Responsive Communication

The Caldwell Autism Foundation provides a unique Responsive Communication service to children and adults with autism.

Many autistic children and adults are unable to use speech to communicate or have only limited verbal communication skills. At the same time, they experience sensory processing difficulties which can cause distress as well as severe physical pain. As a result of their communication and sensory difficulties, these individuals experience distress and isolation in their daily lives which, in turn, can lead to distressed behaviours (also known as “challenging behaviour”). These distressed behaviours are often difficult for parents, carers and professionals to cope with or respond to positively.

Responsive Communication reduces the autistic person’s experience of sensory pain, distress and isolation, thereby allowing their personality, their innate skills and capacities to come to the fore. Responsive Communication supports the person to function at their best both cognitively and socially, and this in itself can make the difference between isolation and inclusion.

Responsive Communication has three interlocking elements which the communication partner (the practitioner or parent/carer) undertakes in response to the autistic person and the setting in which the interaction is taking place:

  • Observing the autistic person’s experience of sensory inputs (visual, auditory, tactile etc) and identifying which inputs cause distress or discomfort and which are neutral or positive
  • Creating an autism-friendly environment by reducing or eliminating sensory inputs that are causing the person distress (inputs to which they are hyper-sensitive) and increasing those sensory inputs which they experience as positive or to which they are hypo- or under-sensitive
  • Tuning into and responding to the person’s body language using Intensive Interaction (mirroring and then developing the body language the person is using to communicate with themselves eg particular hand movements, foot tapping, breath holding/releasing and so on).

Responding to the autistic person in this way builds emotional engagement between the autistic person and those around them, often for the first time. Increased emotional engagement leads, in turn, to greater social interaction.

Our Responsive Communication service can improve the quality of life of autistic people in the following ways:

  • Increased emotional engagement between the autistic person and their family members/carers
  • Reduction in the autistic person’s distressed behaviours, including self-injurious behaviour
  • Increased self-confidence, self-esteem and well-being
  • Increased participation in the local community
  • Improved access to educational/employment opportunities.

Improved quality of life is experienced not only by the autistic person but also by their parents and siblings. Parents enjoy greater emotional engagement with their autistic child, reduced stress and fatigue, more and better quality time with their other children and increased educational, training and employment opportunities. Siblings enjoy greater emotional engagement with their autistic sibling, more and better quality time with their parents and a more inclusive family life.