Communicating With Your Child With Special Needs

Raising a child with communication challenges can be both frustrating and heartbreaking. Watching your child struggle to communicate with others and become frustrated is both difficult and emotional. Children with special needs of all different diagnoses have a variety of levels of communication delays. Each child is unique and needs a custom approach to intervention, however, similar tactics may be helpful with many children with speech delays.

Create the Need For Communication

For children with a speech delay it is hard to communicate. The reason for the difficulty depends on the reason for the delay. It can be a motor planning issue, articulation difficulty, low muscle tone, neurological problem, or other reason. As adults, do we jump right at the opportunity to do something that is hard for us or do we put it off until we absolutely must address it? In order to encourage a child with a speech delay to practice talking (or communicating in another way such as word approximation, sign language, or using an augmentative communication device) one must create the need to communicate.

If a child can get a cookie by pointing to the jar, he or she is less likely to say the word cookie. As a care giver you first require the child to attempt to say the word to get the cookie. You move from attempting the word to saying the word, then on to a two-word phrase such as more cookie and the increasing the number of words into a full sentence.

In the already busy life of raising a child with special needs, among work, other children, and other obligations it is sometimes is hard to stop and practice this. After all it’s one more thing that takes more time in an already jam-packed schedule. But I promise you it can work and is worth it.

Communicating With Your Child

Some times when you have a child who doesn’t talk back or speaks very little, it’s easy to forget that children learn through conversation. By talking with our children we teach them vocabulary, the art of turn taking and other skills. Even if you have a young child who can not respond, you can talk to them about lots of things.

At the grocery store, talk them through the shopping list, what you are buying, point to symbols and letters on the packaging and talk about what you will use the items for.

At home talk to them while doing simple tasks around the house like laundry. Talk about the colors of the clothing or whose shirt it is you are folding. You could also talk about big and small, soft, and other descriptive words.

The point  is the more you talk to your child the better and it can be in simple every day ways.

Communicating With Teachers and Childcare Providers

When you have a non-verbal child, communication with his or her care givers is critical. There is no way of knowing what is going on the the majority of your child’s day at daycare or school if you don’t have good communication. One the best ways to communicate, especially if you can’t see the teacher and/or therapists face-to-face each day is a journal or log. It can be as simple as a notebook or more involved including a custom sheet with your child’s daily schedule. Any form will give you more information than you would have had.

When communication is a challenge, often simple and creative ways may a world of difference.

Jill Wagoner is Secretary of the Board of Directors at Partners In Learning and the parent of a son with Down syndrome.

Jill Wagoner is the mother of a child with Down syndrome. She serves as an advocate, writer, speaker, fundraiser, and grant writer for organizations that support children with special needs. A former journalist and current marketer and public relations specialist, Jill has been published in many publications and blogs, including The Salisbury Post, Modern Parent, and Rowan Magazine. She is Secretary of the Board at Partners In Learning.


Parents, you’re not alone!

In researching parenthood, I stumbled across an article “Parenthood in America” by Marc H. BornsteinIs. Even though this article was written in 1998 there are still some truths today in 2013. I like the way Bornsteinls states, “Despite the fact that most people become parents, and everyone who ever lived has had parents, parenting remains a somewhat mystifying subject about which almost everyone has opinions, but about which few people agree.” I believe that this is very true. Issues arise today concerning who is responsible for children’s behavior or the lack thereof. I wholeheartedly believe that parents are educators who teach their children how to develop mentally, emotionally, socially, physically, and spiritually. At the same token, it takes a village to raise a child.

A child is most supported when they have a positive home-environment and community, a thriving school system, and balanced church. When a child is lacking in any of these areas it has the possibilities of producing negative behaviors, unhealthy decision making, and most importantly could lead to an imbalanced life. This dead-end could be alleviated when a child is properly nurtured by its support systems. Parenting will not always go right and it won’t always go wrong. It’s a skill set that must be embraced by the parent themselves. I believe parenting has to be an ability that each individual parent offers instruction innately by allowing others to assist in contributing to their child’s growth. For example once a child is enrolled in school, further development is given and this is from their teacher, not the parent. I am another example!

