It can be pretty frustrated trying to get a clear picture of what’s wrong with your child. Even after you get a diagnosis, you may still be confused about exactly how to help your child. Unfortunately, I find that many professionals focus on your child’s diagnosis, rather than the whole child.
Not only is this annoying, but it’s harmful too, since sometimes people get stuck on how most kids with your child’s diagnosis are supposed to act. I’ve even heard some people say things like “but do you think kids with (fill in the blank) can really do that?” Uggh!
I prefer to look instead at the individual child: what are this child’s strengths and weaknesses? I usually spend about an hour observing the child, across a variety of situations: in a group, during a structured period (arts and crafts time, for example), and unstructured time (free play inside and outside).
Some of the things I watch out for are how they react to stress, to disappointment, and how they interact with other children and the adults around them. I also look to see if they seem generally happy and confident, or if they seem discouraged, and don’t seem to persist when they want to get something. After the observation I do a more formalized assessment of them that takes about a half of an hour.
As a parent, you already know more about your child than anyone else. You possess an intimate knowledge of your child across time and a variety of situations. That’s why I’ve provided a detailed assessment for you to use in order to get a picture of your child’s level of development.
While an assessment is not an evaluation, it is a good tool for flagging potential problem areas, and for getting a clearer picture of your child’s strengths and weaknesses. I especially like this one because it’s a developmental checklist-which means that you can use the information and build a detailed learning program for your child.
There are already numerous hands-on learning games on this site that will help you do that, but I’ll be adding more as time goes on, as well as structuring the material so that you’ll know which games to work on first.
I recommend filling out this assessment together with another family member who knows your child well. You can also give a copy to your child’s teacher or caregiver. Also, don’t feel as if you need to fill it all out at once: some parents prefer to look at the questionnaire, choose a few questions, observe their child, and then move on to the next few question.
Does your preschooler have difficulty describing to you what went on during her day?
Does she have trouble naming objects, substituting other words like “thingie” or “that round thing with cream inside,” instead of the real word? Does she seem to describe things in the wrong order, telling you what happened last, instead of first?
There are several reasons why your child has trouble expressing themselves. Here are a few of the most important ones:
Children who have expressive language weaknesses are usually very strong visually.
Visual thinkers often have trouble with sequencing, since they are associative thinkers. If you imagine the tag cloud on a blog, then you have a good idea of how a visual thinker processes information. Ideas are not necessarily connected to each other in a linear fashion, one idea following the other in an orderly fashion.
Instead, children may jump from one topic to another, seemingly in a random order. You might see this when your child discusses something with you. She may begin talking about the new dog her best friend has, move on to swimming class, and then end up animatedly discussing the trip you took last summer.
To auditory thinkers her thinking seems disorganized and flighty, since it doesn’t follow a logical, sequential order. For your daughter, however, there was a logical order. The dog is of a breed that is good at swimming – hence swimming class came to mind. Swimming made her think of water, which reminded her of the waterfall the family saw on the trip last summer.
Your child’s visual and auditory systems don’t work well together.
In order to process language effectively, your child’s auditory and visual system need to work together most of the time. Children who have trouble expressing themselves are sometimes so strong visually that their visual system shuts down their auditory system.
On the extreme end, for example with autistic children, the visual system is so strong that the auditory system appears not to work at all. Concerned parents might initially wonder if their child is deaf, but eventually notice that their child can hear sounds when they choose (are able) to.
Other children on the spectrum, for instance, children with ADHD or moderate language disorders, seem to have great difficulty paying attention. These children don’t always respond when their names are called, have trouble following directions, or have difficulty understanding what they read or hear.
A strong visual system can actually be a wonderful benefit; many famous inventors and thinkers were visual geniuses. But in order to benefit your child has to learn how to help both systems to work together.
A weak memory makes it hard for your child to remember what he hears.
One of the most difficult factors that affect how your child processes language is their ability to remember what they hear. Since there are different types of memory, different children can be affected in different ways.
For some children, what they hear seems to go in one ear and out the other. Others can practice a math fact, letter name, or history question over and over again – only to find out in the morning that it was if they had never learned the material.
Still others may perplex parents and teachers, seemingly possessed with stellar memories. These kids can remember the teeniest bit of information, whether it was 3 days ago or 3 years ago. However when you ask them to remember a particular fact, it’s as if the system has short-circuited, and they are unable to give the right answer.
All of the above can have a serious impact on children’s language skills. Fortunately, you can help your child to improve these skills. Hands on learning games that focus on these skills can make a huge difference in helping your child express themselves more effectively.
It was a bit complicated, I know, but I hope you weren’t discouraged, because there are some easy tips you can use to help your child develop a healthy curiosity in everything around her. In fact, these are the exact same methods I used over the last several months to help my foster daughter, who was severely delayed, learn to ask questions.
I actually caught myself the other day telling her, “NO MORE QUESTIONS” – at least for the next 15 minutes or so. (Okay, I wouldn’t recommend that, but hey- it was a really looooong day :)).
The tips below are really more than tips: they are alternate ways of speaking and acting with your child that will radically affect your child’s ability to question. I guarantee that if you use these methods a few times a week, you’ll see a significant improvement in your child.
Model asking questions
Asking questions might seem like a skill that comes naturally. After all, even babies and young children do it, albeit with gestures or facial expressions. However, we can not only teach our children how to ask questions, but we can teach them how to ask good questions.
One of the most effective ways of doing this is by modeling this skill for our children. There’s no need to conduct a scientific experiment in order to do so, however. There are numerous occurrences throughout the day that are great opportunities for sharing with your child the joys of why. Here are some tips on how
Create absurd situations
In order for your child to know how to ask questions, he first needs to notice that there is something unusual about the situation. You can help your child do this by using objects in ways they weren’t meant to be used, or putting them in places they don’t belong, in order to spark your child’s curiosity.
