Information for childminders

How to develop communication in disabled children with complex needs

Here are some tips for communication and disabled children with complex needs.

  • Use consistent language.
  • Find out how the child communicates yes and no.
  • Think about how many key words a child may understand in a sentence.
  • Use body language, facial expressions and so on.
  • Talk, talk, talk all the time.
  • Respond to the child’s early communication – crying, laughing and so on.
  • Remember the importance of play in developing communication.
  • Make it fun for you and the child.
  • Consider attention span.
  • Play games to develop attention span.
  • Work on developing eye contact.
  • Encourage taking turns.
  • Involve other children where possible, especially siblings.
  • Create opportunities for communication.
  • Children are children, whatever the differences.

How to support children to make choices

Some children may not yet understand how to make a choice or what a choice is. Always accept their first answer, even if the child has only glanced at it. It's important that they learn the consequence of their choice. If you offer a child the choice between two drinks, give them the one they chose even if it's not their favourite.

Making choices can progress to choosing from a larger number of objects or pictures, or eventually symbols. When a child is ready to move on from objects, introduce choosing from labels, photos or pictures cut from magazines. When a child is used to choosing, try making one of the options ‘something else’, so they can learn that they can choose something you haven’t offered. A speech and language therapist can offer further guidance.

How to encourage communication

Find out how to position a child for communication and use equipment and toys to encourage communication. This may involve specialist seating. They need to be able to lift their heads to see what or who they are looking at. They may need to be able to use a hand to point. They need to be comfortable, so consider whether they have light shining in their eyes.

Supportive seating

When introducing supportive seating, keep sessions short and fun, gradually lengthening over time. Speak to parents or their occupational therapist who can advise on this area. for advice. If there are any vision problems, consider lighting and position. For children with hearing problems, position is important.

Equipment and toys

You don’t need lots of expensive equipment. Specialist seating usually comes with the child. Specialist toys are not needed. An empty box can be a toy. You may need to give time to help the child play with toys that they cannot use alone.

Relax and have fun. Children will pick up on your anxiety. Ask the child’s parent or carer for advice with any concerns you have; they will understand the child best. If they cannot help, they may be able to point you to a professional who has contact with the child. For more ideas on toys, see play talks.

Sign language

Some children may be starting to learn to use simple sign language, such as Makaton. However, a child with complex needs is unlikely to use this as their main method of communication. Simple sign language is an excellent tool for teaching and reinforcing language. Parents and carers can show you the new signs they are introducing to their child.

Objects of reference

Objects of reference refer a child to a particular thing, for example, a spoon attached to a photo of lunch to refer to lunchtime. If a child is using objects of reference, parents and carers will explain their use to you.

Child protection

The child should understand the meaning of right and wrong, yes and no. It helps the child to become part of the community if you tell them this. Whatever their impairment, they need to understand what behaviour is acceptable and what is not. Do not make an exception because of the child’s ability; this helps no one, least of all them.

It's vital to help the child to understand the meaning of yes and no with regards to any child protection issue.

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