Step 1: Identify Meaningful Contexts for Communication


The first step in intervention is to identify meaningful situations or contexts to promote communication and social interaction with your child.

What types of contexts are appropriate?

Choose contexts or situations that:

  • Are motivating for your child
  • Provide lots of opportunities for communication
  • Are appropriate to your child’s development

 

 Lili and her mom play bubbles with Janice.

    Guidelines for choosing contexts:  LA plays bubbles with her mom & Janice
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Why is it important to choose contexts that are motivating?

Young children are most likely to talk, interact, and learn if they are doing something they enjoy.

Start by thinking about activities that your child really likes to do:

  • For example, many infants enjoy games like peek-a-boo, playing bye-bye games, or “raspberries”.
  • Many toddlers enjoy singing songs or looking at books.
  • Many preschoolers enjoy imaginative play with cars, stuffed animals, dolls, or action characters.

Here is a video example of a "motivating context":

In this video, Jackson, his mom, and Janice are using a speech generating device (e.g., a computer individualized for supporting Jackson's communication), to sing the song, "I'm a Little Teapot."

  • Jackson is 20 months old.  He has Down syndrome.
  • He loves to sing, especially action songs.
    • Singing songs is a very motivating situation for Jackson and it is one that provides lots of opportunities to communicate and relate to others.
  • Jackson uses the computer to sing the lines from one of his favorite songs, "I'm a Little Teapot."
    • He selects that photo by touching the screen, and the computer then sings the line of the song.
    • His mom is helping him to do the appropriate actions along with the song.
  • Jackson loves this activity.  He is very motivated to participate. 

 

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Why is it important to choose contexts that provide lots of opportunities for communication?

Young children are most likely to learn new skills if they have lots of opportunities to use these skills.

In the past, traditional approaches for early intervention often started by teaching children to request food at snack time.

  • Although the children typically learned to ask for cookies or juice successfully, they often had difficulty communicating beyond these simple requests, which only served one purpose (get a snack).
  • When intervention focuses primarily on snacks (and other needs and wants), the focus is on the preferred item (the food), not on the social interaction.
    • Once the children receive the preferred item, the interaction usually ends.
    • As a result, the children have few opportunities to learn to participate in social interactions.

 
In contrast, with our intervention, we start by teaching children to participate in social interactions.

  • Many children are innately curious about other people.
  • Children are naturally drawn to social interactions with other people.
  • Social games and activities will give your child lots of opportunities to learn communication skills.


Think about social activities that your child might enjoy and that can be sustained for several turns.

  • For example, these social activities can be sustained for multiple turns:
    • Singing songs
    • Reading books
    • Imaginative play with toys
    • Games like peek-a-boo and tickling
  • Choose activities that occur frequently throughout the day or week.
    • These are excellent times for your child to learn new communication skills, and to practice skills previously introduced.

Here is a video example of a context that provides lots of opportunities for communication:

In this video, Gareth's mom is reading one of his favorite books with him:  But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton.

  • Gareth is 26 months old.  He has cerebral palsy.
  • He loves to read books with his parents.
    • Reading favorite books is a very motivating situation for Gareth and it is one that provides lots of opportunities for him to communicate.
  • In this video, he is using a computer (e.g., a speech generating device) to say the repeated line from the story, "But not the hippopotamus".
    • Mom reads the text in the book, using lots of expression to keep Gareth interested and engaged.
    • Each page of the book is scanned into the computer.  Gareth follows along as his mom reads.
    • He finds the picture of the hippopotamus in the illustration on the computer screen.  He selects the picture of the hippo by touching the screen, and the computer then speaks the repeated line of the story, "But not the hippopotamus."
  • While reading with his mom like this, Gareth has lots of opportunities to practice his communication skills.
    • Because Gareth loves this activity, he is very motivated to participate.

 

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Why is it important to choose contexts that are developmentally appropriate?

There are lots of different types of contexts that can be used to support children in learning language and communication.

  • Children enjoy different types of contexts at different stages of development.
  • Children will benefit most when the contexts chosen are a good fit for their interests, needs, and skills.

