Often I hear about children with behaviour challenges. The challenges can include: tantrums, not following instructions, being goofy at carpet time with unrelated answers, refusing to join into play with other children, or hitting themselves or hitting others.
The first thought that usually comes up in the conversation is that these children are being defiant, they are starved for attention and are acting out, or that they have attention difficulties. While of course these may be true in some cases, in my experience, the behaviours in many of these cases are the product of communication challenges.
Some examples of behaviours caused by communicative challenges are described in three scenarios.
- Speaks in sentences that don’t make sense
- Tells stories that are so all over the place that you can’t follow their train of thought
- They answer questions in a goofy or unrelated manner
- Random off topic responses
- Won’t play with other children
- Often forgets things you’ve just explained
- Looks lost when you are telling them what to do
- Won’t start a task without you doing it first
- Can’t answer your questions
- Won’t do anything asked of them
- Won’t follow the rules in a game with peers
- Will repeat what you say without actually answering the question
- Has tantrums and meltdowns
- Bites or hits
- Throws things
- Runs out of rooms frequently
These three children all have different problem behaviours that all can be caused by communication difficulties. (These scenarios are simplified)
Child 1 struggles with the output of language, they have ideas in their head and have understood you but they struggle to use language to communicate with you that they have understood you or share their idea.
Child 2 struggles with understanding language, so they struggle to follow what you are trying to communicate to them. They don’t have the language to be able to understand what they are being asked to do.
Child 3 appears to have difficulties with the output of language as they are limited in their words and rely on echoing to participate in a conversation, they also may be hypersensitive to sensory input meaning they get overwhelmed by sensations such as bright lights, loud noises, lots of movements. They aren’t able to communicate any of these things with you so they may run away, bite, hit, or meltdown.
As an SLP when a child is exhibiting “problem behaviours” my first thought and plan of attack is to look at their communication abilities to see where those behaviours may be coming from.
As a parent, these behaviours can be frustrating, exhausting, and overwhelming. By looking deeper into the behaviours and by consulting with a Speech Language Pathologist, you may be able to determine if those behaviours are based in language difficulties and can begin supporting your child’s language development. The hope is that as we support them in increasing their language abilities, they will be able to use language and communication to communicate their needs.
– Miss Brynn