10 best home-based Strategies for Speech, language and Communication development in early years of your child- part 1
Children with special needs often require additional support and attention to develop their speech and language skills. As a parent or caregiver, you play a crucial role in facilitating your child’s overall communication development. Communication development is a crucial aspect of a child’s overall development, and it can be especially challenging for children with special needs. As a parent or caregiver, there are several practical strategies you can use to support your child’s communication development at home. In this blog, I’ll explore practical strategies to build speech, language and communication development skills in your child at home.
Let’s discuss and explore these strategies in detail.
1. Create a communication-rich environment
A communication-rich environment provides your child with multiple opportunities to practice communication skills. Encourage communication in all forms as communication is not just about speaking and verbal language. So, encourage your child to communicate in all forms, including gestures, facial expressions, sign language, and other nonverbal cues at home and around. By recognizing and responding to these forms of communication, you can help your child feel more comfortable expressing themselves and build their confidence in communicating. You can also create such an environment at home for your child by using simple language when communicating with your child, playing games that require turn-taking, and reading books together. Additionally, you can label all the objects around the house and describe what you’re doing as you go about your day. Be your child’s voice to motivate them to wish to speak. Hence, Providing a communication-rich environment is one way that provides your child with many opportunities to practice their communication skills. Let’s explore each strategy one by one:
2. Use visuals and labels to support communication
As we discussed in our first point to create a communication-rich environment for our child at home. So, for this we require help of visuals. Visuals are a powerful tool to support communication development in children with special needs. Parents can use pictures, photographs, Flash- cards, drawings, Noun-book, verb- book, numerous identification books(available online and in market), visual cards, simple text written in a piece of paper, to help your child understand and express their needs and wants. Also to help them predict what’s required by them. Visuals can also be used to help your child learn new vocabulary, helps in building understanding, environment awareness and concepts. So, Visual aids can be a powerful tool to support communication.
3. Use gestures and facial expressions
Gestures and facial expressions are an essential part of communication. They can help your child understand what you’re saying and also helps in expressing their own thoughts and feelings. Encourage your child to use gestures and facial expressions to communicate, and respond to their nonverbal cues. Take help from simple YouTube videos of feelings and emotions or books to teach them in a fun way. Do role modelling and use a lot of facial expressions and hand gestures , actions while talking to them.
4. Simplify your language
This is one of the most important steps in communication which is to use only one language to communicate with your child. Simplification of language has many important and significant sub points which parents should not miss by any chance-
A.)Use of only one language – During initial communication and speech development process, when your child is beginning to understand the language, vocabulary, words and trying to make sense of it then ask everyone in your family, friends, therapists to stick to that language while communicating with your child. Avoid mixing two languages until very necessary.
B.) Initially use only small sentences or phrases.Moreover, when communicating with your special needs child, it’s important to use simple language that they can understand.
C.) Avoid using complex sentences, and parents can remove articles, verbs, adjectives when beginning with the initial teaching of language to your little one.
Example 1.- Ram eating
rather than Ram is eating his food.
Example 2- Ram going school
Rather than Ram is going to his school
D.)Use short, simple sentences and repeat the key words and phrases to make them learn and place in their memory to help reinforce understanding.
5. Avoid abstract concepts that may be confusing:
For Example, a.)Tomorrow is Mumma’s birthday. b.)Rita Aunty will come on the weekend and will bring presents. c.)We will enjoy the birthday party. d.)Daddy will return next month from his tour, e.) I promise, I will give you chocolate..etc
These are some abstract sentences for the beginners. Why because Initially concepts like today, tomorrow, yesterday, next month; meaning of birthday, party, presents, enjoying, happy, promise etc are not known and understood to the child where they cannot make sense of any of the above sentences. So, to teach such concepts make sure individual meaning of all the above mentioned words (today, tomorrow yesterday, meaning of birthday, party, presents, happy, etc) have been taught to the child in a specific and in generalized forms with various examples and situations used to perfect them.
