CliniKids is a not-for-profit centre integrating world-class research with a clinical service for children with developmental delay and/or an autism diagnosis, and their families. It is the first of its kind for autism in Australia.
One of the unique aspects of CliniKids is the integration of clinical services with cutting-edge research. Our exceptional team of researchers work in collaboration with our clinicians to give the community access to the world's best evidence-based therapies.
Senior Speech Pathologist Sally Grauaug looks at how to build the foundations of communication with your child.
Learning communication is like building a house. It is important to build the foundations first. This takes teamwork. Once the foundations of early communication skills are established, language and communication skills can be supported. So, what are these foundational skills and why are they important?
For children to attend and engage socially, they need to be able to maintain a well-regulated emotional state. How their body is feeling inside needs to match what they are doing in that environment. For example, they may be excited when playing chasey or feeling lethargic or bored at a table. All of these feelings are OK – there is not one ‘best’ way to be in any situation, but children need to figure out what works well for them so that they can engage in the activities that are important to them. Being regulated facilitates participation in activities and interactions and allows for the foundations of communication to begin.
When a child is regulated, it is easier to establish shared attention. Shared attention starts with two people sharing a common focus on an object or event for the purpose of interacting with each other. Once we are noticing, thinking about, or feeling the same thing we can share pleasure with each other and connect. It is through this connection that children can start to share their world with us and engage in back-and-forth communication.
When you and your child are connected, your child’s understanding of words and routines is supported. Your child is more likely to process what you are doing and saying. They may begin to anticipate what is going to happen next in daily routines. They may also start to understand functional words for everyday objects and activities.
When we are attuned to our child, we may notice them initiating more and using a variety of ways to communicate their message. We may observe them using actions, facial expressions, gestures, sounds, pictures, and words to communicate their wants, thoughts, and feelings. We can then respond to our child’s communication to keep the interaction going and support them to communicate for more reasons and in more ways.
Where to from here?
A strong foundation for a home is just as important as the walls and the roof that it is built upon it. This foundation is built through a collaboration between the child, family, and other important people in the child’s life.
It can be tempting to jump straight to the ‘walls and roof’ (focusing on ‘using’ and ‘understanding words’), but by starting from the ground up and supporting regulation and connectedness, you can best support your child’s communication.
Start by thinking about what your child likes and enjoys and follow their lead in interactions. In this way, your time together will become more about connecting. Once you are connected, communication skills will follow.
For support to foster your child’s foundational communication skills check out our PACT program delivered by our Speech Pathologists at CliniKids.
Aldred, C., Green, J., Howlin, P., Le Couteur, A. (2018) PACT: Paediatric Autism Communication Therapy. Oxford: Hogrefe House
Prizant, B.M., Wetherby, A.M., Rubin, E., Laurent, A.C., Rydell, P.J. (2015) The SCERTS Model: A Comprehensive Educational Approach for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Volume II: Program Planning and Intervention. Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co.