We always hear the saying “no two children are the same.” This is a fact that we all know. This applies especially to children who have unique and special needs. When we talk about special needs, keep in mind that this is a very broad term, and is often used to describe a very wide range of physical, emotional, cognitive or behavioral disabilities. Given all these differences in every child, communicating with these children is not a one-size-fits all endeavor.
Every child will have different communication abilities. Thus, we must accommodate to them so we can better understand them and also so they can better express themselves to us.
So, here are 5 ways to improve communication between us and our children with special needs:
- Speak in short phrases and sentences.
We always remind our parents to always use short and simple instruction. Not all children have the same comprehension level. Which means, if too many words are used, they might not be able to understand it. Most of us are guilty on saying long instruction or sentences to our children. However, basic sentence structure is better. Instead of saying, “Child X, get your pencil and don’t forget to write your name on the blank.” you can just say, “Take your pencil.” Then give your child the time to take the pencil and then say, “Write your name here.” (while pointing on the blank). Some children may know what a blank is, but some may also not be aware of what blank is.
- Follow the child’s lead and repeat what they said
Observe what your child is doing. See where they are looking and where they are interested at. This will encourage them to talk more. For some, this will help them to initiate any form communication more. If you try to copy what your child is doing or saying, you will notice that they will look at you. This will reinforce the thought that saying, or vocalizing will get them what they want and be understood.
- Give comments instead of asking questions.
When interacting with children in general, we tend to ask them so many questions like “what”, “how” or “why”. However, when communicating with a child with special needs, it is better to comment or describe what they are doing instead. Some children have lesser vocabulary words while some children cannot even verbalize. Through giving comments, this will help them increase their vocabulary words and at the same time, this will help them label what they are actually doing. For example, when you see a kid holding a book, instead of saying “what are you reading?”, you can say “You are reading a book about animals.”
- Model the word / sentence
There are times that our children may not know what to say. Our role is to lead and say the sentence first and ask them to repeat after you. This is common to children with ASD. We can help them communicate by asking them to copy what you want them to say. For example, your child’s friend gave her a cookie, you can say “Thank you for the cookie, Alex.” and let your child repeat what you said. Through practice, this imitation skill will come more and more spontaneous along the way.
- Give them pause, “filling in” activities, and stay at their eye level
When talking to our children, we always give them a chance to express their thoughts and feelings. We cannot expect them to answer right away after being asked. This is what we call “pause” which actually gives them opportunity to think how they want to express themselves. During routine activities, we also give them opportunities to practice filling in the last word of a phrase or sentence. We always get our children to finish the sentence for us. For example, “Today is Friday. So, tomorrow is _________” and give them pause then they will say “Saturday”.
Moreover, we always talk to our children on their eye level. This will help them to have more eye-contact to the speaker and this will help them to feel less intimidated, making them more comfortable to express what they want to say.
These are the usual things we do in Bridging the Gap and these has been helpful for us and our children to have a better communication.