When should we use Responsive Communication?

This series of short films shows an extended conversation  between Phoebe Caldwell (DSc, Expert Responsive Communication Practitioner who has worked with autistic people for 45 years) and Janet Gurney (BA, PGCT, Director of Training for Us in a Bus, a service based in Surrey that supports adults and children with profound and multiple learning difficulties and autism).

  • Try to give empathetic and meaningful responses to bring coherence into an autistic  world that is sensorily scrambled.
  • Try to centre the person rather than hype them up, engage rather than over-stimulate. You are not playing games, or entertaining the person, but sharing something precious between the two of you.
  • Try not to feel self-conscious. It means you are focussing on yourself and worrying about what others think of you, rather than on the person you are trying to engage.
  • Each time you use a signal that their brain recognises (without having to process because it is part of the way they “talk” to themselves), you attract the person’s attention instantly.
  • While any interaction using body language (Intensive Interaction) is helpful in reducing stress, it works best if you use their language as a part of the way you communicate with the person as a matter of course, rather than in regular “Intensive Interaction sessions”.
  • Let the person lead. Once they are confident that you will give them a meaningful response, they will introduce new initiatives to ‘test the system’.
  • If the person is not in the mood, do not insist on interaction. Back off, but be prepared and available for interaction if their mood changes.
  • Teach as many people in the person’s support circle and family how to support them in the way to which they best respond.
  • You can kick-start a conversation using the person’s language.
  • You can respond to the person in another mode, that is, answer a sound with a movement or pressure that reflects their initiative.
  • Become bilingual, use the person’s sounds to “gift-wrap” words they find difficult.
  • Make sure that other support people present know what you are doing and that they do not interrupt with speech. It can break a precious interchange.
  • Non-verbal people are more likely to come out with speech if you lower their sensory stress levels by using their language.
  • You do not have to be an expert to learn to use body language to communicate.
  • Try to make sure that as many people as possible in the circle of support use Responsive Communication to communicate as otherwise the person may fixate on a particular individual.