24 September 2010

For children with CP, communication is the key to unlocking their potential

Every adult and child has his or her own personality, beliefs, experiences and opinions that make him or her an individual. Every person has a unique way of communicating with others and method of making choices. A child with cerebral palsy is no exception.

Daniel, a ten year old child with CP, had difficulty speaking, and had not brought an assisting device to help him communicate with us. He walked into the treatment room, and kept pointing to his eyes. I tried to figure out what he was saying, but Daniel became frustrated when I couldn’t understand him. I apologized, and told him that I would have to call his mom into the room to translate. The minute she saw him, she told me that Daniel was saying the lights were too bright. When I reduced the brightness of the lights, Daniel became completely satisfied. As a result, I knew what that gesture meant, and we were able to continue his session. From then on he was able to learn from me, and I continued to learn from him.

With my experience, I know that we need to really listen and develop our own communication skills to be able to understand and respond to a child.
Often, a child’s body language may show insight into what he or she is feeling or wants to say. If a child does not respond when you interact with him or her, usually it is because he or she requires further explanation in order to understand. In this case, be patient; take the time to explain it thoroughly, look for the proper wording, and repeat what you say until you have been understood.

Similarly, a child needs to be taught what an object is and the meaning behind it before he or she can learn how to use it. He or she has to be told what, where, when and how to use certain objects before understanding its purpose and incorporating it into daily life. By taking the time to notice and address these areas of learning, we are able to fill in any gaps in his or her knowledge and establish communication between the child and us.

In Daniel’s case, we were halfway there when we tried to learn the meaning behind his gestures. However, when Daniel’s mom tried to teach him how to walk, she didn’t notice that he wanted to crawl instead. From our (adult’s or therapist’s) perspective, it is easy to overlook what the child wants in favour of doing what we think is best for them. That is another important component that we should address in communication.

We are there to guide your child into learning how to function independently, not to dictate every moment of his or her life. When it comes to decisions concerning him or her, ask what he or she wants to do. If it is wrong, correct it. When we speak with others, we give them choices about where to go, what to buy, and what to do. We take the time to listen and truly consider their suggestions. The same principle should apply to every child. Guide him or her through what is right or wrong, but let your child make decisions independently. In doing so, we are showing the child that we value his or her decisions, while stimulating his or her cognitive development in the process. That is an important step in establishing understanding between you and your child.

If you make an effort to reach out, you will be surprised at what your child can achieve. Don’t assume anything based on what he or she can do; communication is a two-way street that is filled with surprises. Every child deserves respect, so you should offer choices and give your child explanations whenever he or she doesn’t understand something. Elaborate and repeat yourself—don’t stop trying, and never give up listening to your child. Always observe, respond and remember: communication is the key to unlocking your child’s potential.

For more articles, visit http://www.enabledkids.ca.


  1. I agree 100% Thsi coming from a father of a 2 year old with Cerebral Palsy. I live my life around my daughter trying to teach her to communicate not that only I can understand but others as well. My daughter is the GREATEST thing on Earth to me and thats all that matters. We have on order a communicatin device to help her with a voice she may not have. That does not mean I think any less of her. She is my daughter and loved the same no matter if she has cerbral palsy or not. love you Callie!!!!

  2. Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely right. It really doesn't matter what your child has, this is YOUR child and this is your best friend. It is up to you how to develop not just communication with your child, but his or her abilities which will transform into possibilities. Once again, thank you. All the best wishes.

  3. Because of developmentally delays, my daughter was behind in speaking...so her speech therapist and I taught her sign language. It really helped and I think it was less frustrating for her.