It's All About Communication

by Jess Harrison

 I was a special needs teacher for over 20 years working with children with complex needs, many of whom were pre-verbal, meaning they didn’t speak. I always remember one mum coming back
from a training day about using picture symbols saying, ‘I always thought I wanted him to learn to speak, but actually I want him to learn to communicate and he can do that without speaking!’ How right she was! 

Our babies start to communicate with us from the moment they are born! The only way to get their needs met is through crying and you soon learn their different types of cries – I’m sleepy
was the easiest one for me to work out as it had a different tone to the others. I must admit I wasn’t that good at interpreting some of the others and it was a bit trial and error or sniff and what time is it! I know a bit of Makaton which is a simplified version of British Sign language (Mr Tumble uses it on Something Special) and my son could communicate that he wanted more, drink and say please
and thank you before he could speak. We all use a lot of gesture when we speak – think of the universal sign for do you want a drink! So we can teach our babies these signs to help with their communication, just google Makaton or watch Something Special on Iplayer! Signing and speaking with you child helps to develop spoken language as well. Motivation to communicate is key and that is why getting our needs met is how we start to learn, it is very motivating! We all communicate non verbally – pointing, reaching, facial expressions and gestures, as we get older and these are all key parts of learning to communicate that we need to encourage. When you are sharing a book
with your little one and pointing at the pictures you are teaching them so much – I want you to look where my finger is pointing, this is something interesting and that can than be extended to a further away point. We also use eye gaze to communicate by looking at them and then the object we want them to look at. We take so many of these early communication skills for granted as they just seem
to happen for typically developing children, but for some children they may need to be actually taught these skills and that’s fine, we all blossom at our own pace! 

Doing activities with our little one is more than just keeping them occupied, they are learning so much from us at all times. Shared attention is another key development, being able to both use an object at the same time and watch when the other person is using it too. Taking turns is key, I turn the page, you turn the page, I point at the picture and you point at the picture, just enjoying the experience together. Conversations are all about taking turns, one person speaks, then another
person, so if your child is babbling to you and then stopping and looking at you they are learning about two way conversation! Popcat’s is a perfect activity to develop all these early communication skills, lots of things to point at, to look at and to do together! You also get your needs met – drinks and snacks at the end – who could ask for more!