Dr. James MacDonald 332 Mimring Columbus, Ohio 43202 Phone/Fax 614 447-0768 macdonaldj86@gmail.com

Communicating Partners

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How Communicating Partners Approach Differs from Others

I thought it might be useful to send you some ideas on the question of How does the Communicating Partners approach differ from other approaches to language delayed children. I feel the more you understand what we are trying to do and the principles we follow, the easier it will be to grow with us....Thank you ,Jim

Many parents face a confusing dilemma with their child-whether to change him to act 'normal' or to accept him and help him develop as the best unique person he can be. In 30 years we have found that children become much more social and communicative when parents play an active part in helping the child develop his unique strengths rather than in changing his basic nature. The discussion below highlights some of the differences between the communicating partners approach that views the child as developing signature strengths and needing to become social and communicative first and traditional approaches that focus on making the child a compliant student first.


Parents understandably are driven to "cure" as many of their child's ailments as possible. They treat a cold, fix a broken leg and teach children to solve problems. Consequently, it is reasonable when faced with autism, they are immediately drawn to "fix' it or to seek a cure. This urge is natural and well intentioned. The problem with focusing on "curing" the "problem" is that it may lead to throwing the baby out with the bath water. What I mean is that, when we try to stop a child from being autistic or acting in his own ways, we are often discouraging the abilities and interests every child has. Parents looking for a cure for autism often think they need to wait until the child is "normal" before having a "real" relationship with him. In so doing, they miss many critical opportunities to relate in ways that help him develop.

Communicating Partners takes the approach of positive psychology (Seligman, 2001) by addressing the child's "signature " strengths rather than his weaknesses. The goal is social development not cure. And the starting point is how the child is currently developing. This approach supports the child's interests and key abilities, so that he will develop more positively and less negatively. We see each child as having some "signature" strengths can be built upon to form durable relationships. We are convinced that almost every child with autism or other delays can develop authentic relationships and that his total development depends on those relationships. While we have seen many persons, diagnosed with "autistic or pdd", become persons who no longer fit the diagnosis, our goal is not a cure. Rather our goal is to help children develop as many social relationships as they can. Consequently, an enduring goal of our approach is to help the child use his current strengths in becoming social and communicative.


Traditional education and Communicating Partners differ fundamentally in their convictions of what children with autism delays need to learn. Traditional approaches focus on skills and information for becoming a competent student in cognitive learning and a competent worker. Spontaneous social behavior is rarely a primary focus of traditional education and yet, for autistic children, it is the key to lasting relationships and the ability to use what they might learn academically.

CP sees the child as first needing to learn to develop his current signature strengths within social relationships. CP views social learning as the key to spontaneous cognitive learning. in the sense of 'social modeling' that Albert Bandura has posed for many years. CP begins not by teaching new skills and behaviors but by learning to socialize with behaviors the child is already able and motivated to do. CP focuses on helping children learn and use skills that will help them "learn to learn socially". As a social learner, the child then has many more opportunities to learn as a part of life and not be limited to learning what others choose to teach him. While traditional educational approaches often show successes in academic learning, they usually do not show spontaneous social changes.

Next: Child Goals

Dr. James MacDonald 332 Mimring Columbus, Ohio 43202 Phone/Fax (614)447-0768 macdonaldj86@gmail.com