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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Encouraging your child to respond

This post extends on the previous one, which discussed Newman’s (2004) advice for talking to your child who has communication difficulties. I want to focus in this post on her ideas about how to react when your child responds to you to ensure more communication attempts on their part.

1- “Respond immediately and positively” (p108)

Praise any attempts, even if they are not correct. Also, use “active listening” skills to ensure your child feels rewarded for their communication attempts, and to clarify meaning if you are unsure what they mean.

Active listening, according to Friswell, involves first stopping all other activity and intently focusing your attention on your child.

Second, look at the child – make eye contact, get down to their level by kneeling beside them if necessary.

Third, listen without interruption. Children struggling with communication may need more time to produce speech. Wait patiently, without rushing them or trying to finish their words or sentences. However, you may need to make encouraging sounds (uh-huh?) or use body language such as smiles and nods to give immediate feedback and encourage your child to persist with their communication attempt.

Finally, once they have finished, respond. In responding, make sure you focus on the positives first. A good rule to go by is: praise then re-phrase.

For example:
Jilly says, “Want duce in up.”
Adult responds, “Very good, Jilly. You want juice in your cup?”

This allows your child to confirm their meaning using a nod or shake of the head.

2 – “Be over the top in your response” (p109)

To begin with, it can be important to get overly excited about communication efforts alongside providing immediate rewards for any communication attempts. This Utube video has a good illustration of this, though the communication is using the PECs system rather than words.

However, be conscious that for some older children struggling with communication over-the-top praise can be received negatively as they may feel you are drawing undue attention to their difficulties. Like with everything, be tuned in to what motivates your child or student and respond accordingly.

3 – “Don’t correct pronunciation or what she has said” – re-phrase instead.

This is a widely accepted approach.

For example:
Jilly says, “Want duce in up.”
Adult responds, “Very good, Jilly. You want juice in your cup?”
Jilly nods. Adult provides her with juice in her cup.

There are some good examples of re-phrasing in this Utube Video.

However, the Lindamood program has suggested that correction of pronunciation is important. This links in with the importance of directly teaching children with disabilities new skills, rather than expecting them to simply “pick up” these skills through indirect modelling. It is also about children experiencing communication in a multi-sensory way – feeling and seeing sounds as well as hearing them. And, further, it is about helping children break down and sequence sounds in words. The program encourages children to look at the shape of the mouth, to feel how the tongue, lips and breath create the sound alongside simply hearing sound.

So an alternate approach may be:

Jilly: “Want duce in up.”
Adult: “Very good, Jilly. You want juice in your cup?”
Jilly nods.

Adult (using the gesture system discussed previously): “You say, ‘I want JJJuice in my CCCup.’” stressing the key sounds and drawing attention to the mouth movements that go with it.
Jilly: “duce in cccup.”
Adult: “That’s great! JJJuice.”
Jilly: “Jjuice.”
Adult: “Well done!!” and rewards Jilly with juice in her cup.

This way you are rewarding both her attempt at communication, and her correct speech.

Friswell, J. (nd) Active Listening with Children in the Early Years. Retrieved 22nd September, 2009 from:

Newman, S. (2004). Stepping Out: Using Games and Activities to Help Your Child with Special Needs. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.


Lora September 25, 2009 at 9:48 PM  

Thank you for sharing your valuable information, as usual. I learn something new and am always reminded of things that I already knew each time I visit your blog.

I don't always comment but I keep track. This time I am reminded to listen without interruption, a fault that I have. Griffin struggles so hard to get his words out and it takes him so long to finish a sentence. Often I will attempt to help him out and I need to stop doing that.

He has been in school since August and still no meeting with his teachers...hopefully soon. I am especially interested in how he is doing in speech since he has had Speech Therapy since he was a wee little boy. It may be something that we have to do for years to come but that's okay.

Amanda September 25, 2009 at 10:50 PM  

Thanks for dropping by, Lora. It is always great to hear that the information I am sharing is helpful - even if it is just a reminder of things already learnt :)

I hope the meeting with the school happens soon, and goes well...

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