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Communicating With Your Child

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By Lisa Simmons © All Rights Reserved

Not being able to speak is not the same as having nothing to say - - - Communicating with your child who doesn't use words to talk We all know people who can speak volumes without ever opening their mouths. They use their hands, their body language, and their facial expressions. Experts tell us that when we talk with each other, only 7% of our message is communicated by the actual words we speak. Now that we know that communication is not really about words - - it may be a little easier to look beyond words when we communicate with our kids who don't use words to "talk". Today we are going to focus on communicating about basic needs and the "stuff" in our environment.

1. Start with yes and no By starting with yes and no you give your child the ability to answer two very important questions: · Are you (tired, hungry, thirsty, etc)? · Do you want (a snack, your red shirt, to go to the park)? Another advantage of starting with yes/no is that it can be done in a variety of ways from the standard head nod to virtually any combination of motor responses. For example, twitching the left hand can mean yes and a head jerk can mean no. The key is to find something your child has good control of and to use the system consistently.

2. Choice making The next logical step from yes/no is usually a point response. This allows you to offer your child a wider range of options. Instead of doing the time consuming one at a time choice you can offer your child 2-3 choices at a time. If a point response doesn't work this can also be managed using head movements to the right, left, and center. Just be sure your child understands the choices and which item he/she is picking!

3. Word Labels If your child is mobile and has a fairly large vocabulary (or if you want to encourage more vocabulary) word labels may be a good choice for your family. Labeling involves typing the names of frequently used objects in a large type size, laminating the sign and attaching it with Velcro to the actual item. When your child wants the item they simply pull off the label and bring it to you. This works really well if you start with your child's favorite items. In addition to exposing your child regularly to written words this also encourages your child to initiate requests rather than wait on someone else to offer them something. Labeling can also be used quickly and effectively at school.

4. Touch Screens Computer touch screens are a wonderful invention! They allow your child to experience the awesome sensation of being in control -- making things happen! In addition to this experience with cause and effect they encourage kids to get comfortable with the computer. Down the road that comfort and familiarity will go a long way towards helping them adjust to more complicated assistive technology devices.

5. Request/schedule boards Request boards are simply photographs or black & white drawings of objects and activities that your child enjoys or needs often. They can be easily updated as your child's favorites change and work well velcro-ed to wheelchair trays for kids who spend lots of time seated in a wheelchair. Even the pictures can be velcro-ed on if you have a really "changeable" child. This allows the child to select which pictures they want on their board at the beginning of the day. Picture boards also work well for school or family schedules and can help kids who stress about change and need to know what's coming up next.

6. Show me Perhaps the simplest communication strategy is the simple "Show me what you need" response. This can be a real frustration reliever when your child just can't get the words out or make their body cooperate. The only drawback to this strategy is that kids rapidly become "sleeve tuggers" if you use this method regularly. A good way to prevent this is to build in step two right from the beginning. Once your child shows you the desired item, respond with "Oh you wanted your teddy bear! Great! Now, let's add a picture of teddy to your board so that you can show me the picture next time!"

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