Rocking the non verbal

When we first started our RDI journey, I concentrated heavily on changing my style of communication. I stopped being a chatterbox and instead leaned towards being non-verbal. I cut right back on giving Nick commands. I gave him loads of time to process what was happening and I also made sure that I didn't jump in there and speak and/or make decisions for him.

Nick quickly learned the importance of referencing my face and checking out my body language in order to obtain information. He understood that he could look to me for guidance and reassurance. He realised that my facial expressions could be meaningful. In fact, it was possible to take Nick to a supermarket and not be concerned if he wandered off! It was if we had a loose thread binding us together... he always checked to see that I was still in his line of sight.  When I needed him, all I had to do was send him a silent signal and he would come back or wait for me to join him.

Over time I came to realise that being excessively non verbal was not enough to help guide Nick to become a more dynamically thinking kid. I found that I wasn't using enough language to spotlight what I was thinking and doing. He needed extra scaffolding in order to understand what was happening; and the way for me to provide that scaffolding was to talk! It is important to note that my style of talking revolves around using a more declarative type of language. This is in order to *invite* Nick to respond, which in turn helps him to *think* for himself. *For more info on declarative language please click on the link at the end of this blog post.

Of late, I have noticed that I am tending to waffle on a bit during our planned engagements and I haven't been giving Nick enough time to really think about his role and to plan his own response. (One of the huge advantages of taking video footage is being able to go back and reflect on what I am doing). I am not overly concerned, however, when writing up the framework for the following planned engagement, I thought it would be a great idea to make the engagement non verbal. It would be a interesting test for myself to see if cutting back my language would slow me down and get me back on track. I was also curious to see how Nick would react and if he was able to remain connected without any verbal input.

Planned engagement

I chose to work with juicing yet again as it is a meaningful activity that Nick is comfortable with. It is also an activity that provides many opportunities to introduce a  new challenge. For this engagement I planned for us to start off with some familiar patterns (i.e. taking turns to cut) and then for the challenge I decided to bring in some baby spinach and guide Nick on the cleaning and drying of it.... which he has never done before! I also planned to offer up choices so that Nick could make his own decisions about what he wanted to use/do.

Non verbal juicing ~ one

I have set up the activity and Nick is sitting on the couch paging through a book. Whilst prepping I was thinking to myself, "how am I going to get Nick's attention and invite him to join me?". I decided on the simplest option ~ I clicked my tongue. I can't tell you how delighted I was when he responded so quickly. (Well, you can see my delight from the big cheesy grin on my face!!)

This clip shows how well we are working together. Nick is referencing me for information. I am pausing on occasion in order for Nick to reconnect with me and to also offer him opportunities to communicate his own thoughts. Just watching this video clip blows my mind.... two years ago he would refuse to join me in any type of activity; and when he did eventually choose to engage with me, it was for only a few seconds!!

Anyway, I digress.....

Non verbal juicing ~ two

Admittedly I am doing most of the work in this clip, however, Nick is still with me and watching intently. Notice how Nick places his hand on mine and that he chooses to take on his own role. Yes, we are doing a chore, however, this activity is just the prop for building on moments of joint attention and co-regulation.

I wonder if you saw the *carrot pattern*. I cut off the end of the carrot and tossed it into the sink. I then handed Nick the next piece. He immediately threw it away. Hence, as I finish slicing the carrot, Nick thinks that those pieces also need to be thrown away. He is watching my facial expressions and body language, although not responding to my cues. I realise that I have to add a bit of scaffolding in order to help him out. I simply hold out my hand and Nick quickly realises what to do next. I am loving that we can repair the situation without talking! :)

Non verbal juicing ~ three

We have now moved onto cutting up an apple. I may look very relaxed and as cool as a cucumber in this clip but in reality my heart is in my mouth. Nick is not competent with using a knife, however, I really want to provide him with the *experience* of using it. I am not overly concerned with his motor planning at this particular time, as I am concentrating on our engagement not the skills within the activity. It is really fabulous to watch how we are coordinating our actions. We are both checking in with each to confirm what is going to happen next. I am thrilled when he passes me the knife to indicate that it is my turn. Before reacting, I pause and put a questioning look on my face and wait for Nick's response. The way he nods for "yes" is really delightful to see.

I think it is important to spotlight my reaction when Nick tried to place some apple into my mouth; and then his reaction when I tried to do the same with him. He is quite adamant that I should eat a piece of the apple and it takes a while for him to back off.  He quickly retreats when I offer him a piece! What stands out for me is the scene at the end of the clip....  Nick tries again to put the apple into my mouth, however, he is quick to gauge my reaction and puts the apple back on the board. Way to go Nick.

Non verbal juicing ~ four

We have had a nice time prepping the fruit and veg (Nick's 'edge') and now we reach my planned challenge (Nick's 'plus one'). It is not a big challenge as I don't want Nick to feel incompetent and stressed. I want to add just a little step... just enough of a challenge in order to enhance our engagement and move him forward.

Initially I had planned that we would take turns putting the spinach leaves into the sieve, however, Nick ruined my plan by grabbing a handful! Oh well, moving right along..... That's the thing with real life, plans change in a flash and we need to be flexible and adapt to those changes!  I then placed the sieve under the tap and watched as Nick removed the spinach and threw it in the sink. Remember the previous pattern of Nick throwing the carrots into the sink!! I was impressed that he referenced me for my reaction and he was able to repair the situation.

