This is the phrase that I often use to explain how much social communication encompasses. I use the term social communication intentionally instead of social skills. I think social skills at times becomes limited to being able to say hi/bye, take turns, look at someone when directed, and maintain a topic for multiple exchanges. All of these skills are important, but social communication isn't just about a collection of learned skills. It's about not only what marker of communication is used, but in what context and for what purpose. To say it simply--it's not simple.
One of the foundational layers of social communication is COMMUNICATIVE MEANS & COMMUNICATIVE INTENT.
At the core, many children with social communication deficits have unconventional or limited communicative means for the communicative intent they desire to communicate. For example a child who:
The absolute BEST time to model/teach communication is when the child shows the communicative intent for that communication (means). For example, when a child grunts to secure a mom's attention, that is the time to model calling, "mommy" while the mom is not looking. Once the child repeats "mommy", then the mom turns and comments, "I heard you say my name! I'm looking at you!". This reinforces the appropriate communicative means (calling name with one word label) with the communicative intent (securing attention).
When we look at the communicative intent, we can shape the means that is used (even unconventional). In that way, we are addressing the function instead of simply redirecting.
As a parent and a speech pathologist, I've heard many thoughts regarding if a child is ahead or behind when it comes to development. This input can come from a variety of sources, each with its own weight (your pediatrician versus the "one upper" mom at playgroup). Not all input is consistent either, which can be confusing as a parent. While there are many differences and ranges in child development, there are milestones to aide families in answering the question of whether to "wait and see" or ask for help.
Parent WOW moment
At first, I ignored it, then I excused it for his age, and later I thought it had to be because he had an overly verbal older sister that carried the conversation. Finally, I reasoned that he would grow out of it and that it would eventually all work itself out. When that did not happen, I went to Holland Speech and Consulting.
Our son Tripp was evaluated by Holland and we learned that he had a speech disorder. At that moment, I did not fully understand what speech therapy entailed and was still hoping it might be a quick fix and that in 6 weeks he would be healed! Holland’s team made sure to carefully guide us through the process that we were about to undertake to provide Tripp with speech therapy in order to work through his speech disorder.
Now as I look back over the past 2 and half years, with the help of a Holland speech therapist, Tripp has taken considerable steps in overcoming his speech disorder. Each new season brings about a different type of what we like to call “language explosions.” Difficult words are pronounced, sentences are strung together and Tripp’s confidence continues to soar.
To think that if I had not paused during my hectic life, listened and sought out Holland’s help, I would have missed out on so much that my sweet boy is now able to tell me, like what he learned in Church that day, who he played with at school and what makes him happy.
Tripp is now a regular contributor at our dinner table conversations every night and it is with extreme appreciation and gratitude that we thank Holland Speech and Consulting for the work they have done and continue to do in shaping the life of our child.
motivating materials + strategic vocabulary targets = simple activities to build language
Here is an example of motivating materials and targeted vocabulary that coordinate.
-Sample two-word phrases: car go, uh-oh crash, car crash
-Sample three-word phrases: uh-oh car crash, car go on, car ride off
The best way to facilitate and model language for your child is during PLAY. While playing with your child's favorite toys that motivate them:
1. USE LANGUAGE RIGHT ABOVE YOUR THE LEVEL OF YOUR CHILD: For example, if your child uses single words on average, use a variety of two-word phrases.
2. REPETITION IS GOOD: Children learn from routine and repetition.
3. USE A VARIETY OF TYPES OF WORDS: This is where quality is better than quantity. Children develop verbs, specifically action verbs for example right alongside nouns. Verbs and early location terms are more productive than a bank of nouns when it comes to being an effective communicator. It is much more functional for a child to be able to request to "go up" in his highchair to eat, than to only be able to label animals or colors in a book.
4. EXPAND ON YOUR CHILD''S LANGUAGE: This can happen for any level. If your child produces a sound while looking at an object, say the name of the object (eye gaze to single word). If they say "car" when they want you to roll the car to them, say "roll car" (single word to two-word phrase).
5. HAVE FUN: Children learn through play and any level of back and forth communication with your child is connection--celebrate it!
Our team was asked 5 quick questions to let us know a little more about them:
1. TELL us about your family.
2. What would your SUPERPOWER be?
3. If you could be ANYWHERE right this minute, where would you be?
4. What are you HAPPIEST doing when you aren't at work?
5. What are you most PASSIONATE about professionally?
When you really break down aspects of communication and play, you realize how many skills children must coordinate for a successful play interaction. Play is reciprocal, so therefore language within play must be as well. Let's look at an example play routine:
Pretend Carwash Play Routine
Clear Roles & Actions within that Role: This is where children use language such as, "you drive the car and I'll be the washer". This demands that the child either is able to respond to single or multi-step verbal directions of others or is able to give verbal directions to others, or hopefully BOTH. In reciprocal cooperative play, if directions given are unclear or there is a breakdown in understanding, the play is often abandoned by the participants.
Negotiated Spatial Boundaries: Language around spacial concepts must be given clearly and understood--on, in, under, over there, beside, between, above, in front of.
Securing Attention: Verbal and non-verbal means must be used to gain the attention of another prior to communicating. This could be calling a play partner's name to ensure they are listening or touching their arm to get their attention. Play also demands that children actively engage when a friend secure's their attention.
Requesting Shared Materials: Play is constantly moving, as is access to materials. Participants must be able to negotiate trading of objects and requesting objects. This could include anything from, "want to trade" to asking for materials missing (e.g., "where's the fishing rod") to requests, "can I have the purple one?". This often includes descriptive language involving adjectives and/or coordination of gestures (e.g., pointing, open palm for giving).
Appropriate Protests to Regulate Emotions: Things don't always go as planned and intentions are not always clearly understood or agreed upon. Language such as, "I don't like that", "I changed my mind", "don't do that" are powerful tools to communicate a protest. When a child can communicate through language versus a meltdown they can then negotiate a different plan of action--"let's do it this way", "I want to have one more minute and then give a turn". In most cases this language must be taught or modeled to children to support emotional regulation.
Have questions about your child's development?
Two kids, two agendas, one space, and shared materials--this is what us speech language pathologists call cooperative play. As you may guess, it can be tricky. In our house it can become a long-lasting fun-filled activity or it can end in tears and yelling. Let's break down the differences in those two outcomes:
Cooperative play is one application of how play and language are so intertwined in development. Does your child have the communication skills needed to join in and play with siblings and other children? Stay tuned for our next blog, which will outline imperative communication skills needed in cooperative play.
Have questions about your child's development?
Jamie Cato is the founder of Holland Speech & Consulting and the mommy of two incredible kids, Sloan (5) and Jude (2), who unknowingly become the subject of many stories when it comes to the development of language, play, and emotional regulation.