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Behaviour and Communication


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Behaviour and communication are often inter-connected. Many children with communication delay or learning difficulties often display inappropriate or challenging behaviour. Although there are many reasons for this type of behaviour, it can often be linked to a breakdown in communication when the child is unable to express himself, or he does not understand what others are saying. Often the child appears to understand because he has become adept at following non-verbal/contextual cues, has a memory of certain routines, and may even use a few words, but may not necessarily be following the verbal instruction. For this reason it is important that we monitor our own language and use other cues such as gesture or visuals when giving instructions. We can also follow the Minimal Speech approach and just use one or two key words in an instruction or request.


There are many ways to adapt your communication to help individuals understand. You must have an awareness that the individual’s receptive language may be more delayed than you realize. If you are concerned about your child’s level of understanding, it is important to get the child assessed by a qualified speech and language therapist / pathologist and/or educational psychologist. However, there are many things we can do to try and change or replace challenging or inappropriate behaviour.


To start with we, can observe and note when challenging behaviour occurs and look for the triggers. This might mean keeping a record of events. We must also look for subtle cues that the child may give prior to exhibiting a behaviour because there may be warning of a tantrum before it happens. Through Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) we can find triggers and then develop strategies to replace unwanted behaviours. Although this website is about communication, we recognise the connection between communication and behaviour – the links below will provide many ideas and strategies that help to improve communication and reduce challenging behaviour. See our section on Intensive Interaction and PECS, for some other strategies.


For more information about special needs and other communication difficulties, and ideas and strategies to help communication, see our Resources, or for specific fact-sheets with helpful hints about Special Needs go to the Downloads section. Our section on Autism also provides guidance and strategies relating to communication and behaviour.


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