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.