What is Experience Sharing?

Lessons from Relationship Development Intervention – 1

We learned about the importance of experience sharing communication when we started RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) in 2004. In my view, it is one of the most important lessons from RDI for parents/ teachers of neurodivergent learners. Experience sharing changes the nature of interactions between the parent (teacher) and child (learner). The notion of experience-sharing is one of the transformative lessons from RDI that influence my teaching even today.

Parents often emphasize needs-based communication. It is important for parents to distinguish between experience sharing and need-based communication. It is also important for parents to distinguish between experience sharing and imperative communication (e.g., commands). Being aware of experience-sharing shifted our trajectory even though it took a long time to build the foundations. Thus, my intent in writing this post is to get parents thinking about experience-sharing and to think about the steps that they can take to nurture experience-sharing. Experience sharing is not yet another skill to teach your child! It emerges gradually through the ways we guide and through the experiences we create.

I have given enough resources for parents to consider this tip and to get started. Once we are aware of a practice or technique and start doing it, we can continue learning. My goal is to provide the initial information to get parents started on this path. Some might decide to do RDI and learn these skills in a more formal way.

  1. Watch the video and see how the parent is using experience sharing language:

Under the video description, you will see a detailed list of the experience sharing communication used by the parent.

2. A useful article by Dr. Steven Gutstein to understand experience sharing: What is Autism? Gaining Clues from Typical Development. Read the article here

Dr. Gutstein explains that “at 6–7 months, we can observe the infant beginning to initiate experience-sharing interactions with parents. At that age, infants fluidly shift their attention between non socially-directed actions (such as exploring a new object, engaging with a toy or performing some motor action) and the facial expressions of their parents, including them in the experience and then returning to their autonomous behavior.”

3. Watch the video on experience sharing, facial expressions, and emotions

Experience sharing communication involves a certain type of language (declarative language). But experience sharing can be done without language. See the article above where Dr. Gutstein says “at 6–7 months, we can observe the infant beginning to initiate experience-sharing interactions with parents.” Experience sharing happens through nonverbal communication also. Further, experience sharing involves emotion sharing:

We share our perspectives on how we feel about things.

Experience sharing communication invites others but does not demand a response. So if the parent shares how they feel about something, the child can share their perspective too. Imperative communication demands a particular response. One reason that I started with experience sharing as the first topic is that once parents start worrying about their child’s challenges, they may go more towards an instructional mode of being with their child and use imperative communication. So the experience sharing communication that parents intuitively use with neuro-typical children may not be used as much with the neurodivergent child. However, neurodivergent children also need this type of communication even if they are not yet able to communicate their experiences in words.

4. Read an article on experience sharing communication here. I see that many parents talk about how their child has need-based communication and can learn academic skills but cannot converse. Experience sharing communication by the parent sets the stage for experience sharing by the child.

From the article (emphasis added): Imperative communication (what we tend to use with children with special needs) is about knowing, accumulating, obtaining and extracting. It is often perceived by the child as a demand. Examples: 1) What did we do today? 2)What do you want to do?

5. Read this article on We-Do Teaching by Bill Nason here. Bill Nason presents a clear model of teaching that focuses on experience sharing rather than prompting children and demanding specific responses. Learning experience sharing and we-do teaching is one of the most important skills for parents of autistic children.

We-do teaching

  • Teacher and child do activities together.
  • Teacher models, guides, and scaffolds the experience.
  • Teacher and child share the experience.

Why Practice Experience Sharing?

When parents practice experience sharing, they facilitate learning with their child at home. Experience sharing supports each of following goals:

  • Reduce parent stress and enhance parent well-being.
  • Reduce child stress and enhance child well-being
  • Practice guided participation
  • Facilitate learning with other teachers/ mentors.
  • Encourage independent learning
  • Discover pathways to inclusion

Since experience sharing means that parents share their knowledge and experience with the child rather than demand specific responses from the child, the experience is less stressful for the child. As the child’s stress and anxiety reduce, the child is more engaged in experiences with the parent. As the parent is better able to engage the child, parent stress also reduces. Modeling and experience sharing facilitates guides participation with parents and then with other guides. Parent’s narration of what they are doing and experiencing can also support independent work. These foundations pave the way for inclusion.

Join the Conversation!

Join the conversation on RDI core concepts here. We will be sharing what we learned from RDI and how parents can try out lessons from RDI in small ways to see if this is a path they want to explore! Often, information alone in not sufficient to make the right choices. Trying it out gives a better understanding of approaches like RDI.

Creative representation for this blog is done by our supertalented CreativeSaathi associates Dhrov Tikoo and Nikhil Thotam

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