Choose contexts that are appropriate for your child’s development

  • For example, infants benefit most from social contexts that involve only the child and the parent (or other partner).
    • peek-a-boo games
    • tickling games
    • “raspberries”
    • smiling games
    • bye-bye games

Here is an example of an appropriate context for an infant:

In this video, Kara is playing a peek-a-boo game with her mom and Janice.

  • Kara has Down syndrome.  In this footage, she is 13 months old.
  • Kara is learning to use an SGD (computer) to participate in the social game of peek-a-boo.
    • She touches the screen on the computer to select a photo of herself or of a member of her family (e.g., her mom, dad, or brother), playing peek-a-boo.
    • The computer display is designed so that it is engaging for Kara and easy for her to use.
  • Kara loves this game!
    • She is drawn to the photos of her family. 
    • She anticipates the social routine and touches the computer screen when it is her turn to say "peek-a-boo".
    • This game is appropriate for Kara at this stage of her development.
    • It provides her with lots of opportunities to use the computer to participate and learn new communication skills.  
  • Kara is very young but she is already well on the way to developing the important foundations for communication and language learning.

 

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  • Toddlers benefit from social contexts that involve simple shared activities.
    • reading books
      • As we saw previously in this Step with Gareth and his mom reading, But Not the Hippopotamus.
    • singing songs, especially those with actions
      • As we saw previously in this Step with Jackson and his mom singing "I'm a Little Teapot" with Janice.
  • Preschoolers benefit from social contexts that involve imaginative play with a partner.
    • building blocks
    • playing cars or trucks
    • pretending with dolls, stuffed animals or action figures
  • Preschoolers will also enjoy:
    • reading story books
    • singing songs, especially those with actions
    • playing simple games like "Go Fish" and "Candy Land"
    • learning preschool concepts such as shapes, colors, categories, numbers, letter sounds, etc.

Here is an example of an imaginative play context:

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

  • Gareth is 26 months old.  He has cerebral palsy. 
  • He has a wonderful imagination and a great sense of humor.  He loves to play imaginative games.
  • In this video, he is using a communication book with pictures to express himself while he plays school with his mom.
  • The context of playing school:
    • Is very motivating for Gareth
    • Provides lots of opportunities to communicate for a variety of purposes
    • Is appropriate for Gareth's development.

 

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Another example of an appropriate context for preschoolers

As children reach the preschool years, they are often interested in learning new concepts like numbers, colors, shapes, and letter sounds. 

In this video, Jackson is reading the book, Ten Little Ladybugs by Melanie Gerth, and practicing counting skills.

  • Jackson is 32 months old.  He has Down syndrome.
  • He loves to read books about animals, and he loves to learn new concepts.
  • In this clip, Jackson incorporates speech, signs, gestures, and his computer to count the ladybugs in the book.
    • Janice reads the text.
    • Jackson says and signs the number on each page.
    • He finds the number on the computer screen and touches it in order to speak it out.

In this example, the book reading context:

  • is motivating for Jackson
  • provides lots of opportunities for communication
  • is appropriate to Jackson's development
  • presents lots of opportunities to practice early math skills 

 

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Pointers

Start by selecting the activities or situations that are of greatest interest to your child.

  • Start intervention in these contexts.

As you become comfortable with this approach:

  • Gradually add more and more contexts as opportunities for communication.
  • Then your child will have many more opportunities to learn language and communication skills.

If your child is older, but is at the early stages of development, it is easy to adapt activities so that they are age appropriate as well as developmentally appropriate.

  • For example, use high five games instead of peek-a-boo games.
  • Sing songs from the "High School Musical" series,  or "YMCA," instead of the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Wheels on the Bus".
  • Look at geographic, sports, or cooking magazines instead of Brown Bear Brown Bear.
  • Play simple charades guessing game routines instead of make-believe with dolls or action figures.
  • Choose cooking activities to promote concept development (such as, sequencing, counting, shapes, colors, opposites, etc.)

 A high five routine can be used with older individuals.

It is easy to adapt activities for older communicators; for example, using high five routines

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Last Updated: August 31, 2012