What Are Your Top Tips for Communicating with Children with Special Needs?

As a facility that specializes in helping children with varying abilities, parents frequently come to us seeking tips for helping their child. We’ve prepared our top five tips that can be used in any setting for children with varying ability levels.

1. Decrease your rate of speech.
In a fast-paced world, it’s easy to get into a rhythm and learn to speak quickly. However, this may not be the best for your child with special needs. If they have difficulty decoding and interpreting speech, try slowing down your rate of speech. By speaking more slowly, you are giving them a better opportunity to process the language that they are receiving.

2. Use visual supports.
When communicating with a child, take into account their level of symbolic knowledge. They may need to see a picture of an object to determine what the object is, or they may be able to recognize an object based solely on a word.

3. Model the language and use the third-person singular tense.
To help your child communicate, you can model the language that you expect the child to use. By modeling the language that you want the child to use, they can learn to imitate the language and speak as you expect them to. For example, don’t say “I see the big truck go” if your child is only at a level of saying “truck.” Instead, just say “truck” so that they learn through imitation of language. You can also help your child improve communication with “scaffolding.” Through scaffolding, you can teach your child more language by slowly improving upon what he or she can do. For example, if your child can say “truck,” try getting them to say “big truck.”

4. Set up opportunities for increased communication.
Look for ways the help your child speak more. If your child likes a particular character or toy, you can use that when talking to them to allow them to communicate more frequently. You can also take your child on unique outings and experiences so that they can speak about the experience and what they saw.

5. Practice an “expectant wait.”
When you speak to your child, you may expect them to do speak or perform an action following that. If you expect them to do something, you must wait for your child to take action or respond. This can be hard to do as you may expect them to do something right away (as someone who can quickly process language may). If your child is taking longer than expected to respond, continue waiting and allow them to speak. If they do not respond in the amount of time that you would like, do not craft a response for them. Instead, wait and listen to what they have to say – even if it takes longer than you would like. Your child may need time to process the language and take action. If it takes longer than 5 – 10 seconds, you can help them take action hand-over-hand and model the language again. That allows your child to pair the language with the action.

These five strategies are our top tips for communicating with a child with special needs. If you have any questions or are looking for more strategies, reach out – we are always willing to talk!

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