Where Children Learn to Communicate

By Dr. James MacDonald, founder of the Communicating Partners Program

**Originally published in the Fall 2007 Special Needs issue of The Journal of API

Teaching girl to readIt is now clear that a child can learn in every social interaction, anywhere. The more a child interacts, the more the child will learn, communicatively and cognitively. The key factor is for the child to have many one-on-one partners who act and communicate in ways the child is capable of and interested in.

While this is true for typically developing children, the exciting finding is that it is also true for many “late-talking” children such as those with Autism, Down syndrome, apraxia, and other delays.

What is Apraxia?

Apraxia is a speech disorder in which a person has trouble saying what he or she wants to say correctly and consistently, and not due to weakness or paralysis of the speech muscles. Developmental apraxia of speech (DAS) differs from developmental delay of speech, in which a child follows the typical path of speech development but more slowly. Children with DAS may have difficulty putting sounds and syllables together in the correct order to form words, or may incorrectly use the varying rhythms, stresses, and inflections of speech that are used to help express meaning.

Many parents and professionals act as though a child, especially one with delays, will only learn to talk with trained professionals in therapy and school. This is a myth that can keep a child from his most important teachers – his family.

Even if a parent has only one hour each day of one-on-one time with his or her child, she still has about 11 times more interactions with her child than professionals who see the child for only one session per week or are managing a classroom full of children. The difference is much more pronounced in the early, most vulnerable years, when parents often have much more than one hour each day with a child. The difference is even greater than 50 times more than direct contact than with professionals (given several hours of contact at home a day). And since children can learn to interact and communicate in every one-on-one interaction, parents clearly have an enormous advantage over professionals in having developmental impact on children.

Even so, many parents believe their child will learn to communicate in the tiny proportion of time they spend with professionals. They will fight hard for an extra half hour of therapy and yet ignore the power they have in their many hours with the child.

Parents usually have very little training as to how they can effectively help their children socialize and communicate. Consequently, it is clear that professionals will have much more developmental impact on children when they educate parents in effective natural teaching strategies.

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