Maybe They Need To See What You Say!
We believe hearing sounds begins in the womb; perhaps learning to recognize a mother’s voice or benefitting from listening to certain types of music. So in all likelihood processing sounds, the beginning of language acquisition begins before birth. A parent may or may not enhance those opportunities. After birth those who have a significant role in a child’s life have a major part to play in language development.
What is language?
Language is either receptive or expressive, having three components: phonology, structure and meaning and we can use it to listen, to read, to speak and to write. Receptive language is what we understand when we hear language, the sounds and the word meanings and structures. Expressive language is how we use this receptive language to communicate either by speaking or writing.
We develop receptive language skills first; so we listen to sounds, sound patterns that make words, phrases and sentences that use structure and order. Our brains process what we hear and attach meaning to these words so that we can understand the meaning of a word, phrase or sentence we hear. We notice voice tones, attach social meaning to language: language for play, for fun, for learning, for different social situations, for showing respect for certain people in our lives.
Expressive language skills begin with babbling in infancy. We have processed what we hear and then mimic sounds, words, phrases and sentences that we have heard and understood. We can now express, let others know our thoughts, feelings, needs and desires. We learn the social demands of language usage, speaking with peers, with adults, parents, grandparents, teachers, with persons in positions of authority and in various social situations.
What is speech?
Speech is the use of our voice, combining sounds with breathing to verbally express ourselves with fluency to communicate using the language we have learned. Speech involves articulation: using the tongue, lips, jaw and vocal chords to make sounds, forming words, phrases and sentences. If your child is not speaking or not speaking clearly enough to be understood seek out the services of a Speech Pathologist as early as 24 – 36 months. Their evaluation will be crucial to determining whether your child would benefit from therapy with lots of time for preschool intervention.
What is communication?
Communication is the meaningful exchange of language with others. In order to have meaningful communication with someone we must speak the same language. Receptive and expressive language skills then allow us to be able to communicate with others who speak the same language.
So language, speech and communication are complex, take time, practice and skill to master. Children who live in language enriched environments where they hear lots of language and are read to from birth will be more likely to reach and surpass developmental milestones, achieving what is expected for their age and ability. Remember that we also do a lot of non verbal communication: body language, facial expression, eye contact, gesture and sign. Using sign language with infants and toddlers has shown to be a very positive way to augment/enhance language development for all children.
Are developmental milestones being met?
What if your child is not meeting expected developmental milestones in language development? Do you know what developmental milestones are used as a guideline for normal development? Refer to the first entry in the list of resources below, keeping in mind that it is a guideline within a broad age range. It will also be a guide to the sequence of skill development.
If your child is not responding to your voice, don’t hesitate to seek out an Audiologist for hearing testing, which can be done with infants. If hearing is not the problem then perhaps your child has a language disability or is having difficulty with auditory processing (the way the brain interprets and processes what is heard) that may also indicate a learning disability for a child of average to above average intelligence. It is never too early to provide supports. Research continues to prove the overwhelming benefits of early intervention.
If your child hears but is not responding, appears to not be processing language they hear, then perhaps they need to see what you are saying! Did you know that some people think in pictures not words? To me this would be like a second language where until you become fluent in the spoken word it would be necessary to translate from verbal to visual. If the child is developing verbal skills they will likely have to translate from visual back to verbal before they respond in an exchange, before there is communication. This is a very time consuming process that is often interpreted as they didn’t hear or don’t understand at all or perhaps are intellectually challenged. If they are not able to respond verbally then they will need a way to use visuals to communicate.
Try using visual supports to supplement verbal exchanges. The form of visual supports used will be determined by the age and developmental level of the user and can be objects, photos, graphics, drawings or words. Use real objects when possible with infants and toddlers or those who are developmentally delayed, allowing them to touch or hold the object when possible. Use lots of picture books, pointing to objects and having your child point to objects you name. Use pictures to teach words or receptive language, encouraging, but not demanding verbal repetition/response as you use the pictures. Once you see that they are developing receptive language, understanding word meanings then begin using phrases and then short sentences supported with visuals.
As children get older and learn to read the written word becomes the receptive language and their means of expression and perhaps communication if they are non verbal. Many children develop and improve verbal skills while using visual supports.
Always remember that being non verbal should never be a consideration/an indication of intellectual ability and it should never limit one’s ability to communicate.
Where will you get the visuals you need?
