Communicating Partners, Fall 1994 Newsletter

Letter from Barbara
Dear Parents: We hope our first newsletters have given you some new information about communication development. Most parents don't realize how much they can do at home to help their child. They either expect therapists to "teach" their child how to talk, or they think language will "just happen" someday. [The goal of Communicating Partners] is to show you what you can do easily and naturally to help your child learn to communicate.
In this issue, we will talk about nonverbal communication and the importance of communicating without words. First, I want to tell you some things I learned that have help me with my son, Mark. He has Down sydnrome and has spent a long time communicating without clear words.
  1. Avoid the rush to words.
    This is probably the most important thing to remember, and the hardest to do! We can be so eager for children to talk, daily activities and playtimes can be frustrating battles for both adults and children. For preverbal children, success is having effects on others, not talking in ways adults want. If you hold out for words with your child, he may experience so much failure and so little enjoyment in communicating that he avoids communication--and therefore learning and friendship--except when he needs something.
  2. Any behavior can communicate.
    Children communicate without words long before they regularly talk, but adults often ignore these little attempts to make contact. They miss many opportunities to let a child's actions and sounds affect them in ways that would make these behaviors into communications. Adults must respond to these early behaviors and begin to see their child as a communicator whether or not he talks.
  3. Expect your child to communicate.
    For many children with developmental delays, one barrier to learning to communicate seems to be the failure of adults to expect them to do so! This can be because children don't communicate in the ways and at the times adults first expect. Your child's first communications may not have messages that seem important to you unless you realize that any first attempts he can do are the most important things he can communicate to you.
  4. Keep your child communicating with you.
    After showing children we expect something from them, we need to keep them interacting with us and not allow them to leave after one or two quick exchanges. Adults must see communicating as something that goes on all day long, not just at times set aside for teaching or therapy. When children know their developmental job is to stay communicating with others, they will naturally learn more mature communication, more language, and more conversation skills.
  5. Knowledge grows when communicated.
    Many teachers and parents try to teach children knowledge with little attention to whether they have the motivation or communication skills to use that knowledge. The first thing to do is show children how to communicate what they already know, not teach them new knowledge.
  6. Reward your child's nonverbal attempts.
    Make your child feel important and worth attending to. The more you support him now, the more self-respect he will develop, and the more he will be able to develop communication on his own. This will prepare him for speech and language when he is ready for it.
  7. Words come from a child's experiences,
    not just from what we want to "teach" him. Your child's first communications will increase and become a part of his daily life to the extent that they grow out of his interests, not those of others. When your child has a playful, interactive relationship with people that focuses on his interests and motivations, he will be ready to communicate.
  8. Look for changes, not perfection.
    Help your child put into words, even initially in unintelligible forms, things he is currently thinking or communicating without words. Keep this attitude in mind: "Am I understanding a little more?" rather than "Is he talking right?"
  9. Strengthen your child with successes.
    Don't make communicating stressful or frustrating for a child who is learning to talk, but return to simple sounds and movements if your child becomes discouraged. Communicating must be enjoyable for your child, not work, or he may avoid people and interactions.
    As I said, these are some of the ideas that especially helped and encouraged me before my son learned to talk. Let us know what helps you and your child!
Barbara Mitchell

  Revised: February 22, 1998.