Just like learning to eat solid foods, crawl, and hold a spoon, language and communication skills also take time to develop. For children with developmental delays and neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism, it can take even longer. A child’s poor ability to communicate and express wants and needs often goes hand in hand with tantrums and other challenging behaviours. It takes time to develop the full range of communication skills, and there are many!
Communication is a two-way exchange of information between two or more people. Good communication relies on all people involved having the ability to get a point across, receive and understand the message, interpret body language, and respond in a timely manner. Communication breaks down when there is an inability for either the communicator or the receiver to understand and/ or respond to what is being communicated.
For children with poor verbal communication skills, life can be frustrating. They can have lots of difficulty having their wants and needs met because they cannot find the words they need, or may have the words, but not the ability to produce the speech sounds. They might have an auditory delay which means they miss important information, or find it hard to keep up with conversation. They may lack the vocabulary to talk about the things they are interested in. They may not have the ability to understand directions, or interpret tone, or even pin point where auditory information is coming from. Body language and facial expressions can be confusing. Add to the mix a bit of distraction, classroom noise, and high anxiety, and communication becomes even more challenging.
It is very common to see challenging behaviours from kids who have poor communication skills. We can help to minimise the severity and frequency of these behaviours by making communication easier. By addressing the underlying cause of the behaviour, we are more likely to see the behaviour disappear.
Visual aids are one way we can help to improve behaviour by addressing the underlying issue, which is frustration caused by communication difficulties. Visual aids introduce an alternative, and sometimes easier, form of communication. Some kids with auditory delays find it easier to communicate using visual input, and are more motivated by images, pictures, and other graphics.
Visual aids can be things like schedules, checklists, images, pictures, PECS, and charts, as well as stories, cartoons and other graphics that show the child what is expected and/ or gives the child a choice of things from which to choose. Visual aids can show the order of events to eliminate anxiety caused by uncertainty. Visual aids can give kids the words they need to show you what they are thinking. Charts and graphs can provide a visual reminder of progress, which can be very motivating for some kids, especially those with autism.
The keys points on this topic are:
if you are having difficulty with a challenging behaviour, anger, aggression, or other concern, think about whether your child is having difficulty communicating something to you
Help your child to communicate by introducing visual aids
Talk to your speech therapist or occupational therapist to find out the best way to introduce visual aids