Step 5: Use Appropriate Interaction Strategies to Support Communication


As you play and interact with your child, there are some strategies that you can use to help him or her learn to communicate.

The research suggests that these strategies help young children with special needs learn to communicate, especially those with complex communication needs.

When you play and interact with your child:

  • Provide lots of opportunities for your child to communicate.
  • Model the use of AAC as you talk.
  • Wait and allow your child time to communicate.
  • Respond to your child’s attempts to communicate.
  • Have fun!

Why is it important to provide lots of opportunities for my child to communicate?

Children learn language and communication skills by having lots of opportunities to practice these skills in daily interactions.

Often young children with special needs do not have many opportunities to communicate.

  • Provide lots of opportunities for your child to communicate during play and other daily activities, including opportunities for your child to:
    • Ask questions
    • Comment on play activities
    • Express feelings
    • Comment on books
    • Ask for preferred toys and activities
    • Communicate choices
    • Greet others and so on 
       

Here is an example of providing lots of opportunities for communication:

In this video, Gareth, his mom, and Janice are playing "school."

  • Gareth is 26 months old in this footage.  He has cerebral palsy. 
  • He has a wonderful imagination and a great sense of humor.  He loves to play imaginative games.
  • In this clip, he is using a communication book with pictures to communicate while he plays.
  • His mom provides him with lots of opportunities to communicate while they are playing together.
    • She provides him with the opportunity to:
      • tell the bus driver to drive the bus "fast"
      • tell his mom that the kids are going to school
      • tell the kids to sing the "ABC" song
      • ask to sing the song "fast"
    • She waits for him to communicate.
    • She responds immediately to his intent.
  • Gareth has lots of opportunities to learn language and communication while he is having fun playing school!

 

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Why is it important that I model the use of AAC when I play and talk with my child?

Children learn new words and concepts by watching and listening to others during play and other daily activities.

Children with special needs will be most apt to learn new concepts if they see and hear you using them during play and other daily activities:

  • Model the use of AAC as you play and talk with your child.


The research suggests that when partners model the use of AAC when they talk:

  • It helps children with special needs understand what is being said to them.
  • It shows the children how AAC can be used to enhance communication.
  • It introduces the children to new vocabulary and more complex messages.


As you play and talk with your child:

  • Sign everything that you say or
  • Point to the appropriate symbols on your child’s communication board or book or
  • Select the appropriate symbols from your child’s speech generating device (SGD)
     

Here is an example of modeling the use of AAC:

In this example, Gareth is writing a story about a hippopotamus with his mom and Janice.

  • Gareth is 32 months old in this video.  He has cerebral palsy.
  • He loves to read books, and he likes to make up his own stories and "publish" them as books.
  • In this video, Gareth has decided to write a story about a hippopotamus.
    • First, he chooses an illustration for the story.
    • Then Janice asks him, "What is the hippo doing?"
      • She models the use of AAC (specifically, his SGD), as she asks the question.
        • She says the question and selects the appropriate symbols from the SGD.
    • Next, Gareth uses his SGD to dictate the text of this page of his story.  He selects each of the symbols in sequence to communicate the sentence, "The hippo is dancing."
  • Janice and his mom support Gareth's communication by
    • giving him opportunities to communicate
    • modeling the use of his SGD to show him how AAC can be used to enhance communication, as well as to introduce him to new vocabulary and more complex messages
    • waiting to make sure that Gareth has time to put together his entire message
    • responding positively to his message
  • Gareth is already well on the way to developing the language and communication skills that he will require for school.
    • Even though he is only 32 months old, he has already acquired a large vocabulary
    • He is learning how to combine words to communicate more complex ideas
      • He even knows how to include the auxiliary, "is", to make his sentence grammatically correct.  When he accidentally selects "is" twice by mistake, he uses the backspace to correct the error.
  • Most importantly, Gareth is having fun writing a book with his mom and Janice.

 

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Why is it important to wait and allow my child time to communicate?

When children with special needs are young, they are still learning how to communicate.

  • They may need additional time to understand what is said to them.
  • They may need help knowing when to take a turn.
  • They may need additional time to figure out how to answer a question or make a request.
  • They may have vision or motor challenges that delay their response time or ability to locate and indicate what they want to say.

Research suggests that one of the most effective ways to encourage children to communicate is to pause and wait.

Pausing and waiting:

  • Clearly marks the opportunity for your child to communicate
  • Clearly indicates that your child is expected to communicate
  • Provides additional time for your child to understand what is said
  • Provides additional time for your child to formulate a message


Each time you ask your child a question or make a comment:

  • Look at your child expectantly.
  • Pause and give your child the opportunity to communicate.
  • Wait at least 10 seconds.
     

