Tuesday, May 24, 2022

What is Declarative Language & Why Should You Use it?

This website uses affiliate links. As an affiliate and Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, which means I make a small commission when you use these links, at no additional cost to you.

Do I have hyperlexia? Is my child hyperlexic? Take the free online hyperlexia quiz today!

Wondering what is declarative language and whether you should be using it with your autistic or hyperlexic child? Below you'll learn what it is, its benefits, and how to use it. We'll also look at different declarative language examples.

Many many months ago (maybe it was a year?) someone sent me a message on Instagram telling me about declarative language. She wondered if I was familiar with it at all.

That conversation led me to purchase the Declarative Language Handbook and it literally blew my mind! So thank you random Instagram friend, whoever you are.

The concept of declarative language is simple, as you will learn below. Yet, I could instantly see how powerful it was going to be to use with my both of my boys, especially my hyperlexic son, if I implemented it more. 

I had already been rephrasing questions over the years anyway because of the difficulties with WH questions that are common with hyperlexia. But the handbook gave me much more guidance on how to do a better job at it. It also explained why this type of language should be used. And, if you know me, you know I'm a sucker for learning the why behind things.

Learning about declarative language was a complete gamechanger. It's helped me become much more intentional about the language I use around my kids and how I phrase things.

As I've dived into learning everything I can about gestalt language processing over the years, I noticed that declarative language kept coming up as well. It's perfect for modeling scripts or gestalts and helping with those pronoun reversals. So it just further reinforced how beneficial it is to use this type of language with hyperlexic kids. They are gestalt processors after all.

So let's learn more about declarative language below and see some examples of it in action (contrasted with an imperative language counterpart). Then hopefully you can start using it with your own kids as well.

What is declarative language? A look at what it is, its benefits, and how to use it with kids

So...What is Declarative Language?

Declarative language is simply a comment or a statement. 

Usually, it's a statement that shares what one knows, observes, or thinks. A declaration, if you will. Makes sense given that it's called declarative language, right?

What is declarative language? A definition

Unlike questions that are demanding and require a specific right or wrong answer (or imperative language as it's known), declarative language has no right or wrong answer. It doesn't even necessarily require a response. Instead, it invites a child to share in an experience and it helps kids take note of what may be important and to observe what's going on around them. 

Declarative language also gives you a chance to model your thinking to your child. It gives them an opportunity to hear your thoughts, understand your thinking, and to see your perspective. 

This type of language also opens up the chance for them to problem solve on their own instead of you telling your child to specifically do something (e.g., "Put your shoes on!"). 

Essentially, you're shifting away from being result or product focused and instead focusing on building important skills in areas such as executive functioning, language, independence, and social interaction. So let's take a closer look at some of the other benefits of using declarative language.

The Benefits of Using Declarative Language

At first, you might not think that making a comment or a statement instead of a question would make all that big of a difference. But declarative language is powerful!

Autistic or hyperlexic children will find declarative language useful because they often find WH questions tricky, mix up pronouns when echoing language (it's part of their natural language development as a gestalt processor), and/or need a bit of extra support when it comes to social skills, emotional learning, language, and nonverbal communication.

Here are some of the benefits of using declarative language, including some example. There's likely more than what I cover below, but it will give you a taste of what you can expect.

  • Helps with social emotional development and self-regulation (e.g., "I notice that you're upset. Let's take a couple of deep breaths together." instead of "Calm down!")
  • Validates a child's feelings and experiences (e.g., "I can see that you're frustrated that your sister is using the red crayon. I wonder if we could ask to borrow it when she's done with it." instead of "You're okay, it's just a crayon.")
  • Provides the child with more information than a command does (e.g., "I need you to hold my hand while we walk in the parking lot so I can keep you safe." instead of "Hold my hand.")
  • It's less likely to trigger fight, flight, or freeze responses because it uses fewer demands than questions (e.g., "Look, grandma and grandpa are leaving. Let's wave goodbye." instead of "Do you want to give grandma and grandpa a hug before they go?")
  • Focuses on teaching instead of quizzing (e.g., "Wow, your shirt has a green dinosaur on it!" instead of "What's on your shirt?")
  • Develops inference skills (e.g., "I think you forgot something at the end of that sentence." instead of "Add a period to the end of your sentence.")
  • Encourages kids to problem solve (e.g., "Oh no, we're out of glue. I wonder what we could use instead." instead of "How will we finish this project without glue?")
  • Teaches visual referencing and observation skills (e.g., "I think your shirt is on inside out because I can see the tag here." instead of "Is your shirt on inside out?")
  • Helps kids develop their own inner voice and how to self-advocate through modeling and self-narration (e.g., "I'm frustrated. I think I need a break." instead of "Please stop doing that!")
  • Develops executive function skills such as flexible thinking, focusing attention, organization, planning, and task initiation (e.g., "It's time to get ready for school. You'll need to grab your homework off the table and find your backpack." instead of "Go get ready for school.")
  • Models gestalts/scripts that gestalt language processors can easily use and mitigate (e.g., "Let's go to the park!" instead of "Do you want to go to the park?")
  • Develops social skills such as joint attention, perspective taking, social reciprocity, collaboration, and more (e.g., "I heard your brother calling your name. Let's see what he wants." instead of "What did your brother say?")
  • It's flexible since there's often more than one way to respond to a statement or sometimes no response is required (e.g., "I see a rainbow over there." instead of "What do you see in the sky?")
  • Gives kids a chance to discover mistakes they make without shaming or blaming (e.g., "I don't think I heard the toilet flush." instead of "Flush the toilet.")
  • Models proper pronoun usage for gestalt language processors who often show pronoun reversals (e.g., "I think it's my turn." instead of "Are you done your turn yet?")

