For this week’s ‘5 Things’ post, I welcome Shae Rodgers from Small TALK Speech Therapy. Shae is a certified practising speech pathologist with a passion for helping children with autism and complex communication needs. Shae and her team help families dealing with communication, language, literacy, listening and speech difficulties. I’m really pleased to have her on the blog today, sharing 5 practical ways to grow your child’s communication skills.
5 Ways to Grow Your Child’s Communication Skills
Children learn language (words and sentences) through listening to others. The more language they are hearing, the more readily they are able to pick up new words and phrases. Often children have to hear a word many times before they will attempt to say it, which suggests that Mums and Dads need to do a lot of talking to encourage their children to learn new words.
A simple way to do this is by providing a ‘running commentary’ throughout the day. In other words, describe all the things that your child is doing as they are doing them. Use simple language and repeat the main words. For example, if your child is engaging in pretend play with cups and spoons, your commentary might sound something like this:
“Pick up the cup, oops! Dropped it! Pick it up again. Big drink. Yum, yum, yum! Yummy drink! More drink please! Yum. Hmm, where’s the spoon? Here’s the spoon. Stir the drink. Stir, stir, stir. Big drink. Yummy drink! More please.”
Don’t talk too quickly, make your voice animated, and make sure you are commenting specifically on your child’s actions and interests. If your child is extremely interested in banging the spoons rather than stirring, make sure your commentary focuses on this.
Build on your child’s words
Once your child is using lots of single words (50+ words, around 18-24 months of age) it is time for you to start speaking in 2-3 word sentences. Children learn how to construct sentences from Mum and Dad, so why not simplify your language and show them exactly how to combine 2-3 words?
The technique of ‘building on your child’s words’ simply means taking your child’s single word and adding a bit more information. For example, if your child points to a cat and says ‘kitty’, you could respond with ‘Oh! White kitty. Kitty is sleeping.’ In this instance you have given your child a few more words that they can use to talk about the cat: a colour (white) and an action (sleeping). These words will be interesting to your child in this moment, because he has shown interest in the cat. You have also shown your child how to combine these words to make a short sentence.
It is a good idea for you to incorporate lots of different types of words when using this technique. In other words, don’t only use colour words or size words when building on your child’s single words. To follow on from the cat example, you could use labels (whiskers, claws, fur), size words (little, big, long), colour words (black, white, brown), action words (pat, jump, sleep, purr), emotive words (angry, happy), location words (in, off, under), texture words (furry, soft, wet), etc. By using a wide variety of word types you are encouraging your child’s development of sentences and vocabulary.
Repeat important words often
Emphasise and repeat the word/s you want your child to use such as “eat,” “drink,” “more,” “go,” and “stop.” Repeat the keyword at every opportunity during the day. Sometimes this might mean you repeat the word 20 times within one meal.
This technique is called ‘recasting’ and can be used to help your child develop a huge range of skills such as:
- Speech sounds – e.g. repeating words with the “s” sound
- Grammar – e.g. using past tense ‘ran’ ‘tripped’ ‘jumped’ ‘ate’
- Vocabulary – e.g. verbs/action words, nouns/labelling, describing words
- Rhyming – e.g. ‘cat’ rhymes with ‘hat and ‘bat’
Use visuals (signs, gestures, pictures and symbols)
Visuals are tools (pictures, objects, written words) that can help make an activity easier to understand and build depth of meaning for vocabulary. Visuals can help to decrease behaviour by outlining what is required, ensuring the child understands the meaning of words and increasing independence in following routines. They can also be beneficial to children who have difficulty remembering steps to activities, who have anxiety and those who have language difficulties.
Often, visuals are used with children with ASD and ADHD, but they can be useful for any children learning routines and preparing them for changes to these routines.
Play isn’t just great for occupying kids so that you can get the chores done. It’s really important for child development.
Play helps children learn so many life skills, here are just a few:
- problem-solving skills
- processing emotions
- to attend to activities
- to imitate
- to describe
- to comment
Model elaborate creative ideas and play scenes with your child. Help your child learn that you can make valuable contributions to their play. Extend on what your child is playing with, to help lengthen their attention within activities.
Use your child’s interests to ensure they stay engaged in the play, for example, if your child likes cars help them to act out crash scenes, police and fire engine helpers, petrol stations and following road rules.
Shae Rodgers is the founder and clinical director of Small TALK speech therapy. Shae graduated with Honours from The Newcastle University in 2008. She has been working in private practice with a special interest in helping children with Autism since her graduation. Children with complex communication needs are a great fit for Shae’s vibrant, structured and innovative approach to intervention.
You can follow Shae and Small TALK Speech Therapy on these platforms:
This post is part of our new series “5 Things Special Needs Parents Should Know”. If you’d like to submit a guest post, or if you have a topic you’d like covered as part of this weekly series, send your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org