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It can be heartbreaking watching your child play alone because she can’t relate to other children due to processing disorders like a receptive or expressive language delay.
Having a a receptive or expressive language delay is like being in a country alone and not speaking the language. Here, Kids First’s speech pathologists explain how you can help your child with a language delay make friends.
Preschoolers whose receptive skills are poor find it difficult to understand playground instructions, jokes and nuance because they are very literal and can’t process more than one or two steps at once. Plus it can be tough to follow a bunch of kids who are all talking at once.
Poor expressive skills keep your child with a receptive or expressive language delay from engaging with other kids because they are “late talkers.”
Working Memory Plays A Role In Making Friendships
When you’re a parent of a late talking preschooler, you’re often just discovering the communication and social issues that can keep your child watching from the sidelines.
When kids don’t have a large vocabulary, you’ll find a lot of repetition. This is due to poor working memory.
Think of working memory as the short-term memory that you have on your computer, like a bookmark.
Children with receptive or expressive language delay and other processing issues can have one or two “go-to” phrases like “milk yes” and they often mix up words so that sentences don’t make a lot of sense like “run girl play” which to them means that the little girl is running and playing.
As far as playing on the playground goes, you might find that your child stands back from all the other preschoolers and parallel plays instead of directly engaging the other children. This hanging back is how chidlren with receptive or expressive language delay assess the kids around them.
If children are playing tag, she might smile and run to the side of the group instead of playing with the group. This is called parallel play.
How can you help your child less overwhelmed when interacting with other kids when she doesn’t have the social cues to engage them?
Allow Her To Take The Lead
Forcing a child with receptive or expressive language delay or other processing issue can lead to autism-like stimming (self-stimulating) behaviour at this age.
Receptive or expressive language delay in the preschool age group can look like autism, but often it’s not.
Children eventually learn to manage interactions with other kids. At what age this happens depends on how severe their receptive or expressive language delay is.
Be patient. Watch and learn how your child does (or doesn’t) interact. This will give you clues how to practice social cues at home with interactive games.
Puppets are great role-playing models that can help your child understand introductory interactions between friends.
Model Appropriate Social Cues
Model what you want your child to do on the playground before you ever get to preschool. You’re your child’s best advocate for social interaction, so don’t hang back and play on your phone or just chat with other parents. Play with your child in sight of other children.
You can arrange ahead of time with another parent to bring one other preschooler into the mix. It may take a while, but she will begin to mimic how you interact with others.
Nature will take its course eventually. It often isn’t until around 6 to 9 years old, however, that social cues start to take hold. Again, it is dependent on your child’s personality and the severity of your child’s interact. Take your cues from your child and model accordingly.
If you have a child with a receptive or expressive language delay, routine will quickly become your best friend.
Use routines as a way to help your child learn how to engage others. By the time she is in preschool, your child will have a better clue about making friends.
Introduce additions to your routine as your child is comfortable: for example, go to the park at the same time every Tuesday. Or get involved with a playgroup attended by the same people week after week.
Talk normally. Get down at eye level. Smile a lot. Ask your child about what friendships means to her.
In other words, approach each social situation the same way.
Late talkers may have difficulty processing words and deeds, but routinely teaching your child to see people as socially different will help her understand how to approach a potential friend.
Routine feels safe, as does knowing what to expect ahead of time.
Help The Preschool Teacher
Volunteer in the classroom and on the playground at preschool. Watch how your child interacts with others. This helps springboard conversation about making friends.
You should have already talked with your child’s preschool teacher and aides about receptive or expressive language delay so they understand her social deficits.
One-to-one interaction within social situations help.
It’s tempting to converse haltingly with a child that has stilted language. That is counterproductive.
Speak to your child normally. Model correct language syntax. If your child repetitively says “fast boy ball” correct it and say “Yes, that boy runs fast after that ball. Would you like to run fast after that ball, too?”
Get good advice
Every child processes the activities of life in unique ways. Making friends is tough at any age with or without a receptive or expressive language delay.
Hang in there, and most importantly, seek help from an experienced speech therapist who can help you support your child to build the language skills needed for social success.
© 2017 Kids First Children’s Services
Does your child have a receptive or expressive language delay?
Kids First Children’s Services speech pathologists have helped lots of children with processing issues like receptive or expressive language delay gain skills and confidence in social situations.
Contact us on 9938 5419 if your child needs support from an experienced paediatric professional.