Communicating Partners, Spring 1997 Newsletter

Letter from Barbara
     When my son, Mark, was younger, I waited and waited for words that seemed so slow to come. I wondered if he would ever talk. After using the ECO Basics as a guide for several years, I can happily say he will now stay in conversations with just about anyone! The reason he will do this is because he enjoys interacting with people.
     I say this to encourage parents who are worried about their child's development. I remember my own frustration and anxiety very well. I also remember wondering what I could do to help him learn to communicate and talk.
     I hope you will use this guide, not as a test to see what your child can and cannot do, but to help you focus on the little steps children go through before they talk. Keep it in a convenient place and look it over often. Watch your child and yourself. Notice how your talk and behavior affects your child's participation in activities. Do not rush your child to talk, but concentrate on these other important steps first!
     I have seen how my son interacts more when I relax and enjoy our time together. (Now I am telling this to his teachers at school.) Stressful situations and demands result in very poor relationships. I have learned that I must be careful not to overload him with things he isn't ready to do yet. He will talk and talk and talk with people who enjoy him!
     If your child is in the very early stages of communication development, I recommend playing together often doing the things your child can do and likes to do. Don't demand words if your child mainly uses sounds and actions; get into his world and show him how to use words very gradually.
     I would like to include in this newsletter a few paragraphs from a book, Becoming Partners with Children: From Play to Conversation, by Dr. MacDonald. I read these pages over and over when my son was younger. I believe this is the key to helping a child learn to communicate and talk.

     Allow the child success. We hope you will come to appreciate that a success for your child at this time is simply stayinng with you in play. Your friendly response is his reward. He will not need you to say things like, good boy or good talking. In fact, responses like this easily become rote and artificial and often put a stop to any interaction you have going.
     Your child will know he is succeeding if you simply accept what he does and show him respect by doing something like it. Success for you child has probably been doing what he can do independently, by now he needs successes with people. To grow, a child need not learn to do anything new with people until he can do in 'people play' what he already knows as he plays alone. And why do we care if your child has successes with people? Because successes with people help him feel safe and good and, most important, competent. Unfortunately, for many delayed children, chances to feel competent are few and far between. A child who feels competent will try more so that successes will increase the likelihood that a delayed child will stay with people and make a habit of it.
     On the other hand, failures, as when a child cannot answer your question or comply with your command, may discourage him from staying or starting up with new people. The point here is that you have your child's success in your control. There is no avoiding it - you either give him successes or you don't. If you simply respond sensitively to his little actions and any new surprising things, you will soon learn what he needs to do next and how you can encourage him to do it. Just remember: when a child is learning to be social, a success is any behavior he does with people and any new behaviors.

     Avoid corrections or discouraging feedback. Tied closely to helping a child have successes, this recommendation is simply a warning that, for a child with a long history of failures, corrections or any feedback suggesting what he did was wrong may drive him away from the necessary person-to-person contacts he needs. Of course, you certainly do not intend to drive him away from people when you get him to do it "right" or when you otherwise let him know that what he did was not enough. Nevertheless, be aware that you may be doing just that, very effectively, in spite of your motives. Until your child has developed a strong habit of social play, it is successes, not failures, that will get him into that habit.

     Avoid testing or focus on right and wrong. When getting your child into a habit of people play, forget about right and wrong (except for unsafe or socially abusive actions). Rather than saying "Is he right or wrong?" get into the habit of saying "Is he doing it with people?" Think of your exciting job now as helping your child begin to do with people all the thing he can already do by himself. This change alone would be a major developmental step toward communicating. Once he is a social person, your will have many opportunities to show him the right steps to new things. What is more, only if he becomes a social person will you have those opportunities. (pages 83, 84 Becoming Partners with Children.)

Barbara Mitchell

  Revised: February 22, 1998.