I am happy to share some alternative methods of communication for our late talkers and our children who are not able to verbally communicate. There are many other ways for kids to successfully communicate! Using alternative means of communication is essential for our tiny friends. A communication system will allow your child to feel more closely connected to others, better engage with academic materials, and improve non-preferred behaviors.
- Sign Language
Gestures and sign language are incredibly powerful for your child! When you provide your child with skills such as gestures or sign language, you are giving them the gift of communication. Many parents worry that teaching sign language will prevent children from ever learning spoken language, but in fact research shows the opposite. It has been proven that teaching sign language can actually improve children’s language and cognition. One of the first communicative milestones is learning that you must do something in order to get something. When you teach your little one gestures or sign language, you are teaching them that they CAN do something (e.g. sign ‘water’) in order to get something (e.g. water). You can start with 3-5 basic signs (e.g. more, give me, hungry, etc.) and add more as your child starts to use the signs consistently in order to communicate.
Pictures are a great way to help your nonverbal child communicate. You want to start by using pictures of the actual objects in your house so that it is an easier association for your child. As much as cartoon images are cute – they are harder for our children to associate with the real thing. You can create a necklace of 5-10 everyday objects that your child may request throughout the day. That way, your child can easily flip through the pictures around their neck to tell you what they want. Additionally, you’ll want to place the pictures of the household items on the actual object so that your little one has many opportunities to associate the object and communicate with you. There are many picture systems that work wonderfully and your child’s SLP will know which one is best for your little one specifically.
- Low Tech or High Tech Devices
There are a ton of different devices that children are able to use to express themselves. There are low tech options such as communication books or boards with Velcro pictures that children can pull to greet, label, request, answer questions, etc. There are also keyboards/alphabet boards that your child can use to type to communicate. High tech devices include tablets, Ipads, and other screened options with customizable buttons. These high tech devices use digitized or synthetic speech that acts as your child’s voice. Again, your child’s SLP will know which system will work best for your child based on their language level, fine motor skills, attention span, etc.
Overall, remember that none of the options above will prevent your child from verbally communicating! These alternative communication systems will only enhance your child’s cognitive abilities and language.
Molly Dresner is a Speech Language Pathologist and Feeding Therapist based in New York City. She believes that the more you know – as a parent or caregiver – the stronger you will be in supporting your little one’s speech and language development. To help you achieve this, her focus is on providing you with fun & functional suggestions.
She recently authored The Speech Teacher’s Handbook, an engaging parent guide that includes practical and easy-to-follow tips & activities to help you help your little one!