Are you using visual supports (or even other kinds of supplemental expressive language systems like signs or PECS) with toddlers and preschoolers who aren’t yet talking?
Sometimes parents are downright resistant to using anything else (like signs, pictures, devices, etc.) to teach a child to understand and use language.
Usually it’s because they think that if they give a child a “crutch” to communicate, he won’t learn how to talk or process language.
Instead of saying (or thinking!), “That’s nonsense,” or worse, moving on without explaining and exploring how a support might help a child, we should take that opportunity to talk with a parent about those very honest emotions and concerns.
I always start that conversation by asking what they’re concerned about. Most of the time it’s a version of the “crutch” analogy, so I start with that, and as gently as possible, say something like…
If a child had a broken leg and needed crutches, would you tell the doctor, “We’re not interested in crutches. He won’t learn to walk on his own.” Or if she failed a vision test, would we say, “She won’t learn ever how to see if I let her wear glasses.”
You would know that because of a child’s current status, the broken leg or decreased visual skills, he needs more support and assistance, until that issue is resolved. (Granted, a broken leg and less-than-20/20 vision are extreme examples, but they are ones parents relate to and understand.)
It’s the same way with learning to talk.
Sometimes, due to what’s happening with a child’s development, he or she will need a way to help them communicate until they can do it on their own.
Research (and experience!) has confirmed to me time and time again that using communication support systems, particularly when that method is based on a child’s learning strengths, actually help many children learn to talk FASTER.
Yes, you read that right!
Any kind of AAC, whether it be for expressive language (signs, PECS, devices, etc.) or for receptive language (visual schedules, social stories, etc.), can be extremely beneficial for a child. It seems to take some of the pressure off everybody, and then, once a child is communicating, it all becomes easier.
One thing that’s worked for me is to call it our first round of AAC a “trial.” When it works, then everyone is happy and (more) eagerly embraces the new strategies. If it doesn’t, then you can move on to try something else. (Usually with young children in early intervention, you’ll be teaching a prelinguistic skill that will make talking – and using the AAC system – easier. I’ll discuss that in tomorrow’s post.)
When a parent refuses AAC, of course, that’s their decision. We must respect that too, especially when we disagree!
Thankfully, when we share information, more often than not, parents decide to give AAC a try.
For me, using AAC for expressive language (like signs and PECS) was much easier to implement in my practice. I learned early on in my career how successful those kinds of support systems were for kids and families and I have never looked back!
However, visual support systems to help kids learn how to understand language have been more difficult for me to implement.
Last year I set out to MAKE myself provide visual supports when I’m working with children who have strong visual learning preferences and weaker auditory skills. The two seem to go hand-in-hand, don’t they?
And if visual supports are new for you or are a struggle for you to use too, then learn from my mistakes!
Visual supports are objects or pictures that help a child know what to expect and then successfully transition to and participate in that activity.
Visual supports are BEST for young children with strong visual preferences and learning styles – especially when they also have difficulty understanding and processing language. Many children with ASD thrive with visual supports because we are meeting them where they are and using their learning strength.
Learn how to know which kids will benefit from visual supports, how to choose visual supports, as well as when and how to use visual supports.
We’ll also discuss guidelines for writing simple social stories for very young children with language delays.
Picture from PECS.usa.