Given the variety and the differences in the degree of the disabilities in every child, talking and communicating with these children is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.
Every child will have different communication abilities, aptitudes, and desires for communication, and communication will need to be customized to each one.
However, there are some important things to remember whenever you talk to children with special needs that can help create trust, friendship, and connection.
In this article, we will talk about the most important things to keep in mind when you talk to children with special needs, how you can improve many aspects of your communication with these children, and by doing so, create stronger relationships with them.
Important Things to Remember
When you Talk to Children with Special Needs
Everybody Needs Connection
The first thing to remember in any communication with children with special needs is that human beings have a great need for connection. No matter who we are or what our personal abilities are, we each long to be a part of a group, to form connections, to share love, and to be noticed and acknowledged.
Children who have special needs are no different in this regard. They have the same needs as anyone else when it comes to connection and love.
Unfortunately, in many cases, when people don’t understand a particular disability, they let their fears prevent them from communicating and acknowledging the child with special needs. Don’t ever let your ignorance of a disability lead you to ignore the child or the person themselves. While there can be communication challenges for people with special needs, these can be overcome through education and effort.
The truth is that expressing love can happen even non-verbally. Amazingly, you don’t have to talk and they don’t either for real communication to happen. No matter the extent of the disability, children can always sense your love and genuine friendship. While children with special needs children might require extra assistance or might be limited in verbal or non-verbal communication skills, all of these challenges can be overcome by people who care.
Talk in Age-Appropriate Ways
Another important thing to keep in mind when you talk to a child with special needs is that you should always speak to them the same way you would speak to another child their same age. The child’s disability should never change or impact the way you talk to the child.
Sometimes when communication is challenging, people assume that the child can’t understand them.
This is not the case. Some children with special needs have the same brain functionality as any other child, and simply have a disability that interferes with their ability to talk or communicate.
Bending down and using baby talk, when the child is not a baby or a toddler, is not appropriate and can indicate a lack of respect for the child. They may be hurt by the assumptions you have made about their abilities. Always use the words, tone, and body language that you would use with other children their age so that you convey your respect and love.
A good rule of thumb to use is this: If the child can speak, then model your vocabulary after their usage. When you listen to the words the child uses, it will allow you to know what level of words they understand.
However, if the child doesn’t speak, then use the same vocabulary that you use for their same-age peers.
For example, if are speaking to a nonspeaking fifteen-year-old, use your normal vocabulary when you speak to them. Often this results in much better responses from the child when they feel like you are treating them like other children their age.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Because every child and every disability is different, don’t assume that what is right for one child is the right way to talk to another. Always ask questions, rather than make assumptions about ability or preferences.
If you are genuinely interested in developing a relationship and communicating with the child, simply ask them what the most challenging things are for them in regards to communication and how you can help. When you are well-meaning, most people with special needs are happy to fill you in and tell you what works for them.
While some disabilities are physically apparent, others aren’t as obvious. Be sure that you fully understand the abilities and limitations of each child when you talk to them. For example, don’t assume that someone with a developmental, behavioral, or physical disability is intellectually disabled, or think that someone who is nonverbal can’t understand what you are saying to them.
The more questions you can ask, the better you will be at talking and communicating with any child with special needs.
Be Open and Honest
Going along with not making assumptions about the child and their abilities, it’s also important to be honest and transparent when you talk and communicate with the child.
Be honest if and when you can’t understand them.
This can be a simple as saying, “I don’t understand what you’re saying, but I still care.
Could you try saying it more slowly, or showing me using picture cards?” You can also repeat back to them what you have heard and understood to see if you are getting it right.
Never contribute to a child’s frustration with their ability to communicate. Instead by supportive and patient and genuinely curious about other ways you can talk and share.
If you aren’t in a hurry or frustrated by the challenges, this can make a big difference for the child as well. Showing that you are willing to figure it out together communicates your love and care even more than your words.
Remember They are a Child, Not a Disability
Above all, remember that whenever you talk to a child with special needs, they are a child with talents, abilities, likes, dislikes, feelings, personality, thoughts, and dreams. They are not their disability.
Children with special needs don’t want to be known only for their disability. It is not who they are. It is not their identity. They are each a unique individual that has nothing to do with their disability.
Whenever you talk and interact with them, remember that most of all. Think about the way you would communicate with them if they didn’t have a disability.
In as many ways as you can, talk and communicate with them in the exact same way, while making the allowances you need to for the challenges they face.
Other Ways to Communicate with Children with Special Needs
Obviously, there are other ways rather than talking to communicate with children with special needs. Many children who have limitations with hearing or speech or verbal skills, can find joy and satisfaction by communicating in other ways.
