Failing Communication Skills By Middle School – It’s Not Too Late!


It's not too late to improve communication skills.

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It’s not too late. That is perhaps the most important thing that parents and educators need to remember when working with older elementary and middle school children who have failing communication skills. Their speech, listening, reading, writing, or other abilities might be lagging, but there is still time to help them overcome or learn to navigate these challenges. The steps that might be taken and the resources that might be utilized might look different for a 5th grader compared to a 5 year-old receiving speech therapy, but the effects will hopefully be similar – effective communication skills.

Communication Skills

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Improving Communication Skills in Elementary School

As children move from preschool through kindergarten there is an attempt at a great leveling of skills. While many kids might enter these years at various levels, the overall goal is to make sure that they all leave prepared for first grade with a similar set of abilities. Communication skills rank pretty high on that list:

  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • And more

If something interrupts the development of these skills it is often addressed and treatment is offered, if warranted. However, sometimes challenges in communication during these years slips through the cracks. Maybe a pediatrician thought it was a phase, or the signs just weren’t as evident. Sometimes, the symptoms can even become more pronounced as a child ages, such as with dysgraphia. Whatever the reason, if you have an older elementary or middle school child and you are worried about his communication skills, there are steps you can take to help him get back on a smoother path and reaching milestones for elementary school. Remember – it’s not too late.

5 Steps to Building Better Communication Skills

1. Start with a health evaluation. If you are noticing new signs that your child is struggling in school and not reaching communication milestones for his grade level, it is important to rule out that a new medical condition is not the cause. Some speech disorders are caused by issues in the brain or even pediatric strokes. While these are more extreme cases, it is still an important first step to take to make sure that these new symptoms aren’t caused by an undiagnosed medical condition.

2. Form a partnership with your child’s teachers. Older kids who show signs of struggling in school, especially with communication, might have learned techniques to mask the symptoms in order to get by. This is why they have gotten by for so many years. They have learned to overcompensate with other skills. By working with your child’s teachers you can take a comprehensive look at the very precise areas of struggle.

3. Have your child evaluated by a speech-language pathologist. These professionals specialize in assessing the communication skills of individuals, far beyond “speech”. Ask if your child’s school has an SLP who specializes in adolescent communication. Even though your child might still just be in the 6th grade, these are transforming years and your child is on the brink of adolescence and all of the changes it brings. For boys the voice will be changing again soon and there are increased academic and social pressures. SLPs can help older children transition through these phases while improving their communication skills, and can give you tools to work with your child at home.

4. Look for age appropriate tools that use your child’s learning style. There are great resources designed for older children to help build their communication skills, such as this conversation app targeted at teens. Many SLPs and schools are embracing electronic devices as tools that can enhance learning – for all kids.

5. Beware of social stigmas. These are the years of increasing peer pressures and problems. Older children can find it more difficult to accept help for communication skills through things like speech therapy for articulation issues, occupational therapy for fine motor skills needed for writing, or other forms of therapy. Even in the best of situations where peer influences are minimized, kids are still developing their sense of self and sometimes this is a crucial age for self-identity.

Building Communication Skills for the Future

Communication Skills are Important for the Future

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For older elementary and middle school children struggling with communication skills, it is not too late. Even if multiple milestones have been missed over the years, there are resources to help diagnose the issues and develop skills. Encourage your child to be proactive about his or her health and academics, and that things like speech therapy can be empowering tools instead of signs of weakness.

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