Creating communication opportunities is a topic we speech pathologists discuss a LOT with our parents. In working with our kids struggling to communicate (be it verbally or nonverbally), we first have to give them the opportunity to communicate. Many of our parents and caregivers are so in tune with their children, they know what the child wants without the child having to request it. Think about, how many times has your child tugged at the refrigerator door and you open it and get out milk/water/juice? But, think about it this way: what if you didn’t open the door? What if you just waited? What would your child do? Would he look at you? Would she come tug at your shirt? Would he yell? These are the moments we want to capitalize on because they are the motivating moments for your child. They WANT what is in that refrigerator!
So what’s next? Wait for your child to say “open the door please, I want milk?”. If it were that easy, speech pathologists would be out a job! But, there are many things we can do.
First, wait for that next moment after tugging – if it’s a look, acknowledge it. “Oh, you want to open the door?”
Next, ask them to say something/sign something/point to something. This is where each child is different in their abilities. Try asking your child to say “open” (e.g., “Can you tell Mommy open?”) . If your child responds with “da!”, you say “great, let’s open and see what you want!”. You asked her to say something and she replied. It’s ok if it’s not the exact production of the word, because it was more than her tugging at the door and you opening it. You showed her there is more she can do to communicate with you. If you ask and she doesn’t respond, model the sign and see if she will imitate that.
Creating communication opportunities can be easy once you start thinking of it. Here are some examples of ways to create scenarios where your child needs to use their current method of communication to get their needs met:
1. Give them closed containers and close containers after one time. Bubbles is a perfect example and one I use all the time. Most kids can’t open bubble containers (if they can untwist a top, get those tiny party bubbles that are impossible to pop open!). By giving them the closed container, they HAVE to request help. Once they’ve blown/popped a few times, close it again!
2. Put favorite toys in clear bins with tops just out of reach. They now have to request help to get the bins down and help to open them.
3. Give choices! Just because you know your child’s favorite bedtime story, doesn’t mean that has to be only one read each night. Hold up 2 books for him to choose from. If he points to one, tell him the title, see if he can imitate it.
4. Play dumb. If your daughter hands you her shoes to put on, just hold them for a minute, or try putting them on your feet. See if she will vocalize, point, or gesture to indicate they need to go on her feet. This is a good opportunity for simple words such as “shoes”, “on”, “mine”.
While there is a lot more to increasing one’s communication skills, creating communication opportunities is an easy one for parents and caregivers to implement at home and carryover at home can go a long way for overall progress! Please view another communication opportunity