The best and most effective therapy for children with language delays or disorders takes place in the home and is delivered by parents! Whereas I only see their child for half an hour, once a week, they are with their child all the time. So as part of my job, I work with parents and teach them strategies that they can use in order to facilitate the development of their child’s language. These are strategies that they can use throughout their daily routines, without having to put in too much extra effort (because we know that parents of young children are busy, busy, busy!).
Most parents or caregivers know what their children want without the child having to speak a single word. Often, the child just has to give a certain look or a certain gesture and the simple action speaks for itself. However, if our goal is to increase the amount of verbalisations a child makes or to increase the amount that a child uses their AAC device, then we need to encourage these communicative acts by creating lots of opportunities for them to do so throughout the day.
So how do we do this? Below are five strategies that you can use in order to provide ‘communication temptations’ for your child.
This is one of the most important strategies to use and often one of the hardest for parents get used to using at home. It can be very tempting for parents to jump in and provide lots of prompts to their children in order to get them to say certain things or ask loads of questions to get their children to provide specific messages. Instead, I encourage parents to wait and see if their child will communicate the information on their own. Children can be really surprising when they are given the chance to say things on their own.
I am going to use the example of reading a book here. I often observe parents reading book with their child and in order to get their child to label the items that are pictured on the page, they will ask ‘what is this?’ or ‘what is the girl doing?’ a bunch of times and then the child will answer the question. It is great that the child is able to answer the question, however if spontaneous and independent communication is what we are working towards, then asking lots of questions is not setting the child up for success. Instead what we can do is point to and label something ourselves. ‘I see an apple‘ then wait and see if the child will point to something else on the page and label it. If not, you may point to the picture and again wait and it is likely that the child will label it if they know what it is.
2. Put favourite toys, books, and food items out of reach or out of sight.
Think about the things that your child does on a daily basis. Maybe he often plays with a favourite ball, or reads a certain book. Often these are the items are within easy reach of children so that they can play with them whenever they would like. However, it also means that the child does not have to communicate to you what he wants to play. Instead, place these items on a shelf that your child can’t reach or in a box that they can’t open without your help. I often use clear containers with lids that snap on and off so that the child can see their toy inside but can’t get to it (I know it sounds mean but it’s for the greater good!). By doing this, you are creating opportunities for your child to ask you for the item. Your child may come to you, point to the box and say ‘ball’ in order to ask you to give him the ball. You can the use this opportunity to extend his language by repeating back ‘want ball’ and modelling phrases such as ‘open box’ and waiting to see if your child repeats the longer phrase back to you. As you continue to use this strategy on a daily basis, the child will learn from the repetition and will begin to use the language that you are modelling while he requests for the item.
3. Give small amounts of desired items
If you are working towards the goal of improving requesting, than you can get lots of repetitive practice in a small space of time by giving a desired item in small amounts. For example, if you are playing blocks together, you can keep hold of the blocks and give them one at a time to your child so that they have to request for ‘more’ many times. You can also use the opportunity to extend language by modelling longer phrases such as ‘more blocks’ or modelling concepts such as ‘big block’ or ‘square block.’
4. Give choices
Give your child simple choices throughout the day. This helps to teach new vocabulary and encourages communication. When you are getting dressed you may ask ‘do you want the red socks or the blue socks.‘ while holding up each of the corresponding socks as you talk. Your child is not only learning colour concepts but is also being given an opportunity to communicate what he wants. At snack time, you may ask if he wants an ‘apple or banana,‘ at playtime you may ask if he wants to play with the ‘big ball or the little ball’ and at bedtime you may ask ‘Do you want to read Dear Zoo or Brown Bear Brown Bear?’
5. Provide opportunities to ask for ‘help’
Asking for ‘help’ is an important skill for daily living in the home and crucially when the child enters school. Therefore it is important to provide lots of opportunities to practice communicating this message. For example, if your child requests for a banana, give it them without opening the peel first. This provides an opportunity for your child to communicate ‘Help me’ or ‘I need help.’ Another opportunity occurs when your child is getting dressed. It can be tempting to jump right in and do up their buttons but instead you could stand back and wait for your child to come to you and request for help.
And that’s it for today’s Talking Tip Tuesday! I am aware that these strategies take time and organisation to implement. It can also be overwhelming to use them all right away. If your child has a language delay or disorder and one of your speech and language goals is to increase communication, begin by choosing one of these strategies and work on using the strategy daily for a week. Then the next week, choose a different strategy and so on. You will soon be waiting and giving choices without even thinking about it!