Did you know? May is Better Speech and Hearing Month! So, what does that mean?

The goal of Better Speech and Hearing Month is to raise awareness about a variety of communication disorders and to promote awareness about the available resources and treatments in order to enhance overall quality of life for individuals with communication disorders.

This year’s theme is “Communication for All”. Which got me thinking about the reasons why we communicate. You may think, that’s easy, we communicate for a bunch of reasons! And you’re right. We do! We communicate to share information, to ask questions, express wants and needs, comment, and for social reasons!

Often, requesting seems to be an easy first step to work on–especially for early communicators, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) users, and children with behavior needs. Sure, requesting is a big part of communicating; however, when you think about it, requesting is something that all babies learn. For example, baby cries, caregiver comes and provides attention and food/comfort/diaper change, and baby learns that crying equals attention and a want or need.

BUT-Communication is so much more than just requesting our wants and needs. In fact, the reasons for communicating change over our life span. According to research from Dr. Janice Light, we are using communication for social reasons over half (yes, 50%) of the time throughout our life! The importance of back and forth exchange of information grows throughout the years.

Based on this, we need to create more opportunities for our children, especially children with communication disorders, to communicate for a variety of reasons.

It is our duty as communication partners to promote opportunities for communicating for social reasons.

Tips To Foster Social Engagement in Early Communicators

(scroll past this list for tips for more advanced communicators):

  • Reply to your child regardless of the communication attempt.
  • Engage in eye contact with the child and with an object of interest. This is called joint attention.
  • Allow children to be with peers and allow them to watch peers play and interact. (CI’s free play group is an awesome way for kiddos birth to 3 to engage in peer opportunities!)
  • Promote play! Create an environment where a child can play with or without toys and with you or other peers!
  • Help children recognize feelings (if a child is crying, you could say, “aww you feel sad. It’s okay to feel sad.”)
  • Read story books with your child .
  • Use a combination of exaggerated facial expressions, gestures, and words.
  • Provide your child with opportunities to greet others (peers and adults).
  • Teach personal space. It is important for a child to know that others feel comfortable when they have enough space.
  • Practice taking turns and sharing toys.
Tips To Help Social Communication For Older Kiddos OR More Advance Communicators:
  • When your child is in the room, involve them in the conversation (even if they don’t contribute)—Talk with them and not about them.

  • Explicitly say why social greetings are important (e.g., saying “hi, how are you” makes others think good thoughts about you).

  • Label other’s feelings (e.g., “oh look, she is smiling, she must feel happy”). You can do this by looking at pictures of people in magazines, looking at people in videos, or watching others in the community.

  • Label your own feelings (e.g., “it made me feel happy when this person asked how my day was”).

  • Explicitly teach that you know a person is having a conversation with you because their body is facing yours.

  • Use language such as “expected” and “unexpected” in terms of behaviors. For example, you could say, “that was expected and really awesome that you said hi to your teacher.”

  • Explain other people’s feelings if something unexpected occurred. For example, you could say, “I think your teacher might feel confused when your body was turned away when she was talking to you.”

  • Model HOW to start a conversation, join in a conversation, end a conversation, and gain attention. Then TALK about exactly what you did

  • Teach empathy by asking how your child might feel if a certain scenario happens.

  • Make sure to point out someone’s tone of voice, too. If someone in a video is yelling you could say, “That person is mad. I know because they are yelling.”

  • Talk about qualities of healthy and positive friendships. Some qualities of a good friend include: caring, honest, trustworthy, a good listener, etc.

  • Talk about qualities that may sabotage or negatively impact a friendship. Some things that may sabotage a friendship include: only talking about yourself, not listening to friends, not listening to or allowing others ideas, not making time for each other, etc.

The most important thing to do in fostering and developing social skills is to be a good model. You are what your child learns from, and sometimes, children just need to be explicitly taught.

Bottom line: We communicate for a variety of reasons, and social reasons is one of the biggest. Let’s focus on giving all children and individuals access to social communication and successful social interactions in honor of Better Speech and Hearing Month!

Written by:
Mara Jonet, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech and Language Pathologist