Self-talk In Special Needs : A Must Know Guide For Parents

Soliloquies are not just for the stage. Children often speak aloud their internal conversations with the self. Generally, they stop with age but for children with learning disabilities, a lot of times it can continue well into adulthood. Self talk is not bad in fact it can be a good thing! You may be wondering how can self talk be good when it makes them go into their world, talk to themselves and when they do it in public, it sends out a wrong message. All your concerns are understandable, however, as parents we first need to know what is self talk? Why our kids do it and what are the ways for us to minimise/ direct it.

What is self talk

A lot of creative people have confessed to self talking. Self talk is a form of self reflection where we analyse the incidents of the day by providing comments on them and by being self critical. Almost all of us do it in our minds. Positive self talk motivates us, and negative self talk can drown us into depression. But self talk in itself is just a tool to internalise the events of the day and structure them so that they are easy to deal with.
When self talk is done by people of various intellectual delays i.e. Down syndrome, autism, learning disabilities etc,. It is mostly done as a coping mechanism for not being able to express their emotions effectively, or not having the friends to communicate their day with, not having the capabilities to speak effectively and not being able to process the day’s information systematically. People with special needs, also indulge in self talk when they are really excited, depress or sad about certain things and this can help us as parents to get an insight as to what exactly is going on in their mind and what is troubling them.



For children with learning disabilities, self talk is a method of self instruction. Children are habituated to follow instructions. Sometimes, when they have to do a thing by themselves, they first instruct their mind to follow a certain set of actions. Sometimes they repeat the instruction given to them by someone else as a method of memorising the steps. Saying it out loud and repeating it over from time to time, helps them keep track of things.

Self Talk: What Does The Study Say?

Children often talk about their day’s event, recalling even the minute details that have stuck in their mind. This is a form of synchronisation. A study on over 500 children and adults with Down syndrome (ages 11-83 years) done in a wellness clinic in Chicago, revealed that 81% engaged in conversations with themselves or with imaginary companions. It was observed that they used self talk as a way to express their emotions, solve a problem, give instructions to the self or talk to an imaginary person as a form of companionship when they are lonely.
Self talk also involves talking to inanimate objects or animals, something that doesn’t respond, so that the only opinion is of the self, manifested in two different forms. They participate in a debate with the two aspects of their mind and this enables them to understand things better.
Sometimes our children talk about the person they hate or admire. By observing their speeches, you can understand their problems. You can know about their desires and know what they are thinking. However, the information is often ambiguous. They will not talk about their problems in clear terms because they themselves are unable to understand it. They speak out words and images that gets registered in their mind.

Interpreting the monologues


With a little patience and dedication, you can interpret the conversations your child has with the self. It is difficult to get the whole picture from the bits and pieces but you can get a rough idea. Dr. Nina Piyush, a paediatrician and the mother of a child with Down syndrome writes in her blog,
“If a child with DS is found disturbed psychologically, counselling is not an option. You cannot take out the desired information from him/her. Listening to his/her self-talks serve as a base for finding reasons & solutions.”

When do you need to worry?

Self talk is pretty normal but the red alert should buzz when it suddenly increases or involves rage, frustration and depression. Refusing to do anything else and keeping oneself busy with self talk all day is also not normal. This is when your child needs help. So it is better to observe their behaviour closely. Consult a professional if need be but such behaviour is a cry for help!


What should you do?

Telling your children NOT to indulge in self talk would inevitably make them do it more. The more you talk them about it ( even if it is about stopping it) the more they’d do it. Think of it either as a reverse psychology or putting additional pressure on them.
Now that we know self talk is not all harmful, the good way to deal with it is by directing it effectively. You need to create a conducive environment so that your children can self talk freely. Do not discourage them from doing self talk. Keeping them engaged, taking long walks, spending more time and sharing your own stories with them can help a great deal. Our children are mostly alone. As they age, their age group peers get busy in their lives, their siblings start to move out of the house and that is when the self talk can increase considerably. Be prepared to act on it when it starts to happen. Giving them extra time, knowing what’s troubling them can be helpful.

How To Direct it?

Dr. Nina puts it really effectively. In her blog, she gives a great example where she advises to use the colours of traffic signal to direct the child’s behaviour.
She writes,” Teach your children with the colours of a traffic light.

Green: You can self talk, and can do so loudly in your own room.
Yellow: You may continue self-talk in your house if that is not disturbing anyone, but prefer to do it silently.
Red: You cannot do self talk outside of the house or at public places. If at all you must do it, do it silently.

Self -talk is a gateway to your child’s mind and interpreting them can help you know your child better. We are sure you learned a thing or two here and it would help you deal with your child’s self-talk effectively.
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Edited By: Deepa Garwa