In this age of technology, our children are often caught up in apps and movies – instant gratification and – sometimes instant breaks for busy parents. The goal is not to instill guilt, but to give us the opportunity to think about the most beneficial uses of technology for our children. How can we foster good communication through technology?

How Photos Encourage Improved Language and Good CommunicationOne of the very best features we have in our cell phones and tablets, is a camera. I have found myself taking pictures of an item in the store to text to my husband before making a purchase. Or I may take a picture of a heron on a pond and send it across the country to share with a family member. Great topics to discuss and great memories to share!

Communication is basically the sharing of information. Sometimes this may be a one sided message – or an interaction between two or more may result. For all of us, a picture may spark a comment, but for individuals with communication challenges, pictures are a gold mind of support.

Pictures can be used with communication schedules, helping a child organize their day in a personally meaningful way. For instance, my adult son with autism has a visual schedule of major events for each week. He knows exactly which day he will see me because my picture is on his schedule. This is extremely calming for him since he doesn’t process auditory information very well and has difficulty with the concept of time. Telling him he will see me on Thursday is not near as comforting as pointing to my picture and counting the days on the calendar. For many young children, a visual schedule helps them move through the day – or an event. For instance, While providing speech therapy, I may use pictures of high interest toys on a visual schedule, helping a child move through a treatment session. I allow a child to make choices of preferred activities using the pictures, helping them move to a symbol system, where I pair the picture with a printed label.

Many children (and adults) may not need this level of support. However, personally relevant pictures can foster good communication and social skills in many ways.

For instance, one can work on vocabulary by describing attributes from pictures of family pets. A child can describe their puppy’s personality and color from a picture but then you get into deeper levels of discourse by contrasting their puppy with another puppy. Which has the longest tail? Which puppy likes to jump in the water? Then, this information can be shared with another communication partner since the child has practiced concepts and phrases in the initial interaction. And it all starts with a picture of their puppy on a phone.

One great idea is a photo book. A child can use pictures to create a story book, whether about a real or imagined event. This gives a child the opportunity to learn many elements of story grammar. What is the topic? Who are the characters? What are the sequence of events? What was the outcome? Was there a problem to be solved? How did the different characters feel and interact? (great for social skill development). Then of course there is related vocabulary, descriptors, and sentence structure. So much to learn with a personally meaningful story!

Videos are great as well. Many times I have used my phone to video parts of a treatment session. After completing an activity, I can show the video to my client to elicit spontaneous communication about a language activity we have just completed. Then I can send the video to Mom for her to watch as well. This helps children with language challenges, share about past events – a skill that is very challenging for many children.

Videos are also great for teaching social skills. If you structure for a certain interaction and then catch it on video, you can discuss it and review it. Watching a positive interaction can help a child “practice” for real life situations.

Our children do love Aps and the latest movies, and these are great options for relaxing or taking a break. However, try to think of ways to use technology to foster growth in language and vocabulary as well as for fostering positive communication with others. We want to encourage good interactions between people whenever we can!

For more ideas and information about using personal photos for language development visit