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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Like to Forget the Holidays? You’re Not Alone.

Holidays can be times of joy and peaceful celebration.  But they can just as easily be times of stress and anxiety. For our students who lack communication skills, they can be doubly stressful.  Not knowing what is happening, what is coming, and how to get their communication needs met in an out-of-usual environment can make our nonspeaking students more than usually anxious. And how does that anxiety appear to us?  Often as behavior we describe as “angry,” “aggressive,” or “wild.”

None of these is really what the child means to communicate, most of the time. We all too frequently see the manifestation of emotions as other than what the child is actually feeling.  This can be seen in neurotypical children, as well, particularly when they are too young to have the words they need.

Likely even your typical children hate being dragged to and fro and told to be on their best behavior.  You can usually explain to them why this needs to be, in language they understand, and many of us have even resorted to “bribery” - oops, I meant to say reinforcement.

To help your language disordered child, however, I have some tips that might help.

  1. Communicate expectations visually.  Make a simple visual display that shows the child where they are going, when, and with whom, as well as what they can expect while they are at the destination.
  2. You might want to make a contingency map; showing the child a desired outcome (that bribe I mentioned above) and what they need to do to receive it, vs what behavior will result in its removal.
  3. If you insist upon a certain mode of dress that is out of the norm for them, try these clothes on beforehand and eliminate any areas of discomfort.  An uncomfortable child will not be a compliant child.
  4. Make sure you have a way for them to communicate to you. This is where your AAC system comes in, of course. But if your child doesn’t yet have a robust system, at least have a simple core word-based board that offers choices of symbols for ‘What is wrong’ and ‘How I’m feeling.”  If possible, also have a choice of comments they can make during the event or get-together; “I like this,” and “I don’t like,” at a minimum.
  5. If there will be unusual activities, try to plan ahead by doing some simple simulations to practice what they will need to do.  Again, keep communication going in both directions.

There are, of course, lots of other suggestions I could make, but I don’t want to overwhelm you any more than you want to overwhelm the child.  My key point is - of course - communicate to the child and make sure he can communicate to you.
You can right click to download this very simple board, or drag and drop.

Looking for more communication tips and strategies for using AAC with a child? Check out my book, “Make the Connection!: A Practical Guide to Parents and Practitioners for Teaching the Nonverbal Child to Communicate with AAC.” Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

(This is an associate link.)

Happy holidays! And, keep on talking!!  I'll talk to you next year.

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