Children who are non-verbal or have language difficulties exhibit many behaviors in an effort to try to communicate. Sometimes these attempts to “tell you something” can be misunderstood. It might seem like your son or daughter is just being evasive, annoying, or naughty. But it’s important to recognize that children who have difficulty with speech struggle with a whole lot of frustration. When my son Kyle was a preschooler, his tantrums were incredibly severe because he could not adequately communicate his desires. I’m sure he sometimes felt like a tourist in a foreign country, getting a whole lot of blank looks. It was often difficult for me to figure out what he wanted, and this would initiate an angry response. Once his language improved, and with a little bit of extinction technique, his tantrums eventually ceased.
Here are twelve signs or gestures that typically indicate your child is trying to tell you something:
- Aggression. (kicking, pinching, biting, hitting, etc.)
- Touching or trying to move your face, hand, body, or pull on your clothes.
- Gestures such as pointing, waving, clapping, raising an arm, etc.
- Head nodding, shaking, or banging.
- Gaze shift, such as looking at you, then at an object.
- Crying, screaming, or having a temper tantrum.
- Shoving, pushing, giving, or throwing an object.
- Facial expression (frowning, smiling, pouting).
- Vocalization (sounds such as grunts, moans, or partial speech).
- Rituals (acting out certain sequences to get a desired outcome).
- Intonation (pitch, volume, or duration changes in a child’s attempt at speech).
- Proximity (moving closer to you or to a desired object).
What can I do to better understand what my child is trying to say?
Once you recognize that your child is trying to communicate, there are a number of things you can do. In certain situations, “playing dumb” can be an effective way to motivate your child to speak. A child with serious language delays might also benefit from sign language. (In my opinion, this doesn’t mean you necessarily need to learn American Sign Language, unless your child is hearing impaired or will have language delays throughout his life. Simply use basic, obvious hand gestures that make sense to you.) Providing your child with the words he means to say, once you’re certain you understand, is helpful. “Oh, you want the truck book. Say, ‘Mommy, I want the truck book.’” Don’t fall into the habit of ignoring your non verbal child. In the car, at the store, and during the day at home you should be talking in simple terms about all the things you see and do, even though your child can’t respond. Read books to your child, and fill his or her life with language. Your child’s attempts to communicate, no matter how subtle, are an invitation you should not turn down.
Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here. Some links on this blog may have been generated by outside sources are not necessarily endorsed by Kristyn Crow.