Some suggestions of sources for visuals that can be laminated on card stock for durability, as you will want to maximize their use!
- Photos taken with a digital camera printed in a manageable size, perhaps 2 inches
- Pictures cut out of magazines
- Computer software that generates selected pictures
- Basic picture dictionaries (used) that can be carefully cut
- Free online sources (see references)
How can a child use visuals to express themselves?
Provide your child with pictures on a chart or in a book format that are easily accessible to them. If they need or want something they can point to the pictures to communicate. It is best if the pictures can be removed from the chart/book so that they are able to give you the picture(s), even bring them to you if you are in another room. This can be very manageable if the pictures are laminated and stuck on the chart/book with Velcro buttons. How wonderful it would be if you expected the child to return the picture(s) to the correct storage place! Create strips of pictures for communication but placing a strip of Velcro on a small plastic cutting board with a handle for portability! This same technique can be used for a list of pictures in a routine as described below. You can also laminate a cardboard strip or cut a strip of heavy plastic/vinyl (duotang) and attach a strip of Velcro to it.
How can visuals be used in daily routines?
As children develop receptive language skills we are able to give them simple directions to follow. Soon you will give them 2 and 3 steps directions. For the child who needs visual supports this is easily accomplished and you will like that your child will not be waiting for many verbal prompts to complete tasks, no constant reminders because they will have visual directions to follow. A major benefit here is that it becomes very easy for the child to complete tasks independently, and eventually they won’t need the visuals to independently complete daily routines: bathroom routines, dressing routines, bedtime routines etc. Perhaps to increase motivation when tasks have been completed there could be a picture for a favourite toy or activity! Strips of pictures for routine tasks can be hung in the appropriate area i.e.) bathroom, bedroom, by the door for outdoor dressing routines. The latter will work well when they are getting dressed to go out as well as putting things away when they come in!
I have personally seen the wonderful benefits to using visual supports for children who do not have verbal skills.
The use of visual supports may also be achieved by using many other augmentative products on the market that will enable and enhance communication for those who have a delay or disability that inhibits meaningful verbal communication. Assistive technology offers a wide variety of devices, software and apps once a child is old enough to use them for communication. A caution would be to make it very clear that the technology is for communication and not just entertainment. Perhaps a time for entertainment could be scheduled as a motivator for using the technology for communication and related task completion.
If a person is non verbal doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say!
Be sure to do whatever you can from infancy to encourage language development and provide supports as needed to give your child their own “voice” and the chances for independence that provides! Do not let being non verbal limit their opportunities to be their personal best in whatever they choose to do. Verbal ability is not and should never be considered as a measure of intelligence or ability. Far too often it is assumed that someone who is not verbal must be intellectually challenged. Thankfully that is changing and we are realizing how wrong that thinking can be.
If your child is not developing language as you would expect them to, provide some visual supports……………
Maybe They Need To See What You Say!
http://pediatrics.about.com/cs/growthdevelopment/l/bl_lang_milesto.htm Developmental Milestones of Language Development
http://pecsforall.com/ Picto Selector – Free visual supports you can make for your child
http://www.setbc.org/pictureset/ collection of downloadable visual supports
http://www.givinggreetings.com/freestuff.html Free resources
http://bit.ly/t69xcO Boardmaker by Mayer-Johnson
http://bit.ly/sEJ9qe Images of a wide variety of visual schedules
http://www.setbc.org/download/public/vss.pdf Visual Schedule Systems
http://bit.ly/rDyQg9 First Then Visual Schedule App
Making Visual Supports Work in the Home and Community by Jennifer L. Savner
Whether you “google” Visual Supports to find resources or visit your local library or bookstore you will find most resources for visual supports systems to be referenced for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Please don’t dismiss any resources because your child does not have a diagnosis of autism. These resources have come into being to address the fact that autism is a communication disorder. Those with autism fall onto a wide spectrum of abilities and disabilities with communication to varying degrees presenting as an issue to be addressed. Research has shown that the use of visual supports has been very beneficial to many on the spectrum. However, these resources should be enjoyed by all those with language/communication difficulties, many who are not on the autism spectrum.
Jean Nicol is a retired Special Education Teacher, Autism Consultant and Early Interventionist as well as the inventor of The Eating Game. To learn more about this invention that is making a difference for many children with eating challenges and their families go to www.theeatinggame.ca
This article was first published in Canadian Child Magazine http://www.canadianchildmagazine.ca/