Communicating

Sketch of two children in conversation
Welcome to the ‘Communicating’ page. Articles in this section look at your child’s Speech, Language, and Social Communication abilities. Communication involves both receptive and expressive language. Expressive language is essentially saying what you want to say; clearly and well. Receptive language is the ability to understand what someone else is saying.

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In expressive language, your child may have difficulty thinking of the words he or she wants to say. This is sometimes referred to as ‘word retrieval.’ Your child may have a weaker vocabulary, knowing what he wants to say but not having adequate word knowledge to provide the right word. It also may be that your child has trouble saying words or making certain sounds in his mouth. This is likely a problem of articulation. Beyond expressive and receptive language, your child may have challenges with social communication, or pragmatic language. Pragmatic language refers to the ability to talk to peers and engage with them socially. It includes skills like: turn taking, asking clarifying questions, showing emotionally congruent responses, active listening, and general back-and-forth dialogue. Within this domain is a skill called ‘functional communication’ which is the ability to express wants and needs. Essentially, does your child know how to ask for help when stuck or make a legitimate complaint when their needs are not being met? Another important skill is non-verbal communication. This includes such abilities as using gestures, facial expressions, pointing, and body language. A necessary communication skill for school and community life is story-telling, or ‘narrative coherence.’ In the articles that follow, you will learn about any communication challenges that may be inhibiting your child’s happiness, success, or day-to-day life. Whenever appropriate, strategies are provided that you could do at home to increase your child’s communication skills. You will also learn when the problem requires more immediate intervention from a Speech Language Pathologist, Psychologist, Audiologist, or other professional.

Sometimes the communication challenges occur outside of your child’s mother tongue. That is, it may be that your child is competent in his or her own language but is finding challenges in another language. Many families are bilingual or multi-lingual. Children learning and incorporating multiple languages have unique needs and may experience some additional challenges. These types of communication difficulties are not seen as disabilities, as would be the case with an Expressive or Receptive Language Disorder. Rather, there may be specific challenges with language development or language acquisition. When learning multiple languages, a child is confronted with not only linguistic differences but cultural changes as well. It may be that there are phrases and ideas that do not translate well in the child’s other language. Skills like code switching and cognitive flexibility are required to adapt to language differences when incorporating dual or multiple languages and cultures into a child’s vernacular. Many toddlers learning multiple languages may appear behind in their language skills as compared to other children their age. Most of these differences tend to diminish or disappear in pre-school or early elementary. Research shows that multi-lingual children benefit in the long run in improved cognitive skills, particularly in terms of flexible thinking. The articles that follow will address these types of language and communication challenges as well.