Monday, 22 April 2013

Hey Baby - Pre-verbal and pre-intentional skills

When my eldest child was just a few weeks old, I had a call from a good speechy friend from uni who had also just had a baby. "What do I do with her?" We both asked. "How do you talk to a six week old baby?"

There was no social smile, no reciprocal interaction and no response to singing - yet.


After lots of lullabies, cuddling, imitation of her coos and squeaks, there was suddenly a smile! Not wind - but a real social smile, showing she'd recognised her mummy!  Many of the families I work with are still looking for their equivalent of that social smile - 18 months on, or more.

How will I understand her?

Being a baby is stressful! They need to learn your touch, your voice, your breath, your smell. All of this is reassuring, and helps them learn.

As parents we also need to learn our baby's communication. Was that a hungry cry, a tired whimper, a strop (yes - I believe that my daughter had her first tantrum at around 12 weeks because she didn't want her nap!), or an 'I want to be left alone' cry?!

We need to be consistent.  If you think a sound or movement means something, trust your instinct.  Teach your child what he or she has just said by repeating the song or cuddles you were giving.  

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Children learn through repetition and reinforcement. They make a sound or cry, and as we respond to them, they learn they can have an impact on their environment. And so they do it again. And there you have your first communication! Ta dah!

Children with complex neurological conditions may not 'cry' in the same way.  They may respond to their environment more by stiffening or making a movement, or an involuntary noise.  Any of these reactions may become meaningful, if we can keep a log of what the child does to indicate likes and dislikes, and then try to repeat and reinforce their response to us.  This is also true for children with little or no language such as severe developmental and communication disorders.  

Don't give up

With normally developing babies, we see progress sometimes within a few days or less. With children with severe complex needs, these changes may take months. However, I believe that by tuning in to your child and understanding what each of their sounds or movements means, you can help them to become more interactive and transform those accidental interactions or noises into purposeful communications. All children have potential, if we can adjust our expectations, and set very tiny, but achievable aims.

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