As parents, we are always anxiously awaiting ‘the firsts’. First smile, first laugh, first word… first words are typically spoken between 9-14 months of age. Even if your child is not talking yet, there are so many ways to build their language and communication skills. Using nonverbal communication, the way you look, listen, and move with your face and body, is a component of two-way communication. By using facial expressions, eye gaze, sounds, and body language, your child can learn to communicate their needs, interests and feelings.
In our Early Start Autism Program at Galvin Therapy Center, we use the Early Start Denver Model curriculum to help young children with/suspected of having a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The model lays down parent-friendly ways to boost language. Starting with nonverbal communication, here are the things you can do to provide the just-right challenge for your child’s communication growth.
1. Do less so your child does more. Give them choices; don’t make the assumption that you know what they want. Give them just some of what they want; make them work (just a little) for what they want.
2. Wait a little. Don’t be so quick to respond. Hold back to encourage your child to reach out, look at you or make a sound. This builds the understanding that communication has meaning and can get your child what they want! If your child uses crying/screaming for communicating wants and needs, try to anticipate what they want before they have the chance to cry out.
3. Create lots of practice opportunities. You can give your child hundreds of opportunities throughout the day. Build this into your routine to allow for as many chances as possible. The waiting and doing less are purposeful in creating ‘communication temptations’.
4. Persist. This is new and challenging for your child. Embedding a wait time and a communication temptation into your child’s day may cause some frustration. Don’t worry. Make it easy for them at first. Hand over the toy quickly so your child begins to connect their communication attempt with getting what they want. Take any gestural or vocal attempt at communicating they give you such as a glance your way, a reach or sound. You can make it more challenging once your child has a repertoire of nonverbal communication strategies.
5. Position yourself. Try to put yourself face-to-face with your child so they can see your face and body. Being in front will help to draw your child’s attention to you, the communication partner. Remember to exaggerate your body language and facial expressions to help build understanding.
Once you have implemented these strategies, over time your child can develop the skills needed for two- way nonverbal communication. It is not always easy, and it does not always come quickly. If you need support, we at Galvin Therapy Center are here for you and your child.
Reference: An Early Start for Your Child with Autism by Sally Rogers, Geraldine Dawson, and Laurie Vismara