A communication environment that enriches a child’s communication skills is one that supports the “whole child’s” ability to thrive and develop. Targeting communication goals and developmental milestones may include different techniques or approaches. One of which is building a strong highway of support between the child’s immune system and the impact this has on their brain.
In this blog, let’s assess the 7 determinants of health to decrease stressors to support a healthy communication environment. Written by Speech and Language Pathologist, Fatima Hassan.
“What is health?” “How can we optimize health for a child to support their communication environment?” We must ask ourselves: “What is this particular child’s Total Load of life and environmental stressors (multi-generational) and how resilient is this child (what kind of supports does this child have)?
What is a good Communication environment?
A thriving communication environment begins with a strong foundation rooted in health. Every human body has an individual load limit. The Total Load Theory explains that one can handle only a certain number of stressors before the body begins to show symptoms of breakdown. Your body has a certain capacity for tolerating toxins and stressors in the environment. Our children can reach their threshold at a very early age depending on the stressors they were exposed to peri, pre, and post-natal.
Childhood epidemics are partly due to the “total load” of too many stressors on a child’s body and not enough healthy promoting daily life supports such as sleep, nutrition, and movement. Supporting a child’s overall communication environment and deciding what the best communicative plan of action may require a paradigm shift to first focus on balancing the internal nervous system while supporting speech and/or language skills.
Each person has a total load that is specific to them based on their exposures in utero and lifestyle factors. Many of the factors that contribute to the physiological imbalances are modifiable. It’s important to find ways to reduce this load because an overburdened body creates dysfunction and/or illness in the body. Adding any therapy prior to reducing a child’s total load can be considered a stressor on an already overwhelmed and stressed load. Significant progress with speech and/or language therapy, supporting behaviors, and meeting a child’s needs based on their sensory profile has been documented both scientifically and with families’ lived experience when a child’s total load is supported. It is so powerful to see progress when the body and brain are supported, and nourished and energy is therefore spent on healing and developing instead of protecting the body from further health deficits.
I believe in preventative measures and maintaining a child’s health to keep their body, mind, and soul in homeostasis. This means that in supporting brain development and health, how best can we support the “whole-child” across all areas of their daily function to maximize their communication environment.
What are the Communication environment elements?
There are seven determinants of health that I use as a framework for any child I work with prior to or in conjunction with speech and/or language therapy:
Sleep: sufficient sleep is needed for brain development and all things related to cognitive function and performance such as emotion regulation, attention, memory, and immune function. The glymphatic system (aka the waste management system) is a waste drainage pathway that flushes out toxins from the brain into the bloodstream during sleep. In order for a child to heal, develop and retain skills, they must have consistent and meaningful sleep. This is why in the first few years of life, babies sleep a lot as they are developing leaps and bounds daily as their brains connect to developmental milestones such as feeding, crawling, joint attention, walking, learning how to communicate, etc. Sleep is critical for overall health function!
Nutrition and Hydration: your gut is the cornerstone of your immune system with over 80% of your immune function residing in the gastrointestinal tract (gut). Our microbiota is ever-changing based on stress levels, foods we eat, environmental toxins, etc. The microbes in our gut produce chemicals that impact how our brain works. Hence what we eat (whole nutritional foods) and what we absorb (nutrients) from the foods we eat significantly impact the gut-brain axis. If you don’t own your gut, you won’t own your immune system. Our children are exposed to many hidden burdens with the foods they may eat such as artificial ingredients, food dyes, and glyphosate in wheat products which impact cognitive function. Learning how to interpret ingredients is helpful in choosing food that sets your child up for success. I often teach children about eating “ALWAYS” foods such as their fruits, vegetables, and good quality proteins for example, and “SOMETIMES” foods that could be less healthy but not eaten often such as sweets, cookies, or processed snacks. Daily rituals add up so it would be best to avoid sugary or processed foods if a child’s total load is significantly compromised in order to strengthen the gut-brain axis and help the brain thrive. Sometimes our children can be picky eaters and we may need to consider supplements for nutrient deficiencies.
Movement: exercise and moving our bodies daily helps balance the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of a child’s overall communication. The lymphatic system (aka sewage system)has to be manually activated to detox the body and movement is the KEY to aid in this process. Different movements for a child support neuroplasticity in the brain and aids the brain in adapting and learning by creating new neural pathways. This overlaps with the arena of firing up neurons for attention, memory, learning, and communication skills.
Optimal detoxification: Your body has 7 drainage pathways (the colon, liver/gallbladder, lungs, skin, kidneys, lymphatic and glymphatic systems) which move and remove fluid on a continuous basis. Signs of a healthy digestive system are consistent, well-formed bowel movements, at least 1-2x/day, with no gas or bloating after meals. Children may present with constipation, eczema, or skin issues that can be signs/symptoms of poor drainage.
Nature: breathe your biome daily whether it’s a walk on the beach, in the woods, around your neighborhood, a hike, or anything that involves being outdoors. Nature has a beautiful way of bringing us back to equilibrium as we are one with nature. Children thrive in nature and grounding in a natural environment can help mitigate some of the overwhelm of technology exposure.
Emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being: regulating a nervous system is fundamental for the success of any therapy session. Brain energy spent toward developing communication skills can be diverted toward assisting the body's nervous system if a child is dysregulated or presents with behavioral needs.
Connection: we all need each other and the community. If I have learned anything during this journey, it is that it truly does take a village! And the Noala community is a powerful, shared brain trust in supporting your child’s communication environment clinical needs.
All the conscious, mindful, positive, gentle, and respectful therapies and parenting approaches in the world won’t help your child and your family ecosystem if you are not ALSO working on nutritional and lifestyle foundations. We have seen a powerful shift in the research and the correlation between supporting a child’s immune system and the impact on communication.
Parents/primary caregivers are central in the process of nurturing and forming a communication environment that is successful (this model cannot be “outsourced”).
The body knows how to self-organize and heal once you get out of its way. It can be very overwhelming for parents or caregivers if they are told that they immediately need to begin a long list of therapies to support their child. Please note, more therapy does not equal progress if the stressors have pushed the child to the maximum threshold.
Lastly, this is fundamental to keep in mind: No system in the body ever works alone, gets injured alone, or heals alone. There is no such thing as an isolated injury, there is no such thing as isolated healing. Every system is connected so in order to create a successful communication environment, the core determinants of health must be supported. Our first aid to the body is to relieve it from the burden of toxic substances so that its regulatory self-healing mechanisms can function again.
Jafari, M.H., et al. The Relationship Between the Level of Copper, Lead, Mercury and Autism Disorders: A Meta-Analysis. Pediatric Health, Medicine and Therapeutics. 21 Sep 2020(11):369—378.
Thompson, L., et al. What have birth cohort studies asked about genetic, pre- and perinatal exposures and child and adolescent onset mental health outcomes? A systematic review. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010;19(1):1-15.
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The communication environment is explained as features a child is within and the way in which parents/practitioners engage with your child.
What is a communication environment example?
Examples include the environment, the parent/carer language and their supportive interactions, and the opportunities to create supporting language interactions.
What should a communication environment look like?
A healthy communication environment should have minimal background noise and reduced screen time. Resources are labeled with pictures/words to allow your child to communicate more independently and have consistent healthy daily routines.