As a child, now an adult, I was raised by a healthy family, outstanding school system and a great church. I have not made the best of choices, but I overcame them all. When I made bad decisions I was able to lean on the shoulder of my parents, mentors and or friends that had my best interest at heart. Every child and adult need someone to go to motivate them in time of tough decisions or when in trouble. I do know that I would not have succeeded this far in life, had I not been around loving, caring, respecting, motivating, positive and supportive parents, an outstanding school system and trust worthy community leaders as a whole.

Now 27 years old, I have developed my own family, motivation of achievement, self-confidence and worth. My husband and I work as a team to raise our children based off our own morals, values and beliefs. Now that I have been working with children and families for seven years, I do my best at offering support through embracing their personalities, interests, and abilities. Giving these children the understanding education they need to get the basics of life to establish their own self-esteem, moral and ethical values so that when they arise to adulthood they too can be self-starters and achievers.

Michelle Macon is the Program Coordinator and Family Support Advocate for Partners In Learning.


Michelle Macon has been with Partners In Learning since 2006 and serves as the Program Coordinator and Family Support Advocate. She holds an associate’s degree in early childhood development and a bachelor’s degree in birth through kindergarten education. She is a mother of two children and has experience working with infants and toddlers.

Environmental Impact On Behavior

Each year, Partners In Learning offers a Disabilities Simulation Forum.  We invite members of the community to experience what day-to-day life might be like if walking, manipulating objects, processing information or coping with sensory overload imposed challenges for an individual.  It is one thing to understand what it might be like to have a disability intellectually, but a whole different understanding is acquired when a person actually experiences the challenges of the disabilities, even if it’s just for a few minutes.  The sensory stimulus overload simulation is my creation.  I bombard participates with noise, smell, bright lights and invite them to sit on irritating-textured chairs while they attempt to construct a puzzle.

While some people are hypersensitive to environmental stimulus, ALL OF US respond to environmental stimulus, whether we’re aware of it or not.  For example, have you ever gone into Walmart without seeing at least one child having a behavioral meltdown?  Think about it; the florescent lighting, the crowds, the noise and the volume of visual stimulus provides sensory overload for most of us!  As classroom teachers and early interventionists, we are very aware of how environment impacts behavior.   Bright primary colors might be conducive in some environments, but if you want your child to take a nap or fall to sleep at night, I suggest walls painted in soft blues or greens.  Over time, children generally mirror the noise level in their environment.  I know one teacher who talks so softly that children lean in to hear what she’s saying.  Her classroom is filled with natural lite, and she responds to a child’s upset with calmness and care.  She has created a very peaceful learning environment.

When your child is exhibiting challenging behavior, be sure to look at environmental factors that me be impacting the behavior.

Katherine Generaux,Community Inclusion Specialist, Partners In Learning

Katherine Generaux serves as the center’s Community Inclusion Specialist. In that position she has been effective in modeling appropriate interactions with young children with special needs. Her ongoing presence in the classrooms modeling best practices for infants and toddler is resulting in additional experience while making a positive difference in early childhood programming. She is very aware of what is developmentally appropriate and engaging with the children. Her birth through kindergarten degree and experience are evident in her service to children and families.

Recognizing Early Signs of Autism

As the number of children being diagnosed with Autism increases, the need for public awareness involving correct identification of the early symptoms of Autism becomes imperative.

New parents should become familiar with these signs so that if necessary, early intervention and support can have significant benefits for their young child in the future.  Early detection is vital to learning how to teach a child with Autism. Mothers often find it easier to believe their child is moving at their own pace when milestones are not met, but it should be recognized as a possible symptom of Autism to be safe. If you are concerned about your child not meeting milestones, have them checked out by a physician to be sure.

1)      Babies should usually be smiling by the time they are 6 months old. This involves a true happy smile, not a gas smile.

2)      By 10 months, infants should be attempting to mimic facial expressions, words, and vocal intonations in some way. Typically developing babies try to mirror what their parents and other people are doing.

3)      By 12 months, a lack of response to their name by a familiar voice may be an early sign of Autism. Typically developing children usually babble or “baby talk” by 12 months.  Also, by 12 months, children should be making back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving.