6. Play games that promote communication
Playing games that promote communication can be a fun, concrete and effective way to build speech and language skills. Some examples of games that promote communication include:
i.)A Simple Treasure hunt- Most of our kids have strong fascination with alphabets and numbers. So collect all the alphabets or numbers (from educational toys that you have at home). Now hide them at all the different labeled places at your home. For example-TV, fridge, dining table, chair, sofa, bookshelf, door, kitchen, toyshelf, bicycle etc. Now, initially if the child doesn’t seems to cooperate then both the parents can play and do the role Modelling or can teach the child by physical prompting and if child seems to be interested then you are good to go.
Start the game with some fun lines- “All the alphabets are missing. Ram lets find out the missing alphabets”. And show the child what exactly needs to be done a couple of times. And then you’re good to go.
So, here you have started with simple yet fun instructions to get the child’s attention, and then can further add – –>”Alphabet ‘A’ is hiding on TV”. Since you have labeled TV and must have been teaching your kid by pointing etc that this thing is “TV”, so the child will automatically try to find the missing alphabet around the TV. How, this helps , as our kids keep on recording and registering whatever we are saying so these sentences which have things of their interests like alphabets, objects in the house, they will pay attention to your sentence and will memorise in no time and would repeat that while playing and otherwise. Then, further you need to help them in building up sentences from here.
ii.)Simon says: Next fun game is Simon says. This game also involves following instructions, which can help your child practice listening skills and following directions.
iii.)I spy you: This game helps your child learn new vocabulary and practice descriptive language.
iv.)Dumb Charades: This game involves acting out words or phrases without speaking, which can help your child develop nonverbal communication skills and better understanding.
V.) Pretend Play or imaginary play- Pretend play or imaginary play is a great way to build communication and language skills in children with special needs.
Here are some ways in which it can help:
Builds Vocabulary: Pretend play involves a lot of talking, which can help children with special needs to expand their vocabulary and learn new words. For example, if a child is playing with a toy kitchen, they might learn the names of different fruits, vegetables, and kitchen utensils, what to do with them etc. Same goes with the Doctor’s set, which is one of the best way to engage your child in pretend play. Teacher- student, shopkeeper- customer, restaurant game etc are different fun, relatable and easy pretend play games. Parents can use household items if they cannot purchase the toys. Comb, empty shampoo bottle, cream, towel, first aid items, remote, etc , there are plenty of household items which are a great learning material for pretend play.
Improves Language Structure: Pretend play also allows children to practice using language in different structures and forms. For example, a child might practice using sentences with different tenses or practice asking and answering questions.
Enhances Social Interaction: Pretend play also provides opportunities for social interaction, which can help children with special needs to practice their communication skills in a safe and supportive environment. For example, a child might practice taking turns, making requests, or expressing feelings during pretend play of above given examples- in doctor’s clinic, in the restaurant, in shopping market, in the class.
Encourages Creativity: Pretend play also encourages creativity and imagination, which can help children with special needs to express themselves in new and different ways. For example, a child might create a new story or character during pretend play, which can help them to develop their creativity and imagination. Or can include familiar characters from their favorite cartoon programs during their pretend play.
So, pretend play or imaginary play can be a powerful tool for building communication and language skills in children with special needs. By providing opportunities for vocabulary building, language structure practice, social interaction, and creativity, it can help these children to develop important communication and language skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.
7. Read aloud together
Reading together is an excellent way to build speech and language skills in your special needs child. Fix a time preferably during night time before going to sleep. Mark this in your child’s schedule to maintain consistency. Choose books that are appropriate for their age and reading level, and encourage them to ask questions and make comments about the story. You can also use books to teach new vocabulary and concepts. Begin with small board books, picture books, then gradually move to higher level books.
While reading for your child make sure to leave some words for your child to finish it. It’s a great way to let them speak as most of our kids have a habit of finishing everything and not leaving it undone. So, when you leave the sentence midway then they would certainly try to speak out the remaining words from the unfinished sentence.
[Please note- the word that you have left for your child to read should be familiar or kind of favourite or relatable to your child. This is a sureshot way of getting their attention, and their willingness to read it and finish the unfinished sentence. ]
Make sure to be as funny and interesting during this process of reading. Try to use the sentences read in your child’s favorite book at a given situation to draw a reference for your child as how to use language and sentences and at what place. Being taken from his favorite book, child can relate very easily and can draw reference. This trick applies to your child’s favorite cartoon or TV program, where you can use their favorite dialogues, lines from it and can use it whenever required to draw a reference and for its proper usage.