This works well for many children with language delays, since they usually have good visual memories (in contrast to weak auditory memory) and often remember where an object should be, who it belongs to, or what it should be used for – even if they don’t have the words to express themselves.
For example, when it’s time to put the groceries, take the milk, and put it in a cabinet. Look at your child with a surprised look on your face, and say “I wonder if I can leave the milk here.”
Even if they seem unperturbed, continue by asking your child, “Does milk go here?” If they have a hard time answering, give them a clue, “No, the milk goes in the refrigera-“ and let your child fill in the blank.
Then ask your child to put it away where it belongs. As they put it away, say with an exaggerated tone, “I see; if I don’t put it here it will spoil.”
One important thing to remember is that there’s a difference between asking questions, and knowing the answer to those questions. There’s no reason why you should expect your child to know or even remember the answers to the questions you ask.
This process of questioning is a lot like brainstorming, where your goal is to encourage as many questions as possible, without self-consciousness or censure.
That’s why the second part where you say why the milk can’t go in the cabinet is less important than the moment when your child looks at you with a question in his eyes. That look of “that was strange, Mommy” is what you’re after.
Try “accidentally” putting on your child’s shoes. Look bewildered as you try and fit it on your foot, and ask yourself while your child looks on, “I wonder why it doesn’t fit?” Then examine the shoe, examine your foot, measure one against the other, and look confused.
(Think of it as an audition for the clown act in Barnum and Bailey Brother’s circus).
Treat failure as a learning opportunity
Some parents rush in to correct their children when they see disaster occurring. Even when there’s no possibility of someone being hurt or something being damaged, these parents worry their children will feel badly about themselves if they experience failure.
In reality, failure is a lesson. It’s an invaluable opportunity to learn from your mistakes. Plus, it’s intimately connected to learning how to question: your child sees that something they anticipated didn’t work out as expected. Now they need to ask themselves, “why did that happen?”
Personally, I know how hard it is to watch a child fail, or even struggle. I’ve seen my LD children struggle over numerous things, and I’m not sure if it gets easier with time. I can say, however, that allowing my children to fail –even just a little bit- is key to their success. As Jonathan Fields says in his book called Uncertainty, the fear and doubt we experience when we worry about failure can serve as fuel for brilliance.
Why not let your child shine?
So next time you see your child headed for a mistake, stop. Step out of your role as a parent, and think of yourself as a coach. You don’t always have to warn your son or daughter about what “might” happen. Often, the natural consequences that occur are enough to teach your child what to do. If not, help your child use problem-solving in order to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again.
Are there any specific instances where you feel stuck teaching your child to question? Leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to help you out!
Hands-on learning games are a great way of helping your child build his expressive language skills. Being able to express one's self is a crucial skill that affects every aspect of your child's life. Not being able to explain himself, persuade his listeners, or simply share a funny event because he has an expressive language disorder can seriously impact your child 's self-esteem.
Imagine being unable to explain why you had a bad day in class, or why you want to go to a friend's house. Or, what if you wanted to convince your sister to let you borrow her bike, but you didn't have the words you needed to persuade her?
You may find your child is easily frustrated, since he can't use language effectively. He might resort to hitting, kicking, or even biting when he doesn't get his way, because he cannot use language to help him solve conflicts with others.
The best way to help your child is to give her plenty of opportunities to play with language, in a fun, engaging activity that doesn't pressure her to produce. This hands-on learning game is perfect as it allows your child to strengthen her language in a totally naturally way, and even lets her use visuals to help get her point across.
In order to play this game, you will need to take a trip first with your child to a fun place. During the trip, make sure to take separate pictures of everyone who goes with you on the trip. You should also take pictures of all the main events. For example, if you go to an amusement park, take a picture of each ride and game that your child plays.
You should also take pictures of your child as they leave the house to go on the trip. If you plan to travel by car, take a picture of your child sitting in the car. You will use all of these pictures to act as cues to help your child tell a story about his trip.
Card stock (to print out the pictures on)
Regular size photo album (to store the pictures in a story format)
How to Play:
You're going to make a story of your child's trip using the pictures you took. First, organize the pictures in the order in which they occurred. You can separate the pictures according to the different events that took place during the trip.
Your child should sit on the floor or at a large table with plenty of space to move the pictures around. Point to a picture of your child, and ask, "Who's this?" in a playful manner.
Place that picture to your child's left.
Now take an event picture, and place it to the right of the first picture. You have now created a sentence, only with pictures instead of words.
Say to your child, "This is - (your child should say his name, or "me ," if he is able to.) Next point to the event picture, and ask your child to name it.
Lastly, your child should put the two together : "I rode on the merry-go-round."
Underneath the merry-go round picture place another event picture. Point to the picture of your child, prompting him to say, "I rode in the bumper cars."
Continue with the rest of the pictures.
Tip: You can make this game harder by letting your child sequence all the pictures himself. Instead of telling you the story bit-by bit with in sentence form, he should first arrange the pictures in story form, and then tell the entire story using his own words.
Don't forget to reward your child at the end of your learning session! It need not be a large reward, but it should be something that is enticing to your child. It could be a treat, or it could be being allowed to stay up a half-hour past bedtime, or going to a park you don't usually visit.
Hi! I’m a parent of 8 children, 3 of whom have learning disabilities. I have over 20 years experience working with kids and adults of all ages. My specialty is disabilities on the autistic spectrum, and language delays.