4)      A common way to recognize early symptoms of Autism is if your child is not speaking by the age of 2. At least a few words in their vocabulary are typical for children by this age. If your child is 2 years old and not talking at all, make an appointment with your pediatrician.

While some children do not display all of the symptoms of Autism, if you are in any way concerned due to recognizing ANY of the early symptoms, seek out professional help and get the proper testing done to help rule in or out Autism.

There are other early signs that you should be aware of as a parent. If your child does not respond to their name or at times seems to be hearing impaired, you may have reason to be concerned. Poor eye contact and lack of smiling or joyful interactions are something to watch for. Many children on the Autism spectrum tend to be attached to one particular toy or object; in addition, they don’t seem to know how to play appropriately with toys. While many young children love to line up toys, such lining up cars for a race, excessive or obsessive lining up of toys can be a sign. Watch for your child not using any types of gestures or pointing to communicate and if your child never waves goodbye. Many children with autism either love or hate sensory stimulation, such as cuddling, bathing, wearing clothes/shoes, or any type of texture play, such as playing in water or mud. Finally, if your child has difficulty eating a variety of textures or refuses to eat certain types of food, such as mushy foods, talk to your physician.

Overall, the best method for early detection of Autism involves monitoring your child’s development. Take action if you are at all concerned. Don’t accept a “wait-and-see” approach, the earlier the better. Early Intervention is critical to your child’s development. Mostly, trust your instincts; no one knows your child as well as you do. If you feel like your child is developmentally delayed, there is no harm in seeking professional advice.

Katie Zink, Infant-Toddler Family Specialist


Katie Zink is a graduate of Catawba College and serves as a CBRS therapist for Partners In Learning. Prior to her role as a therapist, Katie served as a teacher beginning in 2009.  Working with children is her life’s passion.


The Developmentally Appropriate Classroom

The importance of Developmental Appropriate Practices (DAP) in early childhood classrooms cannot be overstated.  Early childhood in the education field is considered from birth through eight years old.  Young children learn through exploring their environment.  From the time a child is born the are exploring with the vocal cry’s, eyes by looking around, and taste by putting everything in their mouths.  It continues until they reach kindergarten where they explore through play and asking lost of questions.  Any parent can tell you they hear “why” constantly throughout the day.  This is that sense of wonder that a DAP classroom can foster.  A DAP classroom is one where the teacher understands the developmental needs of children this age and provides a classroom that fosters learning through play.   

A DAP classroom is one where children most often:

  • Lead … rather than  follow the teacher
  • Create … rather than duplicate
  • Move … rather than wait                                                                         
  • Make the lines … rather than color in the lines
  • Speak … rather than listen passively
  • Initiate … rather than imitate
  • Raise questions … rather than answer the teacher’s questions
  • Solve their own problems … rather than the teacher’s problems
  • Make art … rather than do crafts
  • Emphasize the process … rather than the product
  • Use authentic skills … rather than drill and practice
  • Make books … rather than fill in workbooks
  • Decide … rather than submit
  • Choose wisely … rather than being told
  • Make a plan … rather than follow the teacher’s plan
  • Try again … rather than fail

These are the skills that children will need to work in the 21st Century.  The teacher serves more as a facilitator than a teacher.  The classroom is arranged in activity areas where the child can engage in learning activities.  At Partners In Learning we understand this need and are excited about having a DAP Kindergarten classroom.

As a DAP Kindergarten classroom it will aim to provide young children with the highest quality education by the inclusion of accepted child development theory relating to learning, the acceptance that each child has individual traits and learning styles, the use of play as an educational tool and the understanding that cultures, communities and families influence the child’s development.  It will be 21st Century at it best!

Norma Honeycutt, Executive Director

Norma Honeycutt is the Executive Director of Partners In Learning Child Development & Family Resource Center. Norma is one of the states strongest advocates for children with special needs serving on boards and commissions including the North Carolina Child Care Commission, Rowan County NCPreK Advisory Committee, and Rowan County Local Interagency Coordinating Council. Norma is also a CBRS therapist and facilitates support groups, activities, and other programs for families of children with special needs.