• Michelle Dalgleish

18Q and communication

Updated: Jul 15, 2020


Communication is the process of sending and receiving messages through either verbal or non verbal means.

These means include speech or any form of oral communication, writing, signs, signals, and most importantly, for us, behaviour.

When children are very small you will find they will typically develop physically before speaking or vice versa. Poppy, my daughter, has 18Q minus syndrome and is delayed physically plus Poppy’s speech is delayed. During a workshop on sensory processing difficulties I was asked to take part in an activity that all of a sudden made something click into place. The activity in question made me focus so much on my physical ability that I automatically blocked out any surrounding noise. So what did I learn ? I learnt that due to Poppy having hyper mobility and hypotonia Poppy was concentrating so hard on her physical development that she was not absorbing one of our natural was of communication, speech.

I had to teach Poppy that verbal language had a meaning and a purpose. Knowing that Poppy had to work hard physically I had to make sure she was sat securely before we started any form of communication in order for Poppy to be able to focus on the task in hand. Poppy has a sensory processing disorder which means her eight senses are either heightened or under active. Poppy’s language skills are decreased due to auditory dysfunction plus her low tone decreases her oral motor control.

To help strengthen Poppy’s oral-motor control we did daily activities such as drinking from a straw, blowing bubbles and blowing a feather across the table using a straw. Three times a day, before meals, we would use an electric toothbrush and gently massage around Poppy’s mouth (non bristle side) to encourage her facial muscles to wake up ready for eating.

Body language is all I had to go by in order to try and understand Poppy. Body language shouldn’t be underestimated. Body language is a mix of gestures, postures and expressions. Poppy would use body language as a non verbal form of communication. I learnt very quickly by Poppy’s physical behaviours such as facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye movement, touch and the use of the space around her what she needed or wanted.


Now I wanted to help Poppy understand that language was a form of communication.

Visual communication relies on eye sight. Visual communication has a broad spectrum but I concentrated on signs. Why? Visual communication is the most effective way of passing information to the human mind processes things in images. There are many visual aids from PECS to communication software. I started with Makaton. Makaton is designed to run alongside language unlike sign language. Through a local charity I completed both available courses available in Makaton to learn the signs and symbols.

What is Makaton?

Makaton is a language programme that uses symbols, signs and speech to enable people to communicate. Makaton supports the development of essential communication skills such as attention and listening, comprehension, memory, recall and organisation of language and expression. I brought my language back down to a one word level and accompanied the word with the Makaton sign. It was also important that whilst doing this I was at Poppy’s level and had her attention.

Over time Poppy began to realise that’s spoken language had a purpose, it had a meaning and slowly Poppy began to sign back. Poppy’s first signs were more, please and thank you. Alongside her signing Poppy’s speech started to develop. Why? Mainly because Poppy now understood through signing that language could get her what she wanted, what she needed but most importantly Poppy had a voice. Visually the Makaton symbols were not, at the time, suitable for Poppy. I invested in a Polaroid camera so we could take pictures of items (such as her potty) and people who were a part of her life. These pictures also helped Poppy express her wants and needs quickly with minimal frustration. These photos also became part of a visual timetable. Poppy loves music, really loves music, we sang many songs alongside signing or picture visuals (colours/shapes) and Poppy learnt a lot by having fun.

Poppy is now six years old and attends a local mainstream school. At the age of six Poppy can now hold a conversation (as long as your are at her eye level, speak slowly in short sentences and give her a little extra time to process what you have said). Poppy can ask questions, give instructions, tell us how she is feeling and why. Poppy can use language to meet her needs and can confidently retell something that has happened that she has found funny or upsetting. Poppy often uses her language to tell tales on her siblings.

Poppy is reading age appropriate books, involving her siblings in play by communicating verbally. The best of all are hearing those words I never thought I would hear, love you muma.

Every child learns differently, every child is unique. What may work for one child may not work for another. What I can tell you is that there is no quick fix. These things take a lot to time, love and patience. These little ones have so much love and joy to give and giving Poppy her voice is my icing on the cake.

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