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We all know people who can speak volumes without ever opening their mouths. They use their hands, their body language, their facial expressions. Experts tell us that when we talk with each other, only 7% of our message is communicated by the actual words we speak.

Now that we know that communication is not really about words -- it may be a little easier to look beyond words when we communicate with our kids who don't use words to "talk".

Our tips today are divided into 2 groups --

#1) communicating about basic needs & the stuff in their environment
#2) sharing ideas, feelings, & comments on life.

So where do we start?

Phase #1 - Needs & Stuff

1. Start with yes & no - By starting with yes & no you give your child the ability to answer two very important questions:

** Are you (tired, hungry, thirsty, etc)?

** Do you want (a snack, your red shirt, to go to the park)?

Another advantage of starting with yes/no is that it can be done in a variety of ways from the standard head nod to virtually any combination of motor responses. For example, twitching the left hand can mean yes & a head jerk can mean no. The key is to find something your child has good control of & to use the system consistently.

2. Choice making - The next logical step from yes/no is usually a point response. This allows you to offer your child a wider range of options. Instead of doing the time consuming one at a time choice you can offer your child 2-3 choices at a time. If a point response doesn't work this can also be managed using head movements to the right, left, & center. Just be sure your child understands the choices & which item he/she is picking!

3. Touch Screens - Computer touch screens are a wonderful invention! They allow your child to experience the awesome sensation of being in control -- making things happen! In addition to this experience with cause & effect they encourage kids to get comfortable with the computer. Down the road that comfort & familiarity will go a long way towards helping them adjust to more complicated assistive technology devices.

Phase #2 - Ideas & Feelings

4. Augmentative Communication Boards/b - These devices come in an amazing array of shapes & sizes (& prices) and can really allow your child to communicate an awesome variety of messages both practical & more abstract. If you feel like your child is ready for this level of device (a good clue is when they frequently seem to have things to say that they just can't communicate effectively with the phase 1 techniques) then there are several things you need to do:

=Find a good speech language pathologist (SLP) to assist you.

=Have your SLP do a full assessment to determine what type of messages your child needs or wants to send & what types of devices they can operate or learn to operate independently.

=Work with your SLP to narrow down the number of possible devices to just 2 or 3. If possible try to borrow the devices for an in home trial period from a state technology lending library or the actual company that sells the device. If you need help with this step, Rehab offers a free search service that can help. Just visit:

=Try to anticipate all of your technology needs up front.

** Who will train your child to use the device?

** Who will program the device, both now & as your child's needs change?

** Who will train your family & other support people in how to use the device?

** Who will repair the device if it breaks down?

** Will you need help to pay for the device?

** If so, what do you need to do now to obtain the funding ?

This sounds like a lot of effort & it can be. But if your child truly can utilize a communication device to "find their voice" everything you do will be worth it.

Although some of these tips may seem simple, most communication systems will actually use a combination of approaches. What works at school, may not always be right for home & vice versa. The most important factors to look for when developing a communication system are:

=Does your child understand the system & can they use it independently.

=Are the people your child sees regularly comfortable enough with the system to use it every day.

=Is the system reliable & useful enough that it is working & in use more than it is broken or stuffed in a closet.

Hopefully some of these ideas will allow you to open the wonderful world of communication to your child! For even more tips & resources, visit

© 2001 Lisa Simmons. All Rights Reserved.
Lisa is the director of the Ideal Lives Project. Subscribe to her free newsletter by sending a blank email to mailto:[email protected]

23,290 Posts
Neat article. Having a child that has no communication skills, this was a great one. I had never thought of the yes/no idea. Were going to be working on that one immediately!!!

Usually when Michael wants something, he immediately signs thank you, but working at getting him to use the signs for yes/no are even better.

Thanks Sara for this artlcle.
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