

Here are things you could/should cover as you discuss the upcoming sale:

Does D expect the sale to go exactly as you and he have practiced and planned? If not (you may have to lead him to the fact that it will be different), how does he predict it will be different? Try to list (just discuss or make a list) some possible differences that D anticipates (with your help).

Does D think it will be busy at the table and crowded? If so, does he think it will be crowded and busy the whole time? If he thinks it's going to be super busy, how will he (just one boy) handle it? Does he have a back-up plan to ask someone for help?

What if someone (D, you, etc.) makes a mistake? Will it be a big deal or not? Will he be surprised if someone makes a mistake? If not, why not (because we all make mistakes!)
What if he runs out of certain things that people want to buy? What will he do? These are all good questions to explore with him (you are free to dig around these questions with him as much or as little as you want – you do not have to ask all these or pose all these situations to him at once).

Keep in Mind: this can be a fluid conversation with D just sitting together or you can make it like a worksheet where you and he are thinking and answering questions together. You could each do your own sheet and give your own answers privately (not collaborating) and then compare your answers.

Due Date: next Wed

Let me know if you have any questions,


For a child to have got to this stage, two things have happened. The parent has become a competent guide – so she is using pausing, pacing, scaffolding, limit-setting, spotlighting, framing, modeling, declarative language and non-verbal communication to enable the child to reference for information and emotion-sharing, to initiate and respond to joint attention, to co-regulate and self-regulate and to increasingly productively manage uncertainty.

The child has mastered developmental foundations that will include: taking increasing responsibility for co-regulation, initiating and responding to joint attention, not automatically withdrawing from uncertainty, being motivated as an active apprentice, communicating for experience-sharing purposes, comparing reactions to the guide’s reactions, anticipating partner’s reactions (and many more).

So hopefully you can see why it’s not a good idea to jump into working on this objective without first making sure that the underpinning developmental competencies are in place. It would be setting the child up to fail – like expecting them to do calculus without first having learned to add up.For me this is the beauty of RDI and of working with a trained Consultant. 

It’s all about enabling your child to be competent and to have experiences of success, making sure (via the Consultant’s supervision and support) that everything that needs to be in place for that to happen is in place. So the Consultant ensures that parents are competent as guides and that the underpinning developmental foundations are in place for the child and then empowers parents to be as creative as they like in using RDI as an integral part of their everyday lives to promote their child’s dynamic intelligence. 

Questions and comments welcome!