Communication allows us to make contact with other people, establish relationships, express our personality, demonstrate and share our knowledge, ensure that our needs are met and our wishes are considered. Individuals with special needs often experience difficulties with communication and rely on assistance from others as well as visual supports, and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to express their wants and needs. Below are some strategies to help maximize your child’s communication skills and decrease frustration.
Encourage Total Communication
An individual will naturally use the quickest and easiest way to communicate. 93% of communication is non-verbal. Total communication is comprised of facial expressions, gestures, signs, real pictures, symbols, words, communication devices and objects. Your child may not use your preferred mode of communication, but that does not mean that he/she is not communicating. Accept all forms of communication utilized by your child. The ultimate goal for communication is to increase spontaneity and to build independence.
Pay Attention to Body Language and Model Language
When your child is looking toward or reaching for something, he/she is communicating. Make a comment about what he/she is reaching for, “Oh, you want the iPad and then model the language you would like them to use, “I want the iPad.” If your child uses AAC, get to know their device so you can model how to use it in the moment. If you have to play around with the device to create the model, you will most likely lose your child’s attention and the teachable moment. Furthermore, don’t pressure your child to speak. It is important to keep the experience positive.
Find Teachable Moments
Follow your child’s lead as much as possible. Let him/her be the initiator of an activity or topic of conversation while you are the participant. Use motivating activities to increase engagement and to model appropriate language. Language is all around us, even if you child doesn’t understand everything you are saying, he/she needs to be exposed to new vocabulary and concepts. Label everything you see, and encourage your child to point to objects as you talk about them. Leave words out and see if your child will fill in the blanks. Most importantly, be playful!
Use the 4 L’s – Less Language and Longer Latency
It’s natural to feel the urge to prompt or respond for a child when they don’t immediately provide a response. If this occurs, fight the urge to talk for your child. It is extremely important to give your child ample time to process language and to formulate a response. When you ask a question or see that your child wants something, pause for several seconds while looking at him/her expectantly. Watch for any sound or body movement and respond promptly. The promptness of your response helps to empower your child.
Simplify Your Language
It is important for your child to understand what you are saying; therefore, using simple language is essential. Furthermore, when using simple language it is easier for your child to imitate and follow your model. Use phrases with one more word than your child is using. For example, if your child says ball, respond with roll ball or throw ball. Pair verbs with nouns/objects to increase understanding. Nouns often have multiple meanings; therefore, it is important to model language by combining nouns and verbs to increase functionality and comprehension.
Utilize First à Then
Use first/then language to shape behavior and remember to be consistent, “First you need to eat, then you can watch television.” Use this language at all times, especially when moving from a preferred activity to a non-preferred activity.