When our children first start to speak, we are so excited. But as time goes on, we lose focus on the amazing ability to communicate with our child.

We are still talking but may have forgotten to think about how we are talking. Body language and tone are just as important as the content, especially for unique learners.

Communication is a learned process, something we begin the day we are born.  We learn by imitating those around us.  Our ability to speak, respond non-verbally, and to listen are all influenced by responses from those we come in contact with.

Communication occurs between people as they speak, listen, and observe.  What we say and how we say it is part of a continuous process of communication. While the words we speak are important, what isn’t spoken can have a greater impact on communication.

Researchers estimate that less than half of the meaning of any message is conveyed verbally.  Body posture, touch, gestures, and tone of voice are often even more important than the word spoken.  Much is communicated by the words we use and the emphasis, or inflection, we give them.  We also communicate in nonverbal ways such as frowning, crossing our arms, looking at the floor as we speak, looking at the clock, or beckoning with our hand.

Unique learners often completely miss or misinterpret these types of non-verbal communication. For example, let’s say your child is sitting at the table working on a homework assignment. You are trying to make dinner while keeping them working.

You can’t understand why your child seems more and more confused and increasingly less able to complete the assignment.

What you don’t realize is that you are frowning in concentration as you stir the sauce.

You are rushing back and forth setting the table, checking your child’s work and keeping dinner from burning.

You stand over your child with a hand on your hip, distracted by everything else that is going on and feeling the pressure.

Though you are trying to keep your words calm, what you don’t realize is that you are unknowingly communicating that you are angry and impatient with your child.

Their confusion comes from misinterpreting your tone, impatience, and busy body language, which had nothing to do with them specifically. They just can’t understand this.

These kinds of interactions can make communication frustrating for both you and your child.

Some unique learners have trouble filtering out what isn’t important about what is being said so they can grasp the real meaning. They might require more time to process your words and can become easily overwhelmed. Unique learners may take things quite literally and might struggle to understand (and answer) open-ended questions.

Here are some ways you can communicate more effectively with your unique learner.

Respect is key

Communication is aided by mutual respect.  It is important to develop a respectful exchange any time your child speaks to you, even if it is your very young child. A respectful exchange involves active listening (giving them your full attention) and working to understand the meaning of what your child is saying or doing.

Listen actively

Listening actively, as I said above, indicates respect. An additional benefit of active listening is that it lets the other person know that you are interested in them.  Active listening is evidence that you want to understand what he or she means.  Active listening is crucial in attempting to communicate effectively.  Active listening increases the accuracy of communication and the degree of mutual or shared understanding.

Restate what they said

Reassure him that you heard his words and attempt to verbally decode his communication message so that he has the opportunity to steer you correctly if there is a misinterpretation. Do this by trying to state, in your own way, what your child’s remarks convey to you.  This also provides good modeling for your child to learn how to use this communication tool.

Assume that any interactions are an invitation to participate in the present moment

Always take the default position that your child is extending himself socially toward you to the best of his ability.  Assume every remark is a disguised invitation to include yourself.

Beware of your body language

Your child “hears” the body language more than the words.  So, always calmly and assertively interact.  Always match your verbal message with your body language.  Try not to be distracted or interrupted as it changes the “feel” of the verbal exchange.

Don’t assume it’s obvious

Continually state the obvious.  Because it is obvious to you, it does not mean your child interprets actions and behaviors similarly.  Verbally list your observations, actions, and thoughts.  Keep no agenda hidden.  Role model your deductive reasoning.

If you must interrupt your child to speak to someone else, describe what is about to happen.  “You and I are talking right now and I also see Jane needs my help.  I am going to stop listening to you right now to talk to Jane.  Then I am looking forward to hearing the rest of your story.  Tell your brain “wait a minute please” so you can remember your story.”

In summary, respect, assertiveness, consistency between the verbal and body language as well as a calm and concise message may be the best manner to assist your child to develop a more enriched communication style through role modeling.  Focus on your time with him and be mindful of providing full concentration moment by moment.  The rewards and gains will be measurable and will assist your child immeasurably in functioning throughout their life.

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Suzanne Cresswell Administrator
Suzanne Cresswell is an occupational and physical therapist who has worked with unique learners for over three decades. Suzanne works to educate and provide proven solutions and strategies to those that parent, instruct and work with unique learners. By creating an understanding of unique learners and their learning behavior, she helps parents, teachers and the students themselves find the ability in learning disability.
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