Forensic Interview Considerations

Dyspraxia and dyslexia: You are likely to observe a child with a learning disability struggling with

• Learning new vocabulary through reading or listening

• Understanding questions

• Following directions

• Using filler words—“um,” “thing,” or “stuff”—while searching for correct words

• Repeating numbers in sequence, such as phone numbers or addresses

• Understanding the plot of a story

• Knowing right from left

• Confusing the order of words, numbers, or sequence in a story

• Telling time and having a concept of time


During the interview

Children with communication difficulties may simply need more time to receive, process, and respond to questions, so allow for long silences. If the child has difficulty in articulation and phonology, the interviewer will need to listen carefully and stop to ascertain what the word means. As with all interviews, the interviewer should take care to speak clearly and distinctly.

It is sometimes helpful to acknowledge communication challenges in the beginning of the interview, perhaps as part of rapport building. This will give both the child and the interviewer permission to correct themselves or each other and more comfort in communicating. For example, the interviewer can say, “You are new to me. Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand new people. I may have to ask you to repeat some things.” Or, “I will have to learn what words you use for things. Probably I’ll ask you to make drawings to help me understand what happened.” During the interview, do not be reluctant to say, “I didn’t understand what you said, please repeat it.”

General strategies for many types of communication difficulties

If receptive communication is a concern, the interviewer can

• Minimize distractions in the interview room

• Pay attention to eye contact, body language, and other cues the child provides to indicate that he does not understand (such as squirming, grimacing, or long pauses)

• Stop periodically to ask the child if he understands or has any questions

If expressive language is a concern, the interviewer can

• Use tools to enhance communication (such as drawings, anatomically detailed dolls, mapping)

• Reflect back to the child what you understood, to assure accurate understanding

• Clarify pronouns and use identifiers whenever possible (e.g., “your uncle,” “John,” “the man with the yellow hat”; rather than “he,” “she,” “him”)

• Resist the temptation to fill in the blanks, but be aware that not all children will speak in full sentences

Shelton, K., Bridenbaugh, H., Farrenkopf, M., & Kroeger, K. (2010). Project Ability: Demystifying disability in child abuse interviewing. Oregon:   CARES Northwest. Retrieved from: