Limited Communicators: How to Open the Door to your Child’s Potential

Limited Communicators: How to Open the Door to your Child’s Potential

Have you ever said anything to someone close and been completely misunderstood? Have you ever tried to use another language in a foreign city and been frustrated when you could not access your wants or needs? If you needed the bathroom urgently or you had a pain you needed help with, would that frustrate you and cause you to act in an unfamiliar and possibly inappropriate way? There are as many questions as possible answers for why a child or young adult with limited or no functional communication shows behaviors which may not fit the situation.

Although the causes, the degree, and sustaining factors for communication limitations are highly varied, the outcome is often the same. Frustration, anger, or even despondence to communicate and connect with others is frequently seen with limited communicators. Therapists wonder at times about whether it is the ‘horse before the cart’ syndrome. Are the behavioral responses or outbursts caused by limitation or inability to communicate our most primal and desirable needs? Or, are the behaviors limiting the ability to patiently find and use the communication tools given to the child by the parents and the clinical team? It is certainly a puzzle we try to solve each time a limited or non-verbal communicator enters our classroom or our clinical situation.

We do know that most of us eventually turn away from activities we are not good at. If we cannot ski after trying multiple times, we stop. If we are not good dancers we refrain from it in public and feel bad about the experience, eliminating our motivation to try. This seems to be the case with limited and non-verbal communicators. Communication is replaced with aggression or upset or even by staying ‘in their own head’ and disconnecting from the communicative world beyond.

Searching for solutions to understand our kids and help them feel happy, we must look to their life, their wants and needs and try to find a pleasurable outlet for them. Search for any thread of communication that feels good for the child or young adult. Enter that situation with your child and bring the fun and love and joy of connection when it is shared with someone they love. Make that situation all the more special by reinforcing the consistent attempt to connect and communicate, and show the faith you have in your child’s ability to communicate and connect. Perhaps find those experts who hold the same faith and are willing to ‘step out of the box’ with you, as well as to support you as the expert of your child. Lastly, bring all forms of language to the table when searching for the key that opens the door to your child’s potential with literacy development.

Sharon Hensel-Cohen, MSCCC/SLP is a speech/language pathologist in Tarzana, specializing in the treatment of limited and non-verbal communicators. Sharon is also the Director of Nicky’s World, a Center for Limited & Non-Verbal Communicators and their Families, where literacy development is supported. Visit and for more information.

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