How to develop communication from a young age



Being a parent is one of the hardest jobs that you can have. Not only do you need eyes in the back of your head, but you also need all the tools to be able to teach your children from a very young age. For some parents this can be incredibly hard when the children have disabilities or special needs, which means that teaching children can be harder. Blogger Emma who owns the blog Lipgloss and Curves has two children with a large age gap (15 and 2 yrs old). Both have hidden disabilities, the oldest has ADHD and Atypical Autism, while the youngest has Developmental Delay and Microcephaly. Emma wants to share some tips on how to help young children from a young age be able to communicate regardless of if they have needs or not. Emma says that allowing children the ability to develop skills at such a young age is important to help with the child’s mental, developmental and physical health. Allowing the child alternative ways to communicate, learn, follow tasks and join in with other peers, is important and the skills can be developed at a young age. Like all children’s development, all children develop at different rates, so some may pick up the suggested styles quickly while others may take longer. Also it’s important to make sure you are consistent with teaching the skills, in order for it to work. 

How to communicate with babies from birth

When a child is born we do the normal obvious talking and communication with the child, copying the “ga, ga” noise. However it can be handy to also use what is called PECS (Picture Exchange Communication), as well as Makaton (which is a form of sign and photos). These styles of learning are normally used when a child gets to toddler age, and likely to have disabilities. However while the baby is still young, they are like a sponge and absorbing information. By using photos to aid development, the same as showing a photo book and reading to the child, can help the child learn and understand. Using this form of communication early allows the child to become familiar with this style of the communication. Using photos that are used for communication, along with words, signs and songs, makes learning easier for a child. As the child begins to grow and this form of communication is used more this will then be embedded in the child’s skills. This form of learning is also used on the TV show Mr Tumble. He uses something called signalong, which uses Makton to teach young children some of their favorite songs, and stories. You also find this style in the children’s development centers, nursery and even school. You can view these songs on YouTube and also on the Bbc IPlayer. You can also use Pecs when doing nursery rhymes by using rhymes with children by using photos like the ones above and it can also be handy to use puppets to help with visuals and they are also good fun for children as they are developing. Emma suggests using a separate bag to bring out “special” toys, which children look forward to seeing. 

Nursery Rhymes Finger Puppets Click here to view

Using PECS with a Toddler

As the child becomes older, by the age of 2 they should be able to recognize photos and start beginning to understand signs. This is a good age for children who may show signs with delays, or disabilities, to be able to put some of these alternative styles of communication into practise. You can continue to use the skills you have learnt, and allow your child to develop their skills to develop their learning. This will make it easier for you as a parent because once you’re able to know what your child is asking, life can become easier. This style of communication is also great for children who struggle to follow routine, and have trouble with transitions as the PECS can be used to show what is currently happening now, and what will happen later (or after this activity). Emma also recommends that this is a great time to introduce timers to help with transition and enable children to see, how long they have left. This is because children do not know the meaning of time, or even how long time is. Using a form of timer, which is visual and out of reach to the child, means that they will know when a change is happening: or if they have been asked to wait for 5 minutes while you need to do something before you can meet their demands this also allows you to do this. Emma suggests to have separate timers in different formats if you plan to use a timer for time out, as this can cause anxiety and stress to children who may associate the timer with being in trouble. 

Traffic Light Kids Timer Tracker Click here to View

Using Pecs With Activities

The great thing about using PECS, Signalong and Makton is that these can be used in a range of ways in order to help development, learning, mental health and overall health and communication with children. It allows children to be able to tell you their needs, as well as a parent to demonstrate activities in an alternative way, other than talking. Some children no matter what age struggle with communication, some will catch part of what is asked and others might not get anything you have said. Using an alternative communication method from a young age, can teach children to communicate with others, take turns and follow activities more clearly. Pecs can also be used along with sign along, as a story. This will help children use their imagination and be creative and think up stories or guides with work as they get older in school. Using Pecs as part of daily activities, seems like it might take a lot of time, however it does not needs to, like parents with children who use this form of communication daily, the longer you use it the easier it becomes and the more its used, the more benefits you will see from your child. As the child grows older, you may not need to use this form of communication for every activity, however as a visual it would be good to use around the home, or even as a visual reminder what the child needs to do that morning before school, or even what’s needed to be packed in the school bag. Many children no matter their age, like to know a bit like a planner, what they are expected to do. PECS is used the same but in a simple photo version, which makes it easier to read especially for younger children. The same as a now and next board, you will simply place the PECS in order of the activities for that day. If your child struggles then you may use something simple like now and next with only 2 photos. If a child struggles to take turns then this is also a great thing to use, to have photos of who is taking part, or use colours of the counters of the game and then there is a visual reminder of who’s turn it is, this can also be aided with the use of the timer so that everyone can have 5mins for their turn, and then once time is up it moves on to the next person. (Again this is something that helps children who struggle with time, know when the turn taking process is moving on.) 

How to create or Buy Pecs

You can make PECS yourself at home, by using words and using photos for an object, feeling or activity you are going to attend. There are also a number of places you’re able to buy them in packs, which can make things quicker and easier as they are available pre-made and laminated; sometimes they also give you the option to personalise the cards. You also have them mounted with velcro and also receive the boards to place them on, but again if you’re able to make these at home, these are super easy to make. There are also a lot of printable free ones available on the website twinkl (to use the website, and find them type ‘pecs free’). 

Black and white 0-6months click here to view

Tracey is the Contributing Editor for Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and Hibs100. She also blogs at PackThePJs. Tracey writes mainly about family travel; from days out to road trips with her pet dogs, to cruises and long-haul tropical destinations. Her family consists of her husband Huw, Millie-Mae (14), Toby (12) and Izzy and Jack the spaniels.

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