August 10th 2020
It is generally accepted that language is vitally important to all aspects of child development. Language enables children to process their thoughts, reflect on experiences and communicate their wishes. However not all children have access to language, or they may have language delays. In our home we are learning to live with deafness and language delay. We loosely subscribe to a practice of Total Communication, which in our home involves ISL (Irish Sign Language), Lamh (a modified language support system), non-verbal gestures and oral language. Total Communication places the focus on understanding.
Thus whilst language is important perhaps it is more correct to say that having the capacity to communicate and have that communication understood is of critical importance. This blog will outline some of the tips and tricks that we use to support communication in our home. They are generally real life adaptations of SLT sessions, without the luxury of the 30 minutes 1:1 in a quiet space.
- Do a quick environmental audit of your home. Are certain areas of the kitchen, living room etc., always in shadow? If so try to avoid standing in these areas when speaking as the shadow will make it harder to read your lips and facial expression.
- To support listening and attention: slow down your speech and chunk the delivery of the information, this means leave a 1-2 second pause between each piece of information. Make sure you have their attention before you start talking, do this by calling their name and waiting until they have shifted their attention. This avoids the constant repetition of “what did I tell you”, and causes less stress in general
- Follow your childs lead, what are they currently playing with or talking about? Take the time to enter their world and observe what they are doing. Resist the urge to tell them to play the ‘right way’, and ask “ can I play, what is happening here”. You will find yourself on some amazing adventures courtesy of the power of imagination.
- Involve your whole body in listening. So take your head out of the fridge or washing machine when answering a question or giving an instruction. Telling the inside of the fridge that ‘dinner is ready’ isn’t effective. Make sure your face and lips can be seen clearly by the person listening. Try to avoid speaking when eating, this is an opportunity to model good manners as well as good communication practice.
- Become familiar with narrating your life. Add language to everyday interactions and tasks, be explicit about what you are going to do, “ I am going to make some tea, I will put on the kettle”, The kettle is boiled, I must be careful, tea is very hot”. There will be days when you feel that you are channelling your inner David Attenborough as you narrate mundane tasks “ Lets put the clothes in the washing machine, this is your red top, it is going into the machine” but stick with it. It becomes second nature very quickly and exposes children to a lot more language use.
- Personalised scrapbooks or memory books are popular with children of all ages but especially up to middle primary. How many photos of family events do you have on your phone? Do your children ever engage with those photos? Print 20 or 30 of them and create a family memory book. You can include the children in this activity if older and if you have the patience, if not present the memory book as completed object. You can create chapters- “This is us at the beach, What colour was your bucket? Who came to the beach with us? What did we see at the beach? etc or create themes to support social stories, “This is me with a mask, this is you with a mask, this is me cleaning my hands” etc.
- Model correct pronunciation and use of language but try to avoid correcting mistakes. So when a child asks for ‘smudge’ and you know they mean ‘fudge’, reply with ‘Here is the fudge’, likewise with ‘ocks’ reply with ‘socks’ or ‘coffee book’, reply with ‘copy book’. Understanding these mispronunciations can often mean knowing the context, if you are unsure of what they are trying to say, look around and make an educated guess based on the current activity or time of day.
- For younger children you could create opportunities for children to ask questions such as making small changes to a regular routine to create fun e.g. shoes on without socks, or cereal in the fridge, and wait for their reaction, they will notice the mistake and this opens up a chance for a communication exchange.
- Ask open ended questions so instead of ‘how was school”, you could try “did you have fun today”
- Games are a wonderful addition to regular family routines- Games such as Simon Says, Eye Spy Scrabble, Boggle etc teach language but also crucial skills such as turn taking, listening and following rules.
- Listening Walk: This can be done indoors or outdoors, and does take a bit of planning. The idea is is to listen to sounds, particularly those they may not have been aware of previously. Before the walk you can suggest sounds to listen for or you can call the child’s attention to sounds as you walk along. After the walk, see how many sounds your child can remember and encourage him/her to describe them. Practise listening to environmental sounds and guessing where the sounds are coming from and what is making them.
As a parent it is really important to help your child learn how to communicate clearly. It is vital that every child learns to communicate so they can share with us their desires, dreams and feelings. Communication is a foundation skill for learning social and emotional skills such as self-awareness and self-regulation. Remember also to keep trying, don’t dismiss a child’s attempt to ask a question or tell a story, and don’t say ‘never mind’ or ‘it wasn’t important’ when they ask you about something that they misheard. Yes it takes an extra 60 seconds to slow down and explain what they missed but if you take the time, each time, you are teaching them language and most importantly that their right to be included and heard is valued and respected.
“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…Unless you fail to make the turn.”
― Helen Keller
Some useful websites and organisations are
The visiting teacher service at www.ncse.ie