Communication and interaction

How to help your child express themselves and play with others.

What you might observe about the child

  • Needing support in understanding others or expressing themselves.
  • Limited interaction with other children.
  • Behaviour problems caused by difficulties communicating.
  • Play limited to one or a few activities.

What can adults do?

  • Use the child’s name before communicating.
  • Use visual prompts to support communication, for example a picture of the child’s coat to support them to know it’s home time.
  • Provide narrative to the child’s play.
  • Observe child’s interests to identify if there is a trigger to the child’s actions (anxious/sound/light)
  • Mirror the child’s play through an intensive interaction approach.
  • Use their interests to introduce new ideas and extend play.
  • Use their interests as a motivator for the child to try new interests for example ‘now puzzle, next dinosaurs’. Now and next boards could also be useful and nursery staff can help with this for parent carers at home.
  • Open communication between nursery and parent carers.
  • Provide a wide range of resources and space for the child to further develop their interests.
  • Assess the environment and make changes where possible, for example a quieter room if the child is sensitive to noise.

More tips

  • Creating now and next prompts to enable the child to experience new interests.
  • Create a personal visual timetable by laminating A4 coloured card, then add 3 Velcro dots - use this to add photo prompts to support the child to move between experiences.
  • Talk about what your child is doing when they are playing, for example 'Jack pouring'.
  • Model interactions with other children if possible.
  • Use natural gestures such as pointing, simple signing and pictures or photos to support any communication.
  • Make photo prompts of children playing.
  • Make social stories or picture cards.
  • Resources that help shared play for example a large marble run, floor puzzles, football, seesaw rockers and so on.
  • Once a relationship develops with the child they may be responsive to a familiar adult introducing simple pretend play, for example modelling new play with familiar objects such as pretending to fill a favourite car with ‘petrol’.
  • Duplicate resources that the child prefers to play with – one for the adult, one for the child - these can be used for the intensive interaction approach.
  • Be a playful partner for the child.

How can you help a child who is triggered and lashing out?

  • Make sure adults are aware of child’s actions and potential triggers.
  • Make sure there is an adult nearby to try and stop physical incidents occurring - model play alongside the child.
  • Use simple language (if appropriate) to explain, for example ‘Jamal’s car, Jack wait’.
  • Use visual prompts such as large sand or gel timer.
  • Anticipate triggers and use distraction to avoid physical interactions.
  • Talk about feelings out loud, for example ‘Jack doesn’t like it when people stand too close at the water tray’.
  • Ask the child questions, for example ‘What might help Jack to feel safe or happy again?’
  • Provide quiet areas as an alternative to the more active areas.

What can I expect from my child's setting?

  • To discuss with you regularly regarding your child, what’s going well and what could be improved upon.
  • To speak to you as soon as any additional need is suspected.
  • To apply for Inclusion Funding to support your child if eligible.
  • Completion of Early Years Individual Support Plan if appropriate.
  • Completion of a referral to SEND under 5’s if required.
  • The setting's Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator (SENCO) to speak to you.
  • To apply for Disability Access Fund to support the child further in the setting if the child is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance.

More information

  • Use resources from the toy library or sensory toy library - this is a free service.
  • Access the portage service.

If you would like to learn more about this topic, or if you are a professional working in early years, you can find information on Tools for Schools.