How do I decrease my child’s frustration with communication?

Communicating can be frustrating for children with CAS and their families, especially when children have limited speech or their speech is difficult to understand. The speech of many children with CAS is inconsistent due to the inefficiency in their motor planning and programming. This means that sometimes children may be able to communicate with words and other times they may not be able to clearly say words they have said in the past. Keep in mind that communication is more than speech and there are many other ways to communicate! 

Unfortunately, one way to communicate is with behavior. When children struggle with speaking, they may use behavior to communicate, including crying,  whining, throwing tantrums or physical aggression such as kicking and hitting.

What to do:

Use Alternative or Augmentative Communication (AAC)

Encourage your child to use alternative or augmentative communication (AAC) such as gestures, sign language, pictures or a communication device to help them communicate consistently. You can help them by communicating using AAC, too. Your child should be able to communicate not only wants and needs, but emotions, comments and questions. Being able to effectively and consistently communicate can decrease frustration. If your child does not have an AAC system or you don't feel the system they have is a good fit, talk to your child's speech-language pathologist - there are options! See the AAC page linked below for more information.

Create Communication Opportunities

You can create communication opportunities by not anticipating your child's needs and thus encouraging them to communicate with you. Remember that communication can take a variety of forms, not just speech, and you can give them chances to communicate throughout the day. Communication builds connection. The more your child feels seen and heard throughout the day, the more resilient they will be when frustration arises.

Pick Your Battles

Asking your child to communicate when they are tired or highly emotional (e.g. excited or upset) will probably be difficult for them and you. At these times it is better to model communication (such as describing what they want or feel) but not require that they use their communication, especially speech, in that moment. You might help your child express their thoughts or feelings by hand-over-hand help with a sign/gesture or touching a picture/symbol. You don't want to require/force your child, but you do want to reinforce the value of communication even when your child is tired, excited or upset.

Avoid Asking Too Many Questions

While you want to encourage your child to communicate throughout the day, avoid asking your child too many questions. Being asked lots of questions can feel demanding for a child with CAS and create anxiety and shut-down. Try using the rule of thumb of making at least 3 comments for each question you ask. Turn your questions into comments. For example, instead of asking "What's that?" state "I see a ball!" or instead of "What color is the ball?" say "I love that blue ball!"

Acknowledge Your Child's Communication

It is very important for your child to know their voice is being heard and they are being understood. Regardless of what form of communication your child is using, let them know you got their message by saying it back to them. This doesn't always mean they get what they want. For example, if your child is asking for candy, you might say "I understand that you are asking for candy, but that's not a choice right now."

Attain a Ready Learning State

A ready learning state for your child means they are calm and focused. You can help your child attain this state by prioritizing sleep, play and routines. Most children feel calmer and more focused when they are well-rested. Children learn through play and movement, so having ample opportunities daily for these activities is also important. Many young children function best if they know the routine and what is happening next. You can prepare your child for changes in routines by talking to them about the change in advance (minutes, hours or days ahead, depending on the size of the change). If your child is struggling in this area, a consultation or evaluation with an occupational therapist (OT) can be helpful.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

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Dr. Edythe Strand on How Parents Can Help

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