What is communication?

‘Communication’ is a broad term that includes many skills, such as talking, understanding what other people say, and body language. Body language includes using and understanding gestures (e.g., pointing, waving hello, nodding your head to mean “yes”, shaking your head to mean “no”), using eye contact, and showing how you feel by using different facial expressions.

Many children can face challenges with communication. These will vary and be unique to the child. Some may have challenges using and understanding spoken language (i.e., talking), others may have more difficulty using and understanding visual parts of communication (e.g. gestures, eye contact). Some children may use other ways to communicate if they can’t speak, such as sign language, gestures, picture cards or iPads.

A child’s ability to understand spoken language may differ from their ability to use spoken language. For example, a child might be able talk and express themselves clearly, but they may find it harder to understand instructions, especially if they are complex or lengthy.

What might be some challenges in the dance class?

  • If a child has difficulty understanding spoken language, they may misunderstand instructions if they are lengthy or complex, which could make it look like they are not following the rules.
  • Having difficulty communicating can be very frustrating. If a child does not feel understood, they may appear angry or they may withdraw from an activity.
  • Talking and communication challenges can make social interaction more challenging.

Quick tips

  • Use a visual schedule: Use a visual schedule that kids can see at all times so they can easily transition from one dance exercise or activity to the next and know what is coming up. This means kids don’t need to rely on verbal instructions.
  • Use pictures to help teach dance steps: Use pictures to teach basic dance elements: body positions and key movements of a dance style.
  • Make sure students can see and hear the teacher at all times: Encourage the child to stand where they can see and hear at all times. Make sure they have a clear view of the movements being demonstrated.  If you’re unsure about the best location in class, ask the student what works for them.
  • Simplify instructions and limit the information given at once: Some kids may get overwhelmed if they are given too many instructions at one time. Break the task down into smaller steps, and only give a small amount of information at once.
  • Slow the movement down: Dance steps may need to be slowed down so children can learn new movements. Teach students in simple segments and at slower speeds.
  • Repeat instructions: Instructions may need to be repeated multiple times.
  • Reduce background noise when giving instructions: Minimising background noise while giving instructions will help enable all kids to hear.
  • Check in with the child to see if they have understood: You can do this in a supportive way by asking a specific questions such as: “Tell me which arm goes up next.”
  • Be aware of your body language: We rely on body language as well as spoken language to understand what someone is trying to communicate. Using gestures and actions when talking can help a child’s understanding. Be aware of your body language (e.g., facial expression, body posture, tone of voice), making this as open, friendly, and supportive as possible.
  • Use dance stories: A dance story might be needed to teach a kid a new dance skill or encourage them to dance.
  • Allow students to use technology or assistive devices: Some students will have technology or assistive devices that they use to help them. Encourage students to use technology that best supports the goals of dance and best fits their bodily needs.
  • If you’re unsure, ask the child or their parent: Some children will have developed different skills to help them communicate, like using an iPad or pictures. If you are unsure about the best way to communicate with a child, you can ask the child or their parent.
  • Try activities where no speaking is allowed: Consider doing dance activities where speaking is not permitted. This allows all kids to participate in the same way, and enables other kids to understand how it might feel to not be able to speak well (reverse inclusion).

Things to consider

Just because a child faces challenges with talking or communicating does not mean that they are not smart or that they have difficulties with thinking or learning. As a teacher, learning how to communicate most effectively with a child is important so that everyone has the same opportunities to participate and have fun.

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