How can I help with my child’s language development?

Following the Child’s Lead

Answer: Perhaps you fit one of these parenting scenarios. You suspect your child has a language delay and are on a six-month waiting list for an assessment. In the meantime, you want to take affirmative action to help your child. Or maybe your child has been diagnosed with a language delay, is receiving therapy, but you want to provide additional parental support at home. There are several strategies a parent can use at home to assist in language development: following the child’s lead, balance turn taking, match what your child is doing, wait for communication, and listen to communication attempts.

Parents are anxious to show a child their idea of play. A young child does not have the same knowledge background, skills, or experience as the parent does and will therefore have different ideas about playing. Let your child do the leading and you follow his example. If he puts a block down the slide, do the same thing after him. You are demonstrating to your child that you understand his play by following his lead. Showing your child how to play also takes away his chance at being imaginative.

Let your child start the “conversation” in play. If he puts a stuffed dog on a chair and says “on” answer back with “on chair” or “dog on” or you can place another animal on the chair and say “on”.

Limit questions during playtime. Use two word comments instead of asking question. If your child is at the one word stage, then answer back with two words. Adding on one more word to your answer than what the child says increases his vocabulary. If he puts the dog on the slide and says “on” you can say “dog on” or “on slide”. This type of response models appropriate language for the context. You close off the opportunity for language communication if you make things too challenging with lengthy questions or responses.

Balance Turn Taking

Give your child an equal amount of turns. You put a block in the bucket then he puts a block in the bucket. Take the same length of turns. Wait to allow your child time to respond. So many activities are new to a child and they need ten seconds to think it through. If your child is having difficulty knowing what to do with his turn, show him using the hand over hand method. This involves the parent placing his/her hand over the child’s hand for guidance.

Match What Your Child is Doing

Use language that is at your child’s level and be where he is physically. Language may involve sounds, one word or two word utterances. If your child is at the one word stage, use two words to respond. Imitate your child’s actions and sounds. When playing, physically be on the same level as your child. Get down on the floor with them or sit beside them on the couch. Being at their level maintains eye contact, allows you to see exactly what your child is doing, and they also see you.

Wait for Communication

Too often parents jump in to save their child’s communication pauses. Avoid the temptation to do so by allowing a ten-second pause before assisting. It feels like an eternity but a child often needs those few seconds in order to respond. Talking for a child, answering for him, and using controlling language (commands and questions) is a natural, instinctive reaction on a parent’s part. If we want learning to occur, we must give a child a chance to express himself in his own way.

Listen to Communication Attempts

When parents talk and the child doesn’t respond easily, the natural reaction is to fill in the blanks and answer the questions. It appears to make things easier but it really is a form of loving sabotage. If we don’t expect an answer, our child usually fulfills expectations by not communicating. If we listen attentively, accept gestures, vocalizations or words as meaningful communication and a conversational turn, our child will feel secure and encouraged to make his efforts worthwhile. Listening to a child helps parents understand the child better and helps parents respond more sensitively to him. The only way to know what your child is about is to listen to what he is saying. We can’t do that if we are constantly talking.

Assisting with language development at home is not a difficult thing to do and does not require any special training or fancy equipment. The list of websites provided at the side give simple ideas of how to increase language development. A child spends the most time with his parents and will enjoy modeling his favorite teacher – you.

Recommended Reading

First Steps in Intervention with Your Child with Autism: Frameworks for Communication

Initiations and Interactions: Early Intervention Techniques for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Motivate to Communicate! 300 Games and Activities for Your Child with Autism

Helpful Websites

Do 2 Learn

The Hanen Centre

Speech Pathology Apps

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