Communication Skills for Working With Developmentally Disabled Children

Updated November 21, 2016

Developmental disabilities include conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual disability and spina bifida. The Administration on Developmental Disabilities notes that the severity of these disabilities can result in significant limitations for these children. Among them are physical problems, including difficulty with mobility and self-care. In addition, there are often communication difficulties requiring special assistance.


You can find training programs for working with developmental disabled children in a variety of locations. For example, the Developmental Disabilities Training Institute offers training for professionals and paraprofessionals in the area of developmental disabilities. The University of Minnesota operates the Research and Training Center on Community Living that assists developmentally disabled individuals find support professionals. The Division of Developmental Disabilities in Washington State offers a three-day introductory speciality program. Individuals who successfully complete this program have met the necessary requirements for working in adult family and boarding homes. You should consult your individual state regulations regarding this field. The State of Maryland requires that all staff employed in a licensed developmental disabilities service provider setting must complete specific training within three months of employment.


In order to work with developmentally disabled children on communication problems, you must first determine his current abilities. Communication may take many forms. For example, the child may point to an object, and then look at you to indicate that she wants the item. Vocalisation can take the form of crying or other sounds to get your attention. He may also hand you a cup to let you know that he wants something to drink. Once the meaning is established, you can begin to work with the child to develop communicative abilities. Parent and child observation is also helpful in the assessment. For example, the child may lead her mother to the refrigerator to indicate her desire for food. By watching this interaction, you can determine a starting point for your work with her.


Parent involvement is critical in communicating with a developmentally disabled child. Developmentally disabled children can have a variety of behavioural and emotional problems. Parents can provide you with valuable information about what situations may arise and what works in resolving them.


There are certain strategies and techniques that can foster communication with developmentally disabled children. For example, Public Autism Awareness suggests that you comment on what the child is doing as opposed to asking questions. This encourages interaction between you and the child. Communication can be encouraged by offering choices to the child. You can also make it necessary for him to communicate with you in several ways. You can remove an object from the child's reach or take away one item that makes it impossible to complete a task. Pictures are another tool for communication with a developmentally disabled child.


Working with developmentally disabled children requires a great deal of energy, effort and patience. While it can be frustrating, it can also be rewarding when you make a connection and you find that you and the child are communicating. That can make it all worthwhile.

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