What would life be like if you weren’t able to communicate what you thought or felt? What impact would it have on your social interactions? Professional life? Sense of self and confidence? It’s a question many of us never have cause to consider. After all, fluent speech, body language and acts such as swallowing come naturally. Yet difficulties with communication are reasonably common – especially among children, who are navigating critical developmental stages and skills.
Not just talk
The challenges that can impair communication reach far beyond language and speech. Developmental delays and conditions, difficulties swallowing or using one’s voice and medical issues such as cleft palate can disrupt the development of fluent speech along with non-verbal communication. The flow-on effects can affect areas such as interpersonal skills and social interaction and even lead to behavioural difficulties.
What helps to overcome communication barriers?
Therapeutic techniques to improve communication are many and varied. For some children, skills that are undeveloped or underdeveloped may be taught through interactive play-based activities. Others may benefit from practise forming words and exercises that strengthen the ability to clearly project the voice. Literacy and swallowing may also be improved with reading exercises and tongue and throat exercises. Often, a combination of techniques is required.
Early intervention is key
The earlier communication difficulties are detected and addressed, the less likely they are to cause broader disruptions to a child’s development. It is critical for parents, teachers and carers to detect any suspected communication deficits and seek an assessment and/or diagnosis from a speech pathologist. At-home exercises overseen by a parent or carer can also help children to improve their communication skills and interact more successfully with the world around them.
Here are some easy-to-implement tips from Soaring Health speech pathologist Katie.
For children with delayed, undeveloped or underdeveloped skills and abilities related to language and communication, demonstrating effective communication skills can be invaluable. What’s more, you can make exercises such as word repetition and sentence correction fun and playful.
- For early language development, repeat what your child has said with one additional word (e.g. if they said ‘ball’, say ‘red ball’).
- For later level grammar, repeat what your child has said, but correct errors (e.g. if they say ‘I drawed a picture today’, say ‘oh you drew a picture today, that’s great’). Emphasise the corrected word.
- For non-verbal communicators, it is important to model the form of communication your child is learning to use. If they’re learning to use a key word sign, model the sign for them. if they’re using a communication device, model your language on the device.
When supervising reading activities, ask lots of questions about what’s happening in the book. If your child is resistant to reading, try compromising by alternating reading a sentence or page each (you read a sentence, they read a sentence). It is important to keep abreast of which sounds your child is up to by checking in with their speech teacher.
There are plenty of free online books. Try:
- Khan Academy (iPad) has a wide range of free interactive books for children
- Little Learners Love Literacy (iPad) offers a free application for their Stage 1 books
- Depending what sounds/reading level your child is up to, there are great free decodable online readers called ‘SPELD SA’. They have online books written entirely with certain sounds (e.g. if your child only knows the sound represented by single letters such as ‘t’ rather than ‘th’, there are books containing only words with single letter sounds).
Communication difficulties can be misconstrued as bad behaviour, uncooperativeness or defiance. However, sometimes these difficulties stem from deficits interpreting or understanding instructions or responding appropriately. These help to improve behaviour and interpersonal success.
- Say the child’s name before issuing an instruction. You need their full attention.
- Keep requests simple and reasonable. Consider how many things your child can comprehend and their level of competency in different tasks (try not to overwhelm them). Rather than asking a child to ‘go and get your red socks, they’re in your third drawer in your sister’s bedroom, then put them on with your Velcro shoes’, try an instruction with one or two elements.
Sounds are fundamental to effective speech and language. Children who struggle to master the use of these building blocks are unable to develop communication proficiencies and may require the aid of a speech pathologist to meet expected developmental achievements. Telltale signs of problems may include speech errors you don’t think are normal (make sure you keep a record of sounds they’re having trouble with). These resources from Speech Pathology Australia can help.