Using gestures or language can be challenging for many children with developmental delays, language delays or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It is important to remember that with help and understanding, your child can develop communication skills.
Children can often find it hard to relate and communicate with others especially when it is difficult for them to understand language or use language. Many children will learn unconventional ways to communicate such as using made-up words, repeating words or using them in the wrong context, pushing or pulling caregivers to what they want or using undesirable behaviors to access what they want.
It is important to remember to help your child communicate and meet them at their skill level now, not where you want them to be. The more successful your child feels when learning new ways to communicate, the more often they will begin to use these new skills.
Here are 4 helpful tips to promote communication with your child.
- Motivate your child to communicate
Motivation is key for a child to want to communicate their wants and needs. Create opportunities to practice communication. As parents, sometimes the needs of a child are known or we anticipate what they will need. Show your child a favorite snack or activity and encourage your child to ask for it instead of just giving it to them. Limit the access your child has to their favorite things so they will need to request those items. Put their favorite toys out of reach or rotate their access to toys. Give them smaller servings of their snacks or juice. Children will be more engaged to communicate when it involves items or activities based on their wants and interests.
- Prompt new communication skills
Prompt new communication skills by using physical, verbal or visual guidance. If you child pushing or pulls you to the area of an item, help them point to the item by taking their hand and forming a “point” while labeling the item before giving it to them. If your child imitates actions, you can point to the item and have your child copy you, before giving them access to what they want. If your child repeats words, say the name of the item so they can repeat it before giving them access to it. Model communication skills by using gestures or words so that your child has extra practice asking for what they want. They will soon learn “if I point/use my words, then I get what I want.”
- Allow your child to communicate independently
Slowly remove the prompts after multiple, successful opportunities so your child does not become dependent on them. You can pause one or two seconds before using a prompt in order to give your child an opportunity to practice that skill independently. Try not to ask them “what do you want?” all the time so they can learn to request things when THEY want/need to, not when they are asked.
- Expand an generalize to other people, settings and activities
Get the entire family involved! Teamwork is important. Make sure to teach those that are in your child’s daily life the new skills you are trying to teach. Consistency is key! You don’t want your child to learn that they only have to communicate with certain people or for certain items, that this new skill is for everything they want/need. Use these strategies in your child’s everyday life such as at meal time, at the park, bath time or at a family member’s house.
It is important to remember that your child must be motivated to have the item. Be patient and consistent in your strategies. Don’t make your child request every item that they want every day, give some things for “free” too. And remember to have fun!
By: Sarah McLaughlin, M.A.