Saturday, February 20, 2010


What is intersubjectivity?
I was pulling into Taco bell a few days ago for my son…he so desperately wanted a taco and I had a coupon, so there ya go! :) I slowed down, had my blinker on, but could not turn in because someone at that exact moment was walking in the driveway. It was only a moment that I had to wait for this person to cross, meanwhile the car behind me beeped at me. ….so I calmly said to my kids, now there is a good example of that person lacking intersubjectivity. My 6 year old said, Inter what? My teens just rolled their eyes.
So what is it…and why is RDI focused on restoring intersubjectivity through the process of Guided participation? Oh Guided participation is just a fancy way ( and the term that developmental scientists use to acknowledge how typical children learn- check out the book, Apprenticeship in thinking by Barbara Rogoff.) to say the process of a guide in a relationship, and we believe, in RDI, that children with Autism deserve a second chance at typical development through this guiding process. Therapies that are skill based work on teaching skills to children with little regard to what these kids are missing in the developmental track. They believe they can bypass development. What happens is the child will make progress that 1st year of skills, but those skills are instrumental in nature. Sure it is great that they can now sit still, and ask for juice...but the same progress can be made developmentally, while working on filling in the social and relationship gaps. That is not possible in a skill based program. What I have seen time in time again and even with my own children, is that then we have to go back and undo the uneven learning posed by skill training to get to the root of Autisms issues…understanding the *dance* of relationships.
Back to Intersubjectivity…the scene at taco bell. Ok, it is a bit of a dramatization…but at the same point I wanted a simple illustration. That person behind me, could not take my perspective. It was about HIM….not about US being on the road. He could not SEE why I took the action to stop instead of get out of his way. It was, at that moment, all about his needs. We obviously all have moments like these…so what I am referring to with lack of intersubjectivity with Autism is not as simplistic. We all have the foundations in place to be able to take on someone else perspective. Children with Autism do not.
The importance of understanding the Intersubjective relationship in regards to Autism is crucial. It is the basis for how we development mental engagement. Subjectivity is our appraisal, thoughts, feelings, memories, perceptions, etc of something, and Inter is that bridge between people. On this blog ( at an earlier post) I talked about the study showing that 18 month olds understand that others may not have the same feelings as they do about a subject. We already know that children with ASD struggle with relationships and perspectives. So where do we go back too?
There are five stages of the IR.
Children between the age of 3- 9 months have established primary intersubjectivity. They know that your actions and their actions go together. They take an action to your action. Think Peek a boo. The child is engaged with you and stays with you and the interaction. Both parent and child have a role in peek a boo…and a typical child will stay with his role.
Secondary Intersubjectivity is from 9-15 months. The child starts to be able to read reactions from not only how they feel but how you feel? They care about your reaction. I am reminded of a child who is learning to walk and falls….and looks at you for your Shared reaction….because that trust is there and they can accept your reaction to how they feel! If you react minimally and calmly, they typically will not cry. If you jump up and exclaim, Oh my are you ok?…They could share your perspective and start to cry. They are not hurt, but they are able to grab your reaction within the intersubjective relationship.

Typically with Autism either the primary or secondary IR has been affected. Because of Autism, the childs development has stalled in this area. RDI will go back to this stage in development and start to remediate the deficits that contributed to this not fully developing. Only then does the child have a strong foundation to continue on their developmental track. An example of how RDI works on Intersubjectivity at the 3-9 month old level ( since we certainly cannot play peekaboo with an older child) is through a process of co regulation. This co regulation can be fostered in any interaction that is done with the child. For example, simply by brushing your teeth with your child in a co regulated manner ( no commands, but slowly helping your child to focus on both you and he brushing teeth together), we can slowly help your child to understand that other people have a perspective, and a role in an interaction.

Stay tuned for the last three stages in the IR!
If you have any questions or comments, please post here or email me privately at .


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. oopes I messed up on the above post... anyway let's try this again.
    Check out this RDI Moms post on Intersubjectivity

  3. It drives me crazy when people do not understand how important this is. So many times, I see in real life a lack of shared understanding causes problems or how paying attention to nonverbal communication resolves or prevents conflict. We obsess over teaching our autistic children to talk, but, without this important piece of development, you have an autistic child that talks but does not communicate.

  4. Just a correction to one of your links - I think the one to JB's blog was probably meant to go to this post.

  5. Oh, bother! And *my* just-posted comment was supposed to go to a different post of yours. Sorry - going through bookmarking links and had the wrong one open.