5 Primary Tools for Communicative Play with Your Special Needs Child
How can we best communicate with our children? The answer is always their preferred choice of play. Below you will find a breakdown of the 5 primary tools for communicative play outlined in the pages of Solitary Genius: Discovering the Gifted Child Within. Solitary Genius is a memoir that touches upon the many complexities of communication that I experienced when teaching a pilot program for preschool children with mild to severe communication challenges. The tools discussed in Solitary Genius are broken down below for the readers of Autism Parenting Magazine in hopes that it serves as a reminder and reference point to inspire and support communication.
5 Tools for Communicative Play:
1. Work at the child’s pace
The most effective learning tool for play with any child is learned through their preferred form of play. So, if they love dinosaurs, play with dinosaurs. If they love Hello Kitty, play with Hello Kitty. It doesn’t matter what the toy is, just let them naturally play with whatever they love and then your job is to be the observer. You don’t need to fix anything or make anything “right.” This is the first major meaning of playing at their pace. That is, they will naturally set the pace if they are doing something they love. Don’t force anything, just be there with them and let them lead the way.
2. Build trust
Just like with any individual, you build trust by being present on a regular basis. In this case, you want to be present with the child as they play and only add positive commentary. That means no corrections or “this is the way to do it.” Negativities cannot be present to build trust. You build trust by trusting they are smart, capable children who will learn and problem solve intuitively on their own. They will feel the energy of your confidence in them. You are there simply to add positive words and presence. Again, if it won’t interrupt the flow of things, you can do this by stating what they are doing. Specifically, by adding commentary of what they are doing, “Charlie is placing the red car down. Charlie is picking up the yellow car and putting it next to the red car, etc.”
3. Add on to the child’s actions and words
While the child is playing, start stating what they are doing at a quiet voice level — a level that is soothing and not disruptive to the peace they are experiencing while playing. So, you might state, “Megan is holding her Hello Kitty. Megan is hugging Hello Kitty. Megan loves Hello Kitty.” Now, add to the actions and words — that’s right, you choose in the moment — is there an action, a word describing their current emotion or word that could be added on to create better understanding? Go ahead, use it, and add it on as long as it is positive! You might say something like, “Megan is sitting Hello Kitty on the sofa, she is taking a rest. She is tired.” It’s that simple, yes- simplicity in a fun, peaceful environment is how our kids learn best!
4. Back off (give the child space to explore)
If you have been speaking their actions for a few minutes and you are tired or your child seems to be wanting space, give it to them or to yourself! Remember, children are most often more intuitive than adults and they can sense if you are unsure or tired. They will show you by their body language when they need their own space. It’s not personal, it’s just they need their space, so step away quietly and step back in when you feel help is needed. This is giving your child the subconscious message that you know they need space and you are confident in their ability to explore on their own and learn, but you are there to help if they need you.
5. Build sequencing skills at appropriate intervals
Always add in sequencing naturally when you can. For instance, you can point out, “The first car is red, the second car is yellow, the last car is blue. It’s always good to add in when something is “finished.” Or, you may just use sequencing if you are there from the start. First we take the dinosaur off the shelf, next we sit down with him on the floor and so on, until you are finished and when you are done, you put toys or the book or whatever it is away. Just as everyone does, you always have to choose what is the most appropriate for your child and add more complex sequencing as skills develop.
Remember, if at any time your child could hurt themselves or being destructive, then by all means, you must step in. But be sure to be measured in your temper and just state what is going on. No emotion other than complete love and understanding. “Mommy is taking the toy away, Brian can hurt himself by doing (explain in words what he was doing). Brian doesn’t like Mommy taking the toy away, but he cannot bang things, etc.”
An author, teacher and lifelong learner, Maureen (Mo) Marshall grew up in Morris Plains, New Jersey, as the fourth of 10 children. After graduating with a BA in Speech Pathology from Loyola College, she spent a year in Maryland teaching a small group of children with severe communication challenges – a transformative experience that inspired her to write Solitary Genius.
Mo later moved to New York and spent nearly a decade working as a casting director in the film industry. During that time, she also worked in antiques, interior design, real estate and finance. She lives in Manhattan and is now writing a screenplay, tentatively titled, The Donut Shop.
Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Solitary-Genius-Discovering-Gifted-Within-ebook/dp/B004Z1EFAG/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419876123&sr=1-2&keywords=solitary+genius