- Ability to read social cues: this refers to the way children understand and read non-verbal information such as facial expressions, gestures, body movements, as well as subtle verbal information such as verbal inferences ‘Oh its cold in here’, may mean can you please put on the heater?’ There are so many social cues we read every day without being conscious of this process. As a speech pathologist, I work with children and families to help them understand what social cues are and how to better facilitate their children’s ability to read and express them. I often work with parents to help them make their cues easier to read for their child and others. This way they can model as well as build a more grounded relationship with their child.
- Intentionality: this refers to the way the child uses their behaviour or words to express what they are meaning e.g. the child may cover their ears when there is no noise, but lots of movement or visual clutter. The hands over the ears may mean ‘this environment is overwhelming for me.’ Or the child may say ‘careful’, when there is no apparent danger, but may have learnt that the slippery dip or slide is ‘careful’ because the parent always says the word ‘careful’ when the child is sitting up high on the slide. Now the slide’s meaning has become ‘careful’, so the child may be asking for the ‘slide’ when saying ‘careful’
- Comprehension skills: this refers to what the child understands in verbal language. Sometimes it may appear that the child has ‘good language comprehension’ because they may have either learnt how to respond to certain formal language tests and/or they have learnt what certain words mean in certain situations with familiar routines e.g. ‘put the plate in the dishwasher’ after dinner may automatically mean put the plate in the dishwasher for the child because this information is context and routine-bound. However, if you were to say ‘put your plate next to the dishwasher’ would the child be able to do this as they may only be decoding the words ‘plate and ‘dishwasher’ within the context without understanding the relationship between the two words. Many children we see have difficulty with comprehension, which is often hidden and/or masked by their other strengths i.e. understanding what needs to happen in a given routine and/or situation. Comprehension is core to language and self development. The more we understand, the more we can relate and communicate with others and understand how the world works and where we fit into the world.
- Communication development: this refers to the way children communicate. Communication is not only verbal. In fact, in neurotypical language development, before children learn to talk, they are able to use their non-verbal gestures for up to 60 circles of communication exchange where there are both initiations and responses. Many of the children we see have challenges with body awareness, moving their bodies, or sequencing their body movements and often will not use gestures or facial expressions naturally. Communication development requires a team approach where children can learn about their bodies and how to use them to communicate their intentions. When children have challenges with communication development, we work closely with parents and caregivers to help them learn to read their child’s communication and therefore, intentions. This helps make the child feel seen, listened to, understood and accepted, thereby building confidence which then helps the child learn new skills and feel like they are confident and competent communicators.
- Social skills: this refers to the way children use their faces, gestures, bodies, verbal language and themselves to initiate, maintain and terminate interactions with other people. Many children we see may have great language skills but are unable to understand how to start a conversation topic, how to build on someone else’s ideas, and how to change the conversation topic or finish the topic without hurting someone else’s feelings. Many children don’t even know the impact their behaviour has on others e.g. someone standing up and walking away in the middle of an interaction because they are no longer interested in the conversation topic. We work with children and adolescents, highlighting the social information that they may often not be aware of or understand in everyday interaction exchanges and what this may mean.
- Emotional development: this refers to how children develop a sense of self and other and how they understand and express their inner emotional world. People often think emotional development refers to teaching children basic feelings such as ‘happy’, ‘sad’, ‘angry’, ‘frustrated’. Many children we see may have learnt these words cognitively ie in their heads, but are not able to connect them to the way their bodies may be feeling in a given moment. Emotional development takes time and is a family language. If parents or caregivers cannot talk about their emotions, or explore them, then how will their children learn about their emotions? Another common emotion we see in the children we work with is ‘worried’. Many children present with signs of anxiety and families may not even be aware of this. We use a variety of approaches to facilitate language development including the Hanen Parent Training Programmes, Marte Meo, DIRFloortime and Play Therapy principles around emotional development. We encourage parents to go on their own journey of emotional development and understand what they do, how they do it and why they do it. For example, a parent who may ask their child many questions may be asking questions from a place or worry or urgency to push their child up the developmental ladder faster. In many cases we see, too many questions cause the child more angst and worry. Attachment research talks about ‘mirror neurons’. Children feel their parent’s or caregiver’s anxiety and/or worry and may react to it in different ways. Together with the parent and or caregiver, we explore the different ways and how we can help both the child and parent feel less anxious and worried and form loving and deep connections
- Relationships and ability to make friends: Humans are wired for relationship. It may appear that children living with Autism may not be interested in relationships. This is not true. Often it is a matter of knowing how to connect with and engage the child. Parents often tell us that initially, their child wanted to play on their own and after a few sessions using relationship-based intervention approaches, the child continuously seeks out the parent to play or be with them while playing. There are other children we work with who have difficulty separating from their parent and may present with separation anxiety. In this case, we work slowly with the child and parent helping both parties separate for a short amount of time and building on this time so both the child and parent feel comfortable with the separation. In attachment theory, separation and reunification are important for healthy relationships where both the child and parent can grow together and apart. The first relationship a child learns is with their parent(s), then their siblings, then extended family members then peers. Through our work, we work on the foundations of relationships within the family and then extend these to the child’s peers.
Our DIRFloortime® certified Speech Pathologist in Adelaide is trained in many different evidence-based language and speech development approaches including Marte Meo, a variety of Hanen Parent Training Programs and Circle of Security. She understands that comprehension and language development are a complex process and often requires a team approach to address other challenges which may be impacting the child’s comprehension, language and communication development. These include attachment and regulation, visual-spatial processing, auditory processing, timing and rhythm, and sensory-motor processing. Please contact us to find out more information.