The more open you can be to all kinds of expression, the more avenues of communication you will open for yourself and for the child with special needs.
The following section has lots of ideas for other ways to communicate, share, and connect with children with special needs.
Music is considered to be the universal language. It is understood by all people across the world from every culture and language.
Scientists even used music when they sent communication into space to try to establish contact outside our world.
When we can’t understand the words someone is using, we can understand the feelings created by music.
Music is especially effective in communicating with children with special needs, and in fact many of children with varying special needs respond very enthusiastically to music and are highly motivated by it. Often it can help to calm children who may be agitated or struggling so they work through their challenges.
As you know, some children with special needs children are nonverbal, while others are very verbal. Music is a way to communicate with all of them, and it provides continuous opportunities for learning and development.
For nonverbal children, music allows them to express themselves and interact with other people without using any words.
Art is another medium, like music, that allows children with special needs to express themselves and their feelings without having to use words.
If a child is limited in their verbal skills or abilities, this creative outlet can be a welcome way to give expression to their thoughts and emotions.
There are other benefits as well. As one teacher pointed out, “Children with special needs may become frustrated by their inability to complete tasks. With art, there is no way to fail. There is no right or wrong way to create pieces of art.”
Tactile activities, like art, provide a great way to communicate with children with special needs communicate, especially for those who are blind and/or deaf.
Touch itself is form of communication. A touch on an arm or shoulder can convey your care even when verbal communication may not be possible.
Touch can be soothing and help calm a child who may be having a hard time or feeling frustrated.
On a very basic level, you can communicate a lot through gestures and movement.
Nonverbal children can use movement and gestures to let you know how they are feeling or what they need.
The movement itself can be an effective form of self-expression for these children.
Movement also helps children with special needs feel more engaged in learning because it has been shown to increases focus, attention, and impulse control in children.
Obviously using gestures is a non-verbal way of communication which can be very beneficial those who have auditory challenges. For some children, they might not notice your gestures, so make sure the child is paying attention before using them.
In connection with gestures, children with special needs can use their hands to communicate their thoughts, ideas, needs, and feelings.
Sign language is not only for deaf and hard of hearing children.
Sign language can be used for many nonverbal children and is often used with toddlers who have not learned to speak yet.
Sign language is a very effective way for children with special needs to clearly communicate with others and alleviates their frustration with verbal communication.
SOCIAL STORIES and PICTURE CARDS
Social Stories were developed by Carol Gray to help children, especially those with autism, to practice and manage social situations.
They are visual or written guides that describe different social situations that the children might encounter so that they can rehearse and practice.
Using visual guides and pictures instead of words to communicate can help many children with special needs.
For example, some children struggle to make transitions from one activity to the next. By creating a schedule using pictures, it can help these children more readily understand what activity is next on the schedule, making transitions easier.
Visual prompts and picture cards for nonverbal children can be especially helpful in allowing them to show and point to how they feel or what they need rather than having to verbalize it.
Today children with special needs have more access to communication tools than ever before.
Advances in technology have provided many new ways for children with special needs to communicate.
For example, children who are nonverbal or have limitations in verbal communication can instead type on iPads or use voice output devices. There are many apps available that help children communicate by typing, or even to create sentences based on pictures.
Other apps help children communicate by teaching them how to engage and interact in social settings.
Using technology to improve your communication with a child with special needs can be very effective and can allow the child a form of expression that has been previously unavailable. This can be a tremendous relief for them.
Connection is What Counts
The most important thing to remember when you talk or communicate with a child with special needs is why you are doing it at all. Connection counts. Relationships matter.
The need for communication and self-expression and sharing our feelings and life experiences with others is a fundamental need for every person.
Never let the frustrations and challenges of communication get in the way of the connection and relationship you are seeking—for you and for the child you care about.
At ACCEL, we are committed to helping our students and their families navigate and overcome their challenges in communication and connection. Our caring teachers and staff understand the unique abilities and needs of each of our students and discover and refine the very best ways to communicate and talk and connect with each one of them. And then they help their student’s families and caregivers do the same.
When a child with special needs is able to communicate and have other people talk and interact with them they enjoy connection and belonging, they find joy and fulfillment, they feel dignity and respect, and they can overcome loneliness and isolation, which are all so important in any person’s life experience.
If you want to know more about the best ways to overcome the challenges of communication that you experience with your child, or if you want to learn more about the unique learning experience that ACCEL provides those with special needs, contact us today.
We will be happy to answer your questions, share our knowledge and insights, and help you in any way we can in your efforts to communicate and connect with the child you love.