17 Ways to Encourage Communication with your Special Child
Communication is fundamental to a child’s development. It is at the heart of relationships – it’s how we get to know each other – and it’s essential for learning, play and social interaction. So what happens if your child has a communication impairment?
The following tips for encouraging communication have been contributed to Scope by parents of children and adults with special needs. We hope you will find them useful, and please feel free to add your own!
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Often we do so much for our children, they don’t have the need or opportunity to communicate. This is where sabotage comes in. Put toys or important objects in a place where your child needs to ask for them, or give a meal with no cutlery (again, so they have to ask). Find ways to manipulate situations to necessitate communication.
2. Give choices
We find with Lucy that giving her choices encourages her to talk more.
3. Create conversation
I have a dry-wipe white board and each day I draw a picture of a particular activity we have done or something interesting that’s happened. Each time we leave the house I remind my son by showing him the picture and try to get him to tell people about it during the day. Or, if people come to the house I ask him to take the board to them and explain what happened. He finds this really amusing and it keeps his interest.
4. Level up
Playing and talking are easier if you can see each other. Sit so you are at the same level.
5. Key words
If your child has a communication impairment, ask his/her teacher for a list of new keywords that will be introduced into the classroom for the next term, and practice them together so he/she has a head start on their peers.
6. Avoid too many questions
Children learn lots of words from comments like, “Look, the dog is playing with a ball; it’s like your ball” and much less from too many questions or demands like, “What’s the dog playing with?” “Who is playing with the ball?”
7. Emphasize keywords
Izzy doesn’t understand very much but she does understand keywords, so we isolate and emphasise these, for example ‘bath’, ‘bus’, ‘shops’
8. Be clear
Our speech and language therapist taught us to give clear instructions (maximum of two information-carrying words) and use objects, symbols, signs or pictures to support words.
9. Give them a reason to talk
People need a reason to communicate and the opportunity to have a go. In the nicest possible way we asked Charlie’s carer to stop talking for Charlie all the time and also to stop anticipating her needs. Charlie needs to be given the chance to communicate herself.
10. Sing along
Songs and nursery rhymes are great for learning keywords in a fun way.
11. Give prompts
I regularly put things in my son’s pockets in the morning when he is going to nursery in the hope that he will find them and it will prompt him to tell someone about it. For example, we went to the safari park recently and had a left over token which had an animal’s face on it. He found the token later and was able to relay a bit of information to his nursery teacher about the day before.
12. Keep talking
We say out loud the words Bev would be saying to us, so she can learn what she would like to say, for example, “Want more?” or “It’s broken.”
13. Color their world
To teach Guy his colors I cut out his favorite Thomas the Tank characters and glued them to plain card so there were no background distractions. He found it much easier to identify and remember the colors of the characters that he was already familiar with. When we moved on to asking the color of other objects, if he couldn't name the color of the sky, a prompt of "What color is Thomas?" usually got results.
We find exaggerating our facial expressions and tone of voice really helps Tammy to understand us.
The key to communication and learning is motivation. Think about what your child enjoys doing and plan around that.
16. Figures of speech
My daughter has autism. She has struggled socially because she doesn't understand metaphors and figures of speech, for example, 'Every cloud has a silver lining.' She gets stuck on the meaning and will think,'What cloud?' 'How can a cloud
have a silver lining?' etc for the next hour, missing the rest of the conversation. We now write down these sayings as they arise & have compiled a dictionary of their meanings. By regularly reviewing them, she has now begun to use one or two herself.
17. Make it fun
Make communication fun. That is the best motivator for someone to listen and communicate.
Emma Sterland helps run the online community at Scope, a national UK-based disability charity, offering support for disabled people and their families. All the tips used in this post were contributed by members of the online community, and can be seen in the tips section of the community .