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Just as you tailor your language and communication depending on a child’s age, there are also a range of factors to consider when engaging with a child depending on their disability. For example, if you are talking with a child who has a physical disability and they are unable to look up, it would be appropriate that to move to a level so you can make eye contact with them. If you are talking with a child who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, meeting them in a quiet location with minimal distractions could be ideal. There is no single ‘answer’ for what effective communication looks like with a child with disability- this all comes down to their individual needs.

Practice prompt

If you become aware that a child requires additional support to communicate, speak to key members of the child’s safety and support network about the child’s communication needs and how to engage with the child effectively. As the practitioner is the more skilled communication partner, reflect on how to change the way you interact with people with Complex Communication Needs.


Do not assume that because a child has limited communication skills that they are not interested in participating or having their voice heard. It is your role to give the child a voice and to ensure they have the opportunity to participate in all decisions that affect them.

In the below video, people with various disabilities use a number of different communication methods including gesturing and objects of reference during a house meeting. You can see a professional using different strategies to be a good communication partner including active listening and modelling communication systems.

Good Things Pt 1 meeting

Multi-modal communication 

Some children with disability have complex communication needs. Everyone communicates using a variety of methods such as speech, writing, facial expressions, natural gestures and body language.  Use these strategies when you talk with children who have complex communication needs. Other strategies such as drawing can also support communication.

Some children have a formal communication system, for example sign language, communication boards or speech generating devices. Talk to the child and those that know them well to find out more about their communication system. Other children will not have a formal communication system. Seek further information from people who know the child well to learn more about their communication needs and how to adapt your communication to meet the needs of the child.


If a child who has complex communication needs is attending school, it is likely the school has a range of strategies to support communication with the child. Find out from the school what works for the child and how you can prepare to effectively communicate with the child.


It is important to learn information from or have someone present who knows a child well to understand the child’s communication needs. Do not rely on information from a person who is responsible for harm to a child without feedback or cross checking from other sources. A person responsible for harm to a child may purposefully misinterpret or misidentify a child’s communication needs to conceal their abuse or prevent a child from disclosing abuse.

The Speak up and be safe from abuse website has a number of resources to support discussions about abuse and neglect including communication boards that are free to download in relation to actions, places and things. The resource Complex Communication Needs developed by the State of Queensland (2018) provides information on complex communication needs and great strategies for supporting effective communication with someone who has complex communication needs.

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