Here is an example of what is meant by "pausing and waiting":

Emma is singing one of her favorite songs, "The Itsy Bitsy Spider", with her mom, her brother, and Janice.

  • Emma was born with Down syndrome.  She is only 8 months old in this video.
  • In this clip, Emma is learning to use the computer, an SGD.
  • Emma's mom and Janice are using appropriate strategies to support her communication.
    • They give her the opportunity to communicate.
    • They pause and wait.
      • to let Emma know it is her turn
      • to give her more time to understand
      • to provide her additional time to take her turn
    • They respond to Emma's communicative attempt when she touches the computer screen to select the next line of the song.
  • Most importantly, Emma is having fun with her mom, her brother, and Janice while she learns new communication skills.

 

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Why is it important to respond to my child’s communication attempts?

If partners respond when children attempt to communicate, children learn that:

  • communication is fun
  • communication allows them to get things done
  • communicating connects them to other people

Genevieve and Janice love to talk, play, and sing together.  "The Wheels on the Bus" is one of their favorites.

 Genevieve and Janice love to talk, play and sign together.

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 Unfortunately the research suggests that partners do not always respond when children with special needs attempt to communicate.

  • As a result, some children may feel that there is no point in trying to communicate.
    • They may become very passive and/or withdrawn. 
  • Some children may become frustrated that they cannot express themselves.
    • They may start to use challenging behaviors.

When you play or spend time with your child,

  • Observe him or her carefully.
  • If your child is trying to communicate, respond immediately in a positive way.
  • Fulfill your child’s intent:
    • For example, provide the toy or activity that he or she requested.
    • Respond to your child’s questions (What’s that? Why?).
    • Respond to your child’s comments during play or book reading.
  • Expand on your child’s message using AAC and speech
    • For example, if you are playing tea party and your child selects the symbol “ cookies” on his SGD, you might respond by saying “more cookies” or “Elmo wants more cookies” while you select the appropriate symbols from his SGD.
    • If you are reading the book Brown Bear Brown Bear, and your child signs “duck”, you might respond by saying and signing “yellow duck”.
  • Continue to set up lots of meaningful opportunities for your child to communicate including opportunities to:
    • ask questions, comment on play activities, express feelings, ask for preferred toys and activities, communicate choices, greet others and so on
  • If your child does not try to communicate even though you paused and waited, respond immediately and show your child how to communicate:
    • Use AAC and speech to model an appropriate turn for your child.
      • Say and sign a short message, and/or 
      • Say a short message and select the appropriate symbols on your child’s communication board or book
      • Say a short message and select the appropriate symbols from your child’s SGD
    • As before, continue to set up lots of meaningful opportunities for your child to communicate.
      • You could present the same opportunity again.
      • Or provide new opportunities for your child to ask questions, comment on play activities, express feelings, comment on books, ask for preferred toys and activities, communicate choices, greet others and so on.

 

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Pointers

Remember that when young children are learning to communicate, their initial attempts may not be perfect.  They will use approximations of the correct form.

  • They may use word approximations in their speech.
  • They may use sign approximations.
  • They may need some assistance selecting picture symbols from their communication book or SGD.

It is important to respond to these initial attempts to encourage your child's communication.

  • Respond to these attempts by fulfilling your child's intent.
  • Model the correct form for your child.
    • Say the spoken word.
    • Show your child the sign.
    • Show your child the picture on his or her communication board or SGD.
  • Your child will gradually learn how to produce the correct form.

Here is an example of responding to communication attempts:

This is a video of Jackson taken at Christmas time.

  • Jackson is playing with his mom and Janice.
  • In this clip, he is 23 months old.  He has Down syndrome.
  • Jackson points to the lights on the Christmas tree and uses speech and the computer to ask, "What's that?"
  • Jackson's mom and Janice are using appropriate strategies to support his communication.
    • They give him the opportunity to communicate.
    • Janice models how to ask the question, "What's that?" using speech, signs, and the computer.
    • Jackson's mom and Janice pause and wait to give Jackson time to ask a question.
    • They respond to Jackson's communicative attempt when he points to the tree and asks, "That?"  They recognize that this is an approximation of "What's that?"
    • They answer his question and label the tree and the lights on the tree.
  • Most importantly, Jackson is having fun with his mom and Janice while he learns new words and develops his communication skills.

 

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Why is it important to have fun?

Children are most likely to learn if they are interested in the interaction and if they are having fun.

When you are playing or interacting with your child, the most important thing is to:

  • Have fun!
    • Don’t worry about whether you are doing everything right.
      • It takes time to learn all of the intervention techniques discussed in this website.
      • You will gradually become more comfortable using these strategies and techniques over time.
    • Enjoy your time with your child. This is the most powerful strategy of all to support your child’s communication. 

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Last Updated: August 31, 2012