8. Practice active listening
Active listening is an essential skill in communication, and it involves giving your full attention to the person speaking and responding appropriately. Practice active listening with your child by making eye contact, nodding or using other nonverbal cues, and repeating back what they’ve said to ensure understanding. Repeating back what they have said with the tone reflecting how important and interesting thing that your child has told you is a way to encourage them to say it again. This way they can find it interesting to interact with you again and again.
9. Be your child’s voice-
This is a little tricky but such an effective method to develop communication and speech in your child. It shows 100 percent results gradually but effectively developing speech and communication in your child.
Being your child’s voice means,when you and your child both are spending some quality time together and doing basically nothing- and you both are looking at the things around you, then the parent may start speaking for your child as if your child is speaking. Let me explain with a few examples-
Example- 1: while going in the car for a drive- this is a perfect setup for you to be your child’s voice. As soon as you enter and sit inside the car with your child, start with – “Ram and mumma are going on a drive”, “Ram is going by Daddy’s car” , ” Daddy’s car is white” , “I can see a cow” , ” cow is white”, that’s a police station”, “and a police car”, “that’s an autorickshaw”, ” that’s a temple” ” we do jai jai in the temple”, “We have reached shopping mall”, ” this is is the parking”, “it’s so dark in the parking”, etc .
[Please note– we don’t have to ask our child like – what is this Ram? What is that Ram? Where are we going Ram? This is an entirely wrong way to teach our child who doesn’t even like to be questioned in the first place, and when they haven’t started uttering their initial few words or speaking anything , they wouldn’t answer any of your questions, rather if they’re willing to speak they would choose not to.]
We have to teach our child all the answers that we would like them to give further when we ask them any question. It’s because our children have delay in understanding, in cognitive development, speech and language, understanding of our environment etc, unlike the other children of theirs age who can pick these things easily.
Example 2- In the shopping mall – ” this is an escalator” , “We are going up” that’s the toy shop” , ” I love toys”, “it’s a clothes shop”, “let’s shop”, ” Let’s wait”, “Let’s eat” etc.
Example 3- while evening walk or taking your little one on his tricycle- ” wow, friends are playing in the park “, ” this is a grocery shop”, “this a swimming pool” etc
Example 4 – Sitting in the park- “this is grass” ” it’s green”, “it’s so soft”, “that’s the blue sky” etc
Example 5- Sitting in the balcony- ” thats the black car going on the road”, “4 birds are flying in the sky”, “We are sitting in the balcony”, it’s a lovely weather outside” etc
Now, in these easy to do situations we need to consistently keep on doing and saying these things. Example 3,4 ad 5 can be done daily without fail, Example 1 and 2 can be done weekly. So, here in these situations the child is in little relaxed mental state, in a green zone, and has ability to listen to you and understand. Our children have innate quality of recording and registering whatever we are saying to them, so with this method whatever we want them to say and talk that we could begin ourselves saying in those situations and in no time, be it with in a week to an year your child will start speaking exact those lines that you have said during these situations. And to get success in this step we need to achieve point 1 to 8 beforehand so that your child has a grasp on one language and has a good vocabulary, knows some nouns and verbs then only this will work in an effective manner.
10. Use technology to support communication
There are many technological tools available that can support communication development in children with special needs. For example, speech-generating devices can help children who have difficulty speaking communicate their thoughts and needs. Additionally, there are many apps like avaz and games available that can help your child practice communication skills. Read bloggersaathi Prashanthi Vankamamidi’s @prashanthivankamamidi blogs on communication and special development to find out how to use technology to support communication- https://specialsaathi.com/2023/04/16/communication-beyond-speech-part-1/
So, concluding the first part of my today’s blog here. Building speech and language development skills in your special needs child at home requires patience, consistency, and creativity. By creating a communication-rich environment, using visuals and gestures, simplifying your language, playing games, reading together, being their voice and using technology, you can support your child’s communication development and help them reach their full potential. Remember to celebrate small successes and be very consistent in your efforts, and your child will gradually make progress over time.
Hope you will find this blog useful, so do not forget to comment and share this with fellow parents. Thank you !!
Author Shilpi Mayank Awasthi
Creative representation for this blog is done by our extremely talented CreativeSaathi associate Morpheus Nag