Responsive vs Directive communication – what’s the difference and why does it matter?

by Adina Levy

I’ve been busy researching, reflecting, and preparing my slides and workbook for next week’s webinar Responsive Relationships – Neurodiversity Affirming Communication Strategies for Professionals to Connect with Neurodivergent Children. And in this process I’ve been thinking a LOT about what it takes to build stronger, supportive connections with neurodivergent children.

One of the most important pieces of this is when grown ups who care for and support neurodivergent children use responsive communication strategies.

So today I’m sharing my outline of the differences between responsive and directive communication and the impact of each style.

Directive Communication 🧑 ➡️ 👧

A more ‘traditional’ approach: Often involves instructing children on how to behave, act and respond. Adults are in charge, adults have all the power

Problems with Directive Communication:

  • Invalidates feelings: Sends a message that their experience of the world and their own body and mind are not to be trusted, so they loose trust in the messages they perceive. Removes the ability to self-advocate if they can’t even figure out what support they should ask for or need.

  • Diminishes experiences: Makes children feel their experiences, feelings and perspectives are unimportant or invalid. Reduces self-concept and self-confidence. This can lead to poor mental health outcomes.

Responsive Communication 🧑 🔄 👧

Empathetic, respectful approach: Focuses on listening (seeing, perceiving… not just with your ears!), viewing the child’s perspective as true for them and valid. Interactions start and continue by following what the child is thinking, telling us, and communicating in any way (behaviours included

Benefits of Responsive Communication:

  • Enhances understanding: Encourages a deeper empathy towards what the child is actually experiencing.

  • Supports self-advocacy: Helps children develop the ability to advocate for themselves by reinforcing their confidence in their own experiences

  • Validates experiences: Recognises the legitimacy of a child’s feelings and perspectives, even if they fluctuate and even if they seem very different to what you would have expected

Keep learning with me!

Register for the Communicate and Connect Webinar Series for Professionals who support Neurodivergent Children: https://playlearnchat.com/c-and-c 

The 3 webinars in the series are:

  • Responsive Relationships: Communication Strategies for Professionals to Connect with Neurodivergent Children

  • Collaborative Connections: Coach and Communicate with Carers & Teams of Neurodivergent Children

  • Supportive Spaces: Creating Inclusive and Accessible Environments to Support Neurodivergent Children in their Communities

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