Now that you know about the benefits of using declarative language, let's look at how to construct a declarative statement.

Some benefits of using declarative language with kids

How to Use Declarative Language

Remember, declarative language is about making comments or statements, not about asking questions. So one way to get started with declarative language is to take the question you were going to ask and turn it into a statement instead.

  • "Do you want a snack?" ➡ "Let's have a snack!" 
  • "Where's your backpack?" ➡ "I wonder where your backpack is..."
  • "What book do you want to read?" ➡ "I forget which book you said you wanted to read."

Declarative language is about making comments or statements

It's also important to remember that declarative language isn't about demanding your child to do things. So try rephrasing any directions that you give your child into an observation instead.

  • "Grab a fork." ➡ "I think we might need some forks."
  • "Wash your hands." ➡ "Your hands look dirty."
  • "Feed the dog." ➡ "The dog looks hungry."

Declarative language examples

I know it's not always easy to make these tweaks. I mean sometimes rephrasing questions or demands can be tricky and require a lot of intentional planning on your part. However, the Declarative Language Handbook does offer lots of guidance on how to construct these types of statements. A great starting point though is to use some of these words and phrases:

  • Notice, feel, see, hear, think, imagine, forget, wonder, know, remember, perhaps, maybe, I don't know, might, sometimes, what a great question, let's find out together, I'm not sure, I like, I don't like, let's, we, us, I, my, me
  • Any kind of emotional vocabulary like upset, frustrated, happy, sad, excited

Declarative language words and phrases to try

I personally find that the easiest way to get started with declarative language is to think of ways to start your comment off with words and phrases like let's, I noticed, I wonder, or I see. Then once you get the hang of it, you can move to other types of phrases.

Anytime you are tempted to ask a question or give a command, take a second and pause. See if you can think of a way to rephrase it into an observation or comment instead. Try and switch that imperative to a declarative statement!

A speech language pathologist or therapist can also help you work on declarative language. 

If you need more specific tips, suggestions, and ideas for troubleshooting, then you'll want to pick up a copy of the Declarative Language Handbook. The book isn't very long. In fact, the main text of the book is only about 100 pages. So you could likely read it in an afternoon. But it will give you tools that will transform how you connect and speak with your child.

Buy a copy of the book

Quick tips for declarative language

More Declarative Language Examples

As I've kind of mentioned already, it can take a bit of practice to get comfortable rephrasing questions and demands into declarative language. Sometimes it helps to see other examples like these:

  • "What's the weather going to be like tonight?" ➡ "Maybe we should check the weather." or "Let's check the forecast." or "I see some dark clouds in the sky."
  • "Hold onto the paper while you cut." ➡ "Sometimes it helps to hold the paper with your other hand to keep it steady. It might make it easier to cut."
  • "Turn the page." ➡ "I wonder what's going to happen next..." or "I'm ready for the next page whenever you are." or "Let's see what happens on the next page!"
  • "Who's at the door?" ➡ "I heard someone knocking on the door." or "I wonder who rang the doorbell." or "I know grandma was coming over at two and I noticed that it's almost two o'clock."
  • "Want to play a board game?" ➡ "We could play a board game together." or "I'd love to play this game with you"
  • "Clean your room." ➡ "I see that your toys are all over the floor" or "Hmmm...I wonder where the dirty clothes should go."
  • "What's dad cooking for supper?" ➡ "I think I smell lasagna!" or "I wonder what's on the meal plan for supper tonight."
  • "Tie your shoes." ➡ "I notice that your shoelaces are untied." or "I think you forgot something when you put your shoes on."

With these examples, I think you can see how inviting and flexible declarative language can be. These examples also show how using this type of language encourages kids to problem solve and observe what's going on around them, much like we discussed in the benefits section. 

A Quick Summary of Declarative Language for Kids

Okay, I know that was a lot of information and a lot of examples. So let's do a quick recap of what declarative language is, its benefits, and how to create declarative statements.

  • Declarative language is a comment or a statement, usually about something someone knows, observes, or thinks. 
  • Declarative language isn't about asking questions, making commands, or demanding someone to do something. It's about inviting them to share in an experience.
  • Declarative language is a great way to build a variety of skills including social emotional regulation, executive functioning, perspective taking, inferencing, problem solving, self-advocacy, and so much more.
  • To make a declarative statement, try to turn questions into comments and to rephrase commands or directions into observations. Words and phrases such as notice, wonder, think, feel, see, let's, we, I, and sometimes are great starting points.

I really hope you'll consider using declarative language with your kids. It's been extremely helpful for my family and I'm sure it will be for yours as well. Be sure to grab a copy of the Declarative Language Handbook to learn more.

A summary of declarative language for kids, including what it is, its benefits, and how to use it

What is declarative language? A look at what it is, its benefits, and how to use it with kids