I was recently reviewing videos for one of my private clients, Gal and his mother Eden.
I noticed something very interesting. There were specific times when Gal was communicating in 1 word sentences with a more robotic tone and no eye contact- and there were times when the same child was communicating with fuller sentences, more facial expression and eye contact.
What was the difference between the times of fuller communication and the ones with more limited communication?
It all had to do with whether he was being directed in being a ‘communication responder’ or a ‘communication starter’.
Let me explain.
I am struck, time and time again, at the intense focus many therapies have in helping children with autism become a ‘communication responder’- like answering questions, repeating words that they have been fed or prompted, etc.
Yes, RESPONDING is an important skill- but since this has become such a primary focus in therapies and treatments, what ends up happening is that communication growth is often robotic, meaningless for the child and simply does not happen without the prompts and support of a facilitating adult.
Being a communication responder won’t get your child very far on the playground.
(This is when I saw more limited communication with Gal, like when his mother was pointing to pictures in a book he was looking at and asking him: ‘what is this?’).
I am here to make a stand for the importance of helping your child become a ‘communication starter’.
This means that the focus is on your child initiating communication;expressing a want, need, thought,feeling or experience. This means your child is moved by his own desire to communicate- which often results in a meaningful and fuller exchange (and not needing a facilitating adult to prompt, feed or direct).
(This is when I saw fuller and more engaged communication from Gal- like when he all of a sudden asked for his mother to bring down the puppets).
Being a communication starter… now that’s what will make your child more successful on the playground.
So – how do you do it?
This is basically a shift in YOUR focus.
The first step is to become aware of when you are focusing on your child being a communication responder, and doing it less.
Here are examples of ways you might be focusing on your child becoming a ‘communication responder’:
1. Good ‘ole fill in the blank: This is done when you might sing a song, start a sentence and then pause for your child to fill in the blank. He needs you to start and then he can complete it.
2.Drilling questions: Do you ever ask your child a series of questions that are not relevant to him, like pointing to a series of pictures and asking him,’what is this?’, ‘what is that?’, ‘where is this?’.
3. Feeding the words: Asking your child to say words or sentences that you feed him, like “say -I want a cookie”.
Here are ways you can shift to help your child become more of a ‘communication starter’:
1. Model: Give your child ongoing exposure to the words/sentences you want your child to learn (it is important that these are things he himself is motivated for).
2.Pause: That’s right- as simple as waiting (sometimes to a slow count of 5 or even more). Often an adult will jump in too soon and say the word or sentence that your child was gearing up for. It may just take him more time.
3. Speak less yourself: You want to give your child ample space and time to communicate without having to fight his way in. This is your time to get comfortable with silence and create an open invitation for your child to communicate more. You would be amazed at how often I see adults cutting children off or simply not leaving any space for him/her to communicate.
By doing less of the top 3 strategies and integrating the bottom 3 more, you are on your way to helping your child become more of a ‘communication starter’ and less of a ‘communication responder’.
Save the date!
I have SO much more to say about communication growth, so if you are hungry for more- save the date (Thursday, June 20th) for a FREE teleseminar training I will be doing on this exact topic. Details coming in the coming weeks….
Before you go, as always, I would love to hear your comments and answer your questions- what are you taking away from this article? Please post below!