Some kids can be very independent, and don’t need to communicate very much to get what they need and want. For children who are behind on their language skills, this can be a problem because they lose out on opportunities to communicate if they are too independent. For example, if they want a drink and it is conveniently left on the counter for them, they can just go get it, they don’t have to ask. Or, if they have a favorite activity, if they can just go do it themselves then they will, no communication needed. For children who have a hard time communicating, they may find ways of trying to meet their needs and wants without the pressure of communication. Like perhaps raiding the kitchen and biting through a wrapper to eat when they are hungry rather than asking for it to be opened…. yep.
In a previous post I talked about some of the foundational skills needed for a child to use language (click here to read more about communication). One of those skills is having motivation to use language. If a child does not see the importance of language they are less likely to use it. That totally makes sense. This was a hard concept for me because I thought that all kids would just see the importance of language and use it. I have found that is not always the case.
When Ruby started going to private speech therapy about 2 years ago, the therapist stressed the importance of having Ruby communicate, any form of communication to get what she wanted to help her understand that it is important to communicate. She wanted Ruby to see, oh when I communicate I can get what I want (motivation!). I noticed that the therapist had all of her toys sorted in small bins. She would ask Ruby what she wanted to do and wait for Ruby to either point, say a word, or to give her a choice between two to help her make a choice. Either way Ruby had to communicate to play. As playing is a big motivator for kids, this make a lot of sense. So I decided to incorporate this at home.
So here I have the toys sorted into categories, elephants, balls, music, etc., so we could play one type of activity at a time. Ruby would have to ask me if she wanted to play one of the activities in the bins. I didn’t spring for the containers that have the latches on the lids, but those would be preferable because it is harder for the kids to get in them and they do have to communicate to get one open. And a plus all of the toys do not get thrown around the room without your consent! It really helped to keep the toy room organized too and to not lose important pieces.
Beginning, Middle, and End
Another benefit to this method is it teaches kids there is a beginning, middle, and end. We can open up a new toy, play with it, but before we get out a new one, we have to clean up this one and put it away. This also help with direction following and transitions, which is helpful for lots of situations in life.
Taking it to the next Level
In preschool, Ruby started to use the PECS system (click here for more info on PECS) for communication. Her preschool teacher, who is phenomenal, pointed out that even though Ruby had words, that she would consider her non-verbal because she did not use those words to communicate her needs, wants, or to protest (I don’t want that). So she started Ruby on the PECS system (a picture system developed to help children learn how to communicate through pictures. Ruby responded really well to this system and I wanted to bring this element into my toy room. So with my laminating machine (I highly recommend that every parent have one, I have used mine so much!), I created the two copies of the picture of the toy with the word written below. I placed one in the container and the other in a PECS book that I created myself.
I am a DIY mom, so if I can reasonably make it myself I probably will. This is a small three ring binder with two long strips of Velcro. I have the pictures inside the book that correspond with the pictures in the toy bins. The idea is to have this book with my while playing with Ruby in the toy room and have her choose a picture from this book and have her give it to me to indicate that this is the toy that she wants to play with. Yes this is communication!
Once she gives me the picture I repeat what the item is and build on it, “music, you want to play with music? Great idea!” Hearing those verbal models is important to encourage her verbal skills, and also lets her know that I am understanding what she is communicating to me. Doing this consistently will help encourage a child to also say the word when they give you the picture. Then I place the picture on the front of the book.
Communicating with pictures has been really great for my daughter. She is a very visual person, as a lot of kids are, and using these pictures helped her to communicate and also to know what to expect (visual schedules I’ll be posting about soon). This is all about total communication, empowering out kids to communicate at any skill level and building on those skills so they can interact with us, the world, and have more power over their own lives. Using things they are very interested in or need as points they have to communicate can help, having to ask to play with their favorite toy, meal time, or other favorite activity. You can add pictures for things like, more, please, all done, teddy bear, or TV show. It take some time for kids to get used to it, but for Ruby this was an amazing change when she could bring us a picture to tell us what she wanted.