Promoting Communication Success

Parents and teachers of children whose speech is very difficult to understand are often interested in ideas for enhancing the child’s success in using understandable speech.  The following are some ideas for creating an environment that is easier for those children to express themselves successfully.

  • Encourage the child to point and gesture to communicate.  You can also gesture when speaking to him/her to demonstrate various words that s/he may later need to use (ex:  gesture a drinking motion while talking to the child about your drink to reinforce its use for the child when s/he wants a drink).


  • Offer choices.  For example, do you want to go to McDonald’s or Burger King?  You are more likely to understand the child’s response, even if it’s simply “muh,” because you know the expected responses and know which one starts with the “m” sound.


  • Offer visuals as much as possible.  These include objects and photos (ex:  photos of toys at school, photos of the toilet, etc.).  At school, the teacher could ask choices such as, “Which center do you want to play in?” while pointing to a few/all of them.  Another example is asking the child about which job s/he wants to do, “Do you want to pass out napkins or cups?” as the teacher holds up one object in each hand.  At home, the child could be asked, “Who do you want to play with on your play date?”  At the same time, the caregiver could show the child photos of a few friends to allow the child to answer verbally and nonverbally for success. 


  • Talk mostly about the present, so you know the context and are more likely to immediately understand or to quickly figure out what the child is saying.  Photos of special events (ex:  vacations, field trips, trip to Grandma’s, holidays, etc.) can allow the child to share a fun day with adults and peers.  A context will be established, and the other person will more likely know what’s being said.  In addition, the listener can ask simple questions (ex:  “Is this your Grandma?) and can make basic comments to demonstrate his/her attention and interest (ex:  “You look really happy here.” or “Wow!  This looks fun!”).


  • Ask questions requiring only 1-2 words and/or gestures to answer.  If you know the answer, it will also be easier for you to understand the child.  For instance, after reading a book you could ask who, yes/no, where, or what.  An example of that is asking, “What was Goldilocks doing when the 3 bears came home” so the child could gesture sleeping.  Also, you could ask “What did Goldilocks break?”  The child could then answer by saying chair or pointing to a nearby chair or picture in the book.

by Mary Jane Fledderjohn, MS, CCC-SLP/L

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