What stands out for me in this clip is that Nick is so relaxed and he just goes with the flow. In particular, from time code 1:04, when I over emphasis my facial expression, Nick picks up on it and he is also amused by what we are doing. His eyes light up and he has a cute grin on his face.... there really is a lovely connection between the two of us! We then move onto drying the spinach. Nick is a little hesitant (after all, we are at his 'plus one'), however, he is guided by my actions, facial expression and body language and he chooses to coordinate his actions with mine. When he makes the sign for "finished", I end the activity with a my own "finished" sign.


Choosing to be non verbal was a win and I feel that our planned engagement was very successful. Nick coped well with the challenge and he was an active partner. Taking away the talk really slowed me down and helped me to be more mindful with my guiding. I concentrated on pausing frequently to give Nick extra time. I was able to convey what we needed to do or if I needed help, by using facial expressions and body language. I was very focused on the two of us referencing each other and also mindful of the fact that we both had roles to play... even when our patterns naturally changed. I was also more aware of what Nick was communicating to me. For sure, there are areas that could be improved upon, however, I feel that this planned engagement was 'good enough'.

Would I make all planned engagements non verbal? No. I really missed being able to verbally spotlight to Nick our important moments. I also enjoy using declarative language to give Nick opportunities to think about making his own choices and/or plans. At the end of the day it is important to use different styles of communication, although it is a great idea to go non verbal on occasion to check on our progress.

P.S. I am very proud of my boy! :-)


Interesting articles


  1. I'm not surprised you're very proud of him - the videos are lovely to watch :) And reading your posts on RDI helps me to clarify what I need to be doing and inspires me to try harder xx

    1. @Blue Sky ~ I am glad that you enjoyed the videos and that you find the RDI blog posts helpful. I enjoy writing about what we are doing. Thanks for your comment. xx

  2. And very proud of him you should be!

    Fantastic work. I would find it very hard to be be completely non-verbal so well done! He really is coming on isn't he? I know I don't know much about RDI and I can see the benefits of what you are doing but I do wonder about being completely non-verbal....

    I love that there is such a lovely bond between you and Nick.

    xx Jazzy

    1. Thanks, Jazzy. He really is doing so well and we do have a lovely bond. For sure, communication can't be just non verbal, although in the beginning it was a great way to get a lovely connection with Nick and for him to realise the importance of body language and facial expressions. Thanks for stopping by. xx

  3. Go Nick! It was an honor to watch you and your Nick in these videos! Thank you for sharing this with us. "A loose thread binding us together." Thank you for reminding me there are many, many ways to communicate.

    Thought I'd mention I am a big fan of Curious Chef knives (which I ordered on amazon.) Totally safe for our kiddos but able to cut apples, carrots, etc. Rhema loves her set and knows they are *her* knives.

    You are a beautiful mother.

    1. @Rhemashope ~ Thank you for your lovely comment and for the extremely helpful suggestion of Curious Chef knives. I am certainly going to see if I can purchase them for Nick. Have a lovely week... and tell Rhema I say "Hi". :)

  4. I wrote a reply to this the other day which seems to have disappeared! Anyway, I have to tell you that I've had huge success with really trying to focus on declarative language this morning - inspired by this post and also the articles you linked to. It went like this:

    (Henry had eaten some crisps and left the empty packet on the sofa.)
    Me: I see a crisp packet. I wonder where it goes?
    (Long pause. I am thinking I used too many words but force myself to wait)
    Henry: Bin!
    Me: Yes it goes in the bin. I wonder who will put it in the bin?
    (Henry picks up packet and goes to kitchen, where he puts it in the bin)
    Me: Henry, thank you for tidying up.
    Henry: Bread
    Me: You're still hungry. I'll get the bread.
    (I get bread, butter, Bovril and put on table. Wait. Henry comes and stands by the table. Looks. I shrug.)
    Henry: Gone
    Me: I wonder what's gone?
    Henry: Knife!
    Me: Hmmm... (wait)
    (Henry goes to drawer and gets a knife. We take it in turns to spread the bread).

    Result! I couldn't believe how little he needed the imperative language and questions I usually use. Thank you Di!

    1. Hi Sue, that's strange... I didn't see your previous reply. I LOVED your comment.... (I have a huge smile on my face!). Isn't it the most wonderful feeling to realise that making little changes in your style of communication can make such a difference! :-)

  5. Yes it is! It also makes me realise that he understands more than I give him credit for. I have photocopied this blog post, a couple of the articles you linked to and a transcript of my engagement with Henry today - going to use them in training with his tutor and also my husband!

  6. So awesome!! I am impressed with you both. I tried a juicing activity with Kyle once but so many obstacles it didn't go all that well. Will try again sometime. This is really inspiring.

    1. Thank you, Gayle. I really appreciate your comment. Good luck for when you and Kyle try again. I often think of Kyle's shoe box clip, where he is placing the shoe box into the large container (it was shared in the Autism World iMag) and I always think to myself... that is exactly what Nick would do! :)

  7. I love watching these videos! I have been suggesting them to others-as I think that they could help so many people. I do believe that a lot can be gotten from these-whether ones child is verbal or non verbal. I know that it gives me ideas for my littlest. Well done. what a great week the both of you had. :))

    1. Hi Kathleen, thank you for your uplifting comment. It's great that you think this post could help others and thanks also for sharing it. :)

  8. Di well Done, you are a fantastic mum. You have worked so hard and it is paying off, my favourite was watching you and Nick engage so beautifully x I think we will be calling on you... lots... next year - your number will be on our speed dial xxx All my love

    1. Hello there, Nicky. Fancy seeing you here! You can call on me anytime, I am happy to help out in any way that I can. Chat soon. xx


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