As adults, surprisingly, only 10% of our communication is words. 90% of our communication relies on other factors including body language, facial expressions, tone of speech, posture, gestures and signs. This is the reason that when we visit other countries and don’t speak the language, we are still able to tell when people are arguing, disagreeing or having a friendly conversation. We are interpreting the other 90% of communication modes e.g. tone and hand movements. People often place a huge importance on words, however, these words rely heavily on the other skills being in place. For example, we often recognize we are being asked a question because the person uses a different tone than when they are telling us something.
We all use a wide range of total communication strategies every day, for example, you use a diary to help you remember tasks you need to complete or you wave and smile at your colleague across the hall to express hello.
For both adults and children, it is vital that we develop all these areas of our communication and we can use various methods to do this. For young babies and toddlers, before they start to talk they use some of these means to communicate e.g. different pitches of crying, waving, cooing and smiling. For children with speech and language difficulties it is essential that these skills are developed prior and alongside to developing words.
Some children grow up not being able to talk or have difficulties communicating with speech; if they have strong skills in the other 90%, they will still be able to communicate effectively using other means.
By using the strategies below, communication is more functional and universally understood.
- Gestures such as nodding, waving, or pointing
- Facial expressions like smiling or frowning
- Sign language
- ‘Makaton’ as a form of signing (see makaton.org)
- Baby sign
- Tone of voice and pitch
- Picture boards
- Photos of people and objects
- Writing and reading
For children, who do not develop words more advanced techniques like these below can be used. These are often referred to as ‘Augmentative and Alternative Communication’ (AAC devices) including;
- Communication Boards
- Voice output communication aids devices
- Speech-generating devices
- Picture Exchange programs e.g. PECS
Everyone needs to use a variety of these techniques in their daily interactions and the more specialized aids will help children who have more delayed development in their communication skills. Using the everyday techniques will support both you and your child’s interaction and enable them to interact with others with shared understanding. These strategies are known to reduce frustration and tantrums that often result from not being able to get their message across. Young children who have shown strength in using non-verbal communication, are often found to have better language abilities in the future.