Declarative Communication

Declarative Communication

Communication, real, true, reciprocal communication.  This is the goal for our children.  It is what guides our cognition.  It is what helps us to connect to our world.  It is what builds our relationships and forms our ability to self regulate.  This kind of communication is what can be very difficult for people who have autism.  It can be so difficult that even the partners communicating with the child begin to change their own communication in well-meaning attempts to make it easier.  We start asking questions, prompting the child and giving commands.  While it is natural to want to make things easier for the child with autism, we have to be mindful of the line between doing that and taking away opportunities for the child to develop abilities that are difficult.

Dr Steven Gutstein, the founder of the RDI Program helps parents to delineate different functions of communication.  More importantly, he points out that by simply changing the ways we communicate to the child with autism, we can provide many importants for thoughtful, reciprocal communication to develop.  In the most simplistic form, communication functions can be broken into static (imperative) and dynamic (declarative) forms.  By using more dynamic forms of communication with our children, we can

Declarative communication is language that offers opportunity to share experience. When a person is using declarative communication, the goal is to share ideas, perspectives, thoughts, and predictions with another person. The non-verbal communication that goes along with declarative communication is information rich and carries much meaning. The person who uses declarative communication is inviting the other person’s insights, and adding them to what they already know. It is cumulative in nature. Responses to declarative communication are not rote, and cannot be scripted by the person who initiates. Declarative communication can also be “self-directed”. When a person is using self-directed declarative communication, they are using declaratives to help regulate their own thoughts and actions. When we plan for the future, reflect on the past, think through a difficult problem, or anticipate the future, we use self-directed declaratives.

Imperative communication, in contrast, is a means-to-an-end. Imperative communication has responses that are right and wrong. Responses to imperative communication can be scripted, and already are predicted. Non-verbal communication is not important with imperative communication. Emotional information and sharing are not important with imperative communication. Imperative communication is instrumental in nature. Imperative communication includes commands, questions with “scriptable” answers, prompts, and requests.

A good ratio of declarative/imperative communication is 80/20. The following are some examples of different types of declarative communication:



  • I really like playing with cars.
  • We went to McDonald’s for lunch.
  • I like the way the water splashes when we throw in the rocks.
  • That was a really loud noise.
  • He got hurt when he fell.
  • Today is my birthday.
  • I am going to try and win.
  • I don’t like when he yells.
  • We won!
  • I want to play cowboys.
  • I bet the red car wins.
  • The rabbit is not paying attention, so probably the turtle will get there first.
  • Today is Tuesday, so I bet there is pizza for lunch.
  • I think Daddy is really going to like this!
  • It was really nice of Ms. Smith to give us a treat.
  • You made a colorful picture.
  • He is a super fast runner.
  • I liked when we clapped at the same time.
  • That was a really good one!
  • I remember when we went to the beach and found some shells. It was such a nice day.
  • What should we do next?
  • We could play cars next – I can make mine go super fast!
  • Would you like to play with my race cars? (declarative if it is ok for the answer to be no)
Attempts at Regulation
  • Hey, that one was too fast for me.
  • You forgot about me!
  • I would like a turn.
  • Jack looks like he wants to try.
Self Regulation
  • I can do it!
  • I need to slow down and try again.
  • If he gives me a turn, I will try it.
  • Oops! I forgot to give that to her.
Shared Narrative
  • That’s so funny, I wonder what will happen next.
  • First you went down the hill, now here comes the cars!
  • If the monster is in there, what should we do?
  • How could we surprise Daddy for his birthday?
Self Narrative
  • When the monster popped out from the bean bags, I threw a ball at him!
  • After we went to church, we had eggs for breakfast. I liked them.
  • Before I come inside, I will take off my shoes and hang up my jacket.
  • Woo! We did it!
  • We are awesome!
  • Ouch! That hurt!
  • Oh, I am so scared!
  • You can do it!
  • She is a really good basketball player!
  • You’ll get it next time!
  • Can I help you with that?
  • We are going to the park today.
  • You did a great job on your spelling test.
  • I would like some ice cream.
  • My favorite color is green.
Perspective Sharing
  • I don’t like Scooby Doo.
  • Going on the swings makes my tummy feel funny.
  • That book was hard to read.
  • It scares me when the dog barks.
Declarative Questions
  • If you already know the answer, the question is not declarative.
  • Do you know what I think?
  • Why don’t we try that together?
  • I wonder what will happen if we mix these two things together?
  • Which one is your favorite?
  • What do you think about -?