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3 Tips for Interacting with Pre Verbal Children

Something we have seen many times is that the loudest children get the most attention. When the attention is positive, they receive language and communication models that in turn helps their skills to develop.

Grace came to me wanting to know how she could interact more with her son Rory, who was preverbal and had 3 chatty siblings.  She also worried about his time at nursery and how much attention he was getting. 

We came up with three strategies for her to try at home. This was also shared with Rory’s nursery so that they could feel more confident talking to him during play. 

These are the tips that made the difference…

Tip 1 – Be the one to initiate

Because Rory tended to sit back and be a passive member of both his family and his nursery room, Grace needed to be the one to initiate interaction. Rather than bringing something new to the interaction she first joined in with what Rory was already doing. She mirrored what he did with his body and she mirrored his vocalisations. 

In doing so, they developed longer and more complex interactions that began to include back and forth messages. This approach is called Intensive Interaction.  Before a child becomes comfortable enough to initiate interactions they build up their skills with the support of others joining them where they currently are. Grace found this approach incredibly enjoyable and so did the nursery staff.

Tip 2 – Speak in ways that don’t require a verbal response

This next tip took some practice but soon Grace found she could do this nearly all the time. Instead of asking Rory a question she began to comment instead, she commented on what she could see him doing, commented on what she was doing, and she commented on what they both could see. 

Before saying something she would think – does Rory need to speak to respond to this? If the answer was’ ‘yes’ then she reframed her words into a comment.  She also realised that if she paused more and waited longer, Rory began to fill in the gaps with his own vocalisations.

Tip 3 – Respond to all means of communication

Even though Rory was still learning how to use his voice to speak, he was still communicating in many other ways. Grace’s final task was to take more notice of these other ways. From facial expressions to how he moved his body and hands, to the changing intonation in his vocalisations. 

Rory was also quite clever when it came to reading symbols so Grace made sure he had better access to his symbol book too. She tried hard to respond to all his communication attempts, no matter how subtle, and even if she wasn’t sure what the message was. This way he got positive feedback every time and was much more likely to try again.

So, by addressing starting interactions that didn’t create pressure for Rory to respond verbally, Grace was able to create multiple conversations every day. When the nursery staff followed these tips as well, there was an obvious improvement in Rory’s confidence and he began reaching out to others for interaction in a way he hadn’t done before.

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