Some fundamentals about communication therapy
The pandemic saw us shifting a lot of our work online. This gave us an opportunity to watch up close, parents interacting with their children. Our online therapy format with the children calls for reviewing videos of parents interacting with their children. Here, I would like to highlight some key areas that we have had to handhold parents through.
Communication has to be fun.There is no other way to do it. Children with communication challenges build up a lot of anxiety related to communication. In many ways it is because of the frustration and constant failure they experience when it comes to communicating. Creating a stress free, fun environment is crucial for the child to learn how to communicate. How does one do that? Here are a few tips -
*Stop asking questions. Watch videos of yourself interacting with your child to see how many questions you are asking your child. Questions should not be more than 20% of your total interaction.
*Comment- Comment on what the child is seeing, thinking, doing. Just this morning I was reviewing a video where a mother was playing a "surprise"game with her daughter. She had covered various items with Aluminum foil and placed them all in a basket.The idea was to open each item and be surprised by what would come out. When the child opened the packet to reveal a toy aeroplane, I was thrilled to see mum making comments like , Ah! aeroplane...just like the one you travelled in when we went to Calcutta. Do you remember our last visit to Goa? We went by plane, you had so much fun. It was such a sea change from asking ...what colour is the foil used for wrapping? Can you see how commenting takes the pressure off communication as opposed to questioning? Commenting keeps the engagement going.
*Parallel talk -Talk on the child's behalf. As the child was peering into the basket, Mum could say ( speaking on the child's behalf) Mummy, I am excited! What is in the basket? When the child pulled out an auto with a broken wheel, mom could say, Oh Mummy! the auto is broken. How can I play with it? Or Help me Mummy, I want to push this auto.
*Follow your child's lead- Following the child's lead is a great way to keep the fun element going. When the child takes the auto and makes it fly like an aeroplane with woosh woosh sound of the plane, what should you do as a parent? Resist the temptation to say hey ! this is an auto, it goes on the road; it does not fly like the plane. Why should you not do that ? Because by correcting the child you are killing the interaction. You are allowing her to experience failure. Instead celebrate.Celebrate that your child initiated an interaction. (we defiitely need more interactions) Celebrate that your child is using her imagination and pretending to fly an auto (something that many children with Autism find difficult to do). You could say .....look my auto is flying. Come let us land your auto or let us take your auto to Goa etc. OR you could say ....Mummy, I want to play with the plane again.I love the plane.
My final word on this - Always keep the interaction such that the child experiences success at each stage.Remember the focus is on the interaction, on the positivity of the interaction. Do not use this as an opportunity to quiz your child about colours and numbers. Avoid "teaching" during communication therapy.
Place yourself in your child's shoes and ask yourself....would my child-self have liked it if someone was constanly asking me questions about studies when I was trying to play?
Good luck! Remember communication therapy is not Special Education
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