Friday, January 10, 2014

5 Ways To Encourage Communication For Children With Special Needs

1. Music/Movement
2. Imagery
3. Scarves
4. Stop/go games
5. Symmetrical Shapes

The voice inside
I have worked with many children who are speech delayed. I have felt their frustration, as they struggle to express or sometimes just sit quietly without reaction. Going through my mind is a constant question- What can I do to draw out their voice, what will cause a spark of reaction? How can I  open the door to connection and communication?

Establishing connection
Reaching the voice of the child with special needs takes continual attention through repetition, patience, humor and most of all giving the children the motivation to want to communicate. Whether the child is struggling with language, physical challenges, processing issues, I have found that there are ways to achieve those small successes in communication that open the door slightly, enough for you to allow communication to grow. Once that focus is established, the child can be led to new accomplishments and new patterns.

1. Movement and Music are key
The LeapSmart adapted movement program is one way to reach these children. The body's natural response to rhythm, melody, color, pleasure in movement, gives children a  range of opportunities to connect. Without verbal communication, children can connect via, visual,  auditory, or physical communication. As I work with these children I pay close attention to what appeals to them and with that spark I can begin to establish communication.

2. Small Successes via Imagery
Sometimes it is through images, that a child can be reached. For example, repeating the choo-choo sound while making the shoulders move up and down connects movement to sound to image and may lead to successful imitation and repetition.
Blowing up an imaginary balloon using breath may be the beginning of sound making for the child who doesn’t speak. Then saying pop: popping simultaneously with a clap provides a visual and auditory jolt that is like an alarm clock going off. It is an enjoyable shock for the child as it provides the explosive ending to the activity and feels satisfying.
Simple activities like these are small successes for the child and raise confidence while also promoting group awareness if done with others.

3. Scarves to swirl
It is important to use broad vibrant strokes to get the attention of the child visually. Often children who have visual impairments need basic large movements such bright scarves moved up and down are easy to see and the flowing motion is attractive to children. Encouraging a child to sign or use words to ask for a prop such as a scarf, results in instant gratification: a scarf of their own to move and touch.

4. Stop and Go
While I am always sensitive to those children who get overwhelmed with sound, I have found most children are drawn to music. Using the on/off activity to correspond to stillness and movement is another great way to promote listening skills and learn self-control. Praise for stopping is important as praise for moving and a skilled creative teacher knows how to use music to provide the backbone for learning spatial skills, body awareness and experiencing a group connection. I have found that usually the joy of physical response to music and the pleasure it promotes as well as the positive reactions of those around him, will inspire the child to do more.

5. The Joy of symmetry
How telling is the body when it comes to reflecting the mind. A focus on symmetrical sitting, creates a neutral and balanced place to begin moving from  so my classes always start with sitting centered on the spine and doing movements such as clapping, doing body isolations to learning how to hold the lower body in one place while twisting holding a hoop, and moving a scarf across the midline.

Look what I can do!! is the cry I hear when I enter the classroom as the children proudly show me how they can push up in the “cobra pose”,  borrowed from yoga or the bridge pose. Most children need to improve upper body strength and pushing up on two arms is a great way to do this. This is a huge milestone in a child’s feeling of strength, power, and unity of the body.

Immobile children
Don’t be afraid of moving the child, helping, lifting and manipulating limbs into place in order to help the child move more fully, coordinated and with balance and strength. Even children with limited motion can become involved, enjoying, the feeling of movement at their own level.

Opening up the child’s “voice” through these movement activities is a huge step for a special needs child and reinforces their sense of who they are and how they can interact with the world around them.

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