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Communication: All the time!

Page history last edited by Jess Ledbetter 6 years, 8 months ago

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Communicating with children who have communication delays requires understanding, patience, and practice. It may not be easy for your child to listen to your words and immediately understand or respond.  There are two fancy phrases that describe communication. Receptive communication is how your child understands the things that you say. Every time that you say anything, your child has to listen to the words, think about the meaning, and respond appropriately. This can take extra processing time (thinking time) for kids with communication delays.  Expressive communication is how your child expresses himself/herself to you and your family. This could be words, sounds, gestures, or behaviors. When your child pulls you toward an object that s/he wants, the child is communicating with you. Even behaviors like tantrums serve a purpose in communicating with the family. A tantrum might be communicating a message like: "I don't like that!" "It's too noisy here!" "I'm not ready yet!" and so on. Our joint goal in the classroom and at home must be to teach children effective communication strategies so that negative behaviors (like hitting, biting, screaming, and tantrums) are not needed. Improving communication requires changes in how we communicate with kids as well as teaching the children strategies to communicate with us. Here are some strategies that can help improve communication:


Shorten phrases and sentences

Too many words can be confusing for kids with receptive communication challenges. Speaking in short sentences/phrases is one of the easiest strategies to help your child understand. If your child does not respond to your request, try shortening the phrase to help your child isolate the important information.


Parent: "Tommy, it's time to brush your teeth."

Tommy: (no response)

Parent: "Tommy, brush teeth."

Tommy: after about five seconds, Tommy walks toward the bathroom.


For additional explanation, here is an explanation of the "minimal speech approach" 


Extra response time

Your child may need extra time to think about your spoken direction (i.e. brush teeth) before s/he can follow the direction. It is estimated that a child with communication delays can need up to 5-10 seconds to process a spoken direction. After giving your child the direction, wait and let the child respond. Repeating the direction too soon is not helpful because the child will have to think about the repeated direction. Instead, the child just needs quiet to think about the direction.


Parent: "Tommy, brush teeth." (wait, wait, wait, wait, wait)

Tommy: He goes to brush his teeth.


Parent: "Tommy, brush teeth."

Tommy: (no response)

Parent: "Tommy, go brush your teeth right now!" The parent tries to grab Tommy's hand to take him to the bathroom.

Tommy: He falls on the floor screaming and crying.

In this example, Tommy might be feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. He has not had enough time to think about going to the bathroom to brush his teeth. His behavior is communicating that he is not yet ready. Extra response time could have helped Tommy get ready and independently go to brush his teeth.

Use pictures

For kids with communication delays, visual information is easier to understand than spoken information. The use of pictures can dramatically improve your child's behavior responses. Here is some helpful information about how visual supports can help at home.

Click on this link: How to Guide--visual supports.pdf  Below is a table of links for finding/creating picture supports at home:

Do To Learn

Here are some links to topics on their website. Many of the areas are free resources.

Functional Communication Resources

Visual Schedules

Daily Living Skills

Social and Behavior Skills

Symbol World

SymbolWorld is a website created by Widgit Software specifically for symbol users. It has material for all ages and includes news, personal contributions, stories and learning materials.


Enchanted Learning

This is a picture dictionary where you can search for different pictures based on the topic.


Picture Dictionary

This is an online picture dictionary



This is a weblist of other resources you could use


Center for Autism and Related Disabilities

This page has some information and resources about using visual supports at home.


Google Images

When making classroom materials or social stories, I use google's "images" feature to find many pictures to use. One great trick is using keywords like "child" or "kid" with your picture search to find pictures of kids doing the action. For example, I might use the keywords "child smile" to find pictures of a child smiling. Or I might use "kid jump" to find kids jumping.


At the top, click the search function "images" before typing in the keyword.


Use gestures or simple sign language

Simple sign language can improve communication to help your child know what you are asking. Also, your child may begin to learn the signs and be able to use them to communicate with you.

Signing Savvy Online Video Dictionary

Here is a great online dictionary of sign language that includes video animation


This website requires a password to search, so I set up a classroom account.

Email: jeiler@gesd40.org

password: eiler

Basic ASL: First 100 signs http://www.lifeprint.com/asl101/pages-layout/concepts.htm
Tips for teaching your kids sign language Tips page


Use assistive technology. Many families report great success using tablet computers like the ipad. For a list of some apps recommended by our speech therapist, Erin Rademacher, click below:

Autism Apps page 












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