Headstart for Life

Actions Do Speak as Loud as Words

I’m glad to welcome you back to HeadStart for Life’s blog, Beyond Therapy! Similar to the posts of my colleagues, I wish to share stories and insights that may help you and your child. I would be glad to once again hear from you should you have any comments or stories to share!

Professionals and parents read through articles sharing on the milestones and development of children as it helps us gain insights in understanding and teaching children. However, we must not disregard the uniqueness, efforts and strengths of a child. Some children may communicate differently from what we are accustomed to but this doesn’t mean that such manner of communication is incorrect or less meaningful. As adults, we must always be observant to a child’s actions as it may actually convey something valuable. As a professional who worked and learned from wonderful children, I’d love to share some experiences wherein I saw meaning behind a child’s different way of communicating.

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I have a lovely student who uses simple vowels and consonants along with some gestures (reaching out, pointing) to communicate. During one of our sessions, while I pulled out a musical toy, she started to brush her hand at the side of her face repeatedly. We thought it was a mere scratching behaviour but she continued doing so every time we pulled interesting toys. We learnt then that it’s her way of saying “yes” or “I want”. Since then, it was easier for us to understand her likes and dislikes through a hand brush over her cheek and a gaze away from the item.

Another insightful episode is that of a boy who would often throw toys in a set of five every session while saying the words “five” and “monkey”. It initially appeared to be solely a behavioural matter (attention seeking, unaware of rules) but later on we figured out that he actually loved the song “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” and he wanted to initiate a singing activity! Figuring out what he actually meant led on to our regular interaction of singing the song while dropping five toys (e.g. blocks, insect toys, ball) from the table to the floor or from the wall to the floor.


With all the lessons and difficulties our children face, they also desire for a break, yet some don’t find it easy to actually request for one. Have you ever noticed your child getting fidgety, running all over the place and unable to stay in one place? They may actually be showing you their difficulty and need for break. I remember my student who fidgets consistently on table top activities and only settled when I modified my expectations by providing movement floor activities and some table top work. These children don’t fidget for the purpose of annoying those around; they just wish to convey their message of needing for support and reinforcement.

I commonly witness my students covering their ears due to overwhelming auditory input. Children with special needs may find a simple door creak too loud thus creating a sudden gush of alertness to which they may be fixated on or may create a big reaction (e.g. cry, distracted from task, fear). However, one of my students often covered his ears even without an overwhelming sound so I thought perhaps it could be my voice. Every session, I would vary the intensity of my voice yet he still showed the same anxious behaviour of covering his ears. It was actually his way of expressing frustration/difficulty over the adult-directed, structured tasks. His covering of ears then lessened when we incorporated a child-directed opportunity alongside the adult-directed approach.


There are numerous helpful systems (e.g. sign language) that develop a child’s use of universal and systematic means of communicating. However, before fully learning such systems, some children may initiate their own ways because it is less demanding and it matches their cognitive and motor abilities. Instead of immediately ordering them to perform according to what we want or the norms, we must first try to be observant and understanding. Let’s appreciate that somehow they are trying to show us something pertinent with regards to their wants, needs and dislikes. Oftentimes, once they feel that we appreciate their efforts, then they would be more receptive to giving us the trust in helping them through the more universal or systematic use of gestures. It takes several occasions and opportunities to read behind their actions, don’t expect it to be an abrupt process too. You will get the hints as you continuously interact with your child during routine tasks and play. Enjoy each interaction and you’ll slowly but surely see their unspoken thoughts through their unique actions. Watch closely and you’ll “hear” them out.

"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Anna

Anna finds special significance in continuous learning through reading articles, observing adult-child interactions and communicating with professionals, children and parents.

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