three students and faculty member sitting inside of a classroom at The Gow School, our learning difference school new york

Communication Strategies for Learning Disabled Children

A Guide on How to Communicate with Children who have Learning Disabilities 

Communicating with children who have disabilities takes some training and extra effort, but it's worth putting the time in to help them feel valued and seen. Your support and flexibility will go far with them. Remember, a one-size-fits-all approach rarely works with children with learning disabilities. They are individuals with their preferences, feelings, and abilities. While you are experienced in working with children with disabilities, you'll discover something new with every child.

Experts from a Boarding School for Learning Disabilities Provide Helpful Tips on How to Communicate Effectively with Special Needs Children 

Narrate Everyday Activities

Make everyday activities opportunities for learning and communication without the pressure of a classroom setting. Describing your actions allows children to listen without being expected to respond. They'll learn new words in context without the conversation being centered on them.

Children can learn a great deal with this method. For example, if you bake cookies together, you can read the recipe aloud and ask them to get ingredients from the cabinet if they can reach them. They can hand you items one-by-one and help you measure and mix.

Reduce Or Eliminate Distractions 

Busy, chaotic, distracting environments can make communicating with children with learning disorders even more difficult. Consider these tips for creating a more communication-friendly environment:

·         In a classroom setting, being close to the teacher may be helpful.

·         Use age-appropriate listening instructions (like “put on your listening ears”)

·         Take a moment to be sure the child is fully engaged before speaking.

·         Make eye contact while speaking (unless eye contact is difficult for the child).

·         Ask the child to repeat what they heard.

·         Encourage their efforts by telling them when they are doing a good job listening.


Be Creative with Your Approach 

Children with learning disabilities are individuals. Be sure you are treating them that way. An approach that was effective with a previous student may not work for them. Some children are non-verbal, but it’s still important to find a way to communicate with them even if they can’t or choose not to reciprocate.

·         Allow them to make choices. Being part of the decision-making process empowers children, but don’t overwhelm them with so many options, they get frustrated.

·         Take time to listen. If a child is communicating verbally, make an effort to listen carefully. Repeat back what you heard if it’s necessary. Enabling them to articulate themselves makes them feel independent and encourages further attempts.

·         Read aloud. Even when children are past the age of picture books or when you would typically read to them, it can be relaxing for them. It also teaches them new words, giving them more options for expressing their thoughts.

·         Make learning fun. Sing songs to them or use silly rhymes or poems to teach.


Use Actions and Non-Verbal Communication

Words are not the only means of expression available to you or the child. Pictures on flashcards can help them associate those pictures with the appropriate words, or if they are not there yet, they can use the cards to make themselves understood. For example, if you include a selection of commonly used items on flashcards they can use them as a communication aid. If they want an apple for a snack, they can hold up a picture of an apple. You can respond, “Would you like an apple?” They may nod, but even if they don’t, they once again hear the word.

·         Keep pictures simple. You can introduce increasing complexity as they grasp their meaning.

·         Let them lead. If they have a method of communicating through gestures or sign language, do your best to understand.

·         Keep trying. Even if the student doesn’t respond, they may be able to listen and understand.

·         Use more than one tactic. When you provide instructions, write them on a blackboard, whiteboard or on paper and say them aloud.

·         Demonstrate the assignment or activity. Show them by example what they should do and allow them to follow.

·         Use objects or props. They can make your messages easier to understand.


Make a Connection

The Gow School is a private boarding school for learning disabilities in NY. Located in rural Western New York, Gow has been making connections with students with learning disabilities since 1926. Originally founded to help students with dyslexia succeed, The Gow School has since opened its doors to those with a variety of learning disabilities. Gow teachers, administrators and other staff are well-trained to communicate with those with ADHDexecutive function difficulties, CAPD (central auditory processing disorder), dyscalculiadysgraphia, and other language-based learning disorders.

Don’t be Afraid to Show You Care

Equally important is the empathy and care with which everyone at Gow approaches every interaction with our students. Everyone wants to be seen and appreciated. Children with learning disabilities are no different. It can be challenging for them to understand and make themselves understood, but they deserve to feel a genuine connection with their families, peers, and instructors.

Let Empathy Guide You 

Make a connection with a child with learning disabilities by putting yourself in their shoes. Remember, just because a child has communication difficulties, it doesn’t mean they also have intellectual difficulties. A child who is strong intellectually but struggles to communicate effectively will already have a high level of frustration. You can be part of the solution with the right approach.

·         Speak directly to them, not their caregiver or aide, whenever possible.

·         Don’t speak down to them. Keep communication age appropriate.

·         Listening is essential to learning language; talk to them as much as possible.

·         Even if a child doesn’t respond, you have given them the opportunity to absorb the material.

·         Be positive – praise their effort to communicate.

Use Clear, Concise Language 

The goal of any communication is to understand and to make yourself understood. Simple and concrete language is the most effective. It’s more difficult to understand abstract or conceptual language because there’s nothing to associate the word with. If a word with fewer syllables will communicate your message accurately, use it instead of a longer one.

More Tips for Clear Communication 

·         Use short, simple sentences.

·         Give one instruction at a time.

·         Speak slowly, repeat yourself and pause regularly.

·         Mirror the child’s communication style.

·         Encourage them to ask questions.

Don’t Lose Patience! 

It is not always easy to converse with or teach children with learning difficulties, but keeping your patience is essential. Getting exasperated will only stall attempts at communication. Remember, they are frustrated too, and they never get a break from the struggle. Remain patient when children with learning difficulties are speaking or listening. As the speaker, be prepared to repeat yourself, offer explanatory details and possibly add visual components. You may need to use hand motions to enhance communication or introduce props or pictures. Don’t be surprised if it takes more than one attempt.

·         Repeat communications back. Clarify that you’ve understood what they wanted to get across.

·         Don’t finish their sentences.  Allow them to get the entire message out on their own.  

·         Don’t Interrupt their efforts. You may not receive clear cues as to when they are done speaking.

·         Suggest non-verbal methods. Encourage them to use other resources to make themselves clear.

·         Don’t pretend you understand. If anything is unclear, ask the student to repeat or clarify.

·         Allow time for processing information. Some children need extra time for learning and retention.

Connect with a Private School for Learning Disabilities in NY for more Professional Advice and Tips 

The Gow School uses reconstructive Language (RL), which uses proven MSLE (multisensory structured language education) principles: multisensory, sequential/logical, systematic, synthetic/analytic, and diagnostic. Using this multisensory approach enhances communication by allowing students to receive messages in a variety of formats, increasing the chance of landing on one that is effective for their unique needs.

Since 1926, The Gow School has been helping students develop the skills and confidence to succeed in higher education and beyond as creative and compassionate adults and engaged citizens. Gow is a private school for learning disabilities that offers college-prep boarding and day school for students grades 6 through 12

Our expertise with children who have learning disabilities and genuine concern for their happiness, self-esteem and success makes us one of the most trusted learning disabilities schools in NY.

Learn more about The Gow School’s approach to learning disabilities and how we work with students with various learning differences, including dyslexia and similar language-based learning disabilities.

Contact our team to learn more about our programs! Reach out today!