Communication and Language Development

Children with cerebral palsy may experience difficulties with communication in areas such as speech, the development of gesture and facial expression, receptive and expressive language and voice production.

Learning to communicate with others, and ensuring that you’re understood, is a vital part of any child’s early development.

So, who can assist with the language development of your child?

Our speech pathologists can assess your child’s language skills. They use standardised assessments as well as interviews and observations to assess your child’s skills. Once skills have been assessed and any problem areas identified, an intervention plan can be put in place for your child. Language interventions may include a variety of teaching methods and tools.

There is some research evidence to suggest that children benefit from more interactive learning. Some children however, with more severe difficulties, may benefit from a more directive approach.

Whichever approach is taken, interventions must be matched to the needs of your child.

The aim of intervention is to provide your child with the skills to make communication
effective, efficient and rewarding. There is no single intervention that will be used for all children. The most appropriate strategies are matched to the needs of your child. Research shows that there is a positive effect of language therapy for children with expressive vocabulary difficulties.

There is some evidence supporting interventions for expressive syntax, and more research is required to investigate interventions for receptive language difficulties.

The interventions suggested for your child will probably also include some parent involvement. For example, looking at how to maximise interactions with your child to promote their language development. Techniques include language stimulation, facilitation and modelling of appropriate language.

One important thing you can do when interacting with your child is to follow their lead. Be guided by what they are interested in and match your communication to their level. Modelling appropriate language can include strategies such as:

  • Self-talk – As you play with your child, or complete activities, you talk about what you are doing and provide a language model for your child
  • Parallel talk – This is where as your child does and activity, you talk about what is happening. For example if your child is playing with blocks you can say, ‘You’re building. You put on a block. Uh oh, it fell over!’
  • Imitation – As the name suggests, this involves imitating what your child says and reinforcing their use of language.
  • Expansions – This is when you take what you child has said and add in more language. If you child says ‘dog’ you could model ‘big dog’.
  • Extensions – This is when you add in more information to something your child has said. For example if your child says ‘dog’, you could say, ‘The boy is patting the dog’.

Additionally, you can create opportunities for communication and language by not doing everything for your child. It gives them a reason to communicate with you. For example, give them a Texta that doesn’t work, or put their favourite toy out of reach so they need to ask for it. When using these techniques it is always important to be aware of whether your child is becoming frustrated and, if so, changing your strategy.

Encouraging social skills and interactions, like turn taking and shared play experiences, will also help your child to develop receptive and expressive language and build more confidence in interactions, especially with their peers.

3 out of 5 people with cerebral palsy have a speech impairment.

Services that may assist with communication and language development include: