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A is for Apple Blog

Improving Your Child's Expressive Communication

by Chris Williams | Mar 27, 2015

One of the first steps in learning speech is repeating sounds others make. A child sounds out new words and learns what they mean. We call this "Echoic Skill".

Improving echoic skills doesn’t just happen during therapy though. There are ways you can help your child improve, too—right now!

Depending on your child’s age and where they’re at with their therapy plan, he/she may not know how to imitate words you speak to them yet. If not, here is the first thing you can do to help them along.

If your child doesn’t imitate sounds or words yet...
Play a "Sound Game." While you engage in a fun activity (playing with their favorite toys, games, tumble play, etc.), imitate any sounds your child makes. Make it into a fun game with them. If both of you can make the same sounds back and forth, your child is learning how to imitate!

Continue to play this sound game until the reverse happens – your child eventually starts imitating the sounds YOU make first. If your child spontaneously imitates a sound you make, give him/her lots of happy reinforcement.

If the child can already imitate word approximation but does not spontaneously request...
Does your child already imitate words, but they don’t request things on their own yet? Try this.

Increase the language in use around the child. This includes labeling items and identifying actions around your child every day.

If your child can say the word (e.g., Milk), don’t accept gesture forms of communication (e.g., they point at the milk and grunt for it). Try not to over-prompt the child vocally (e.g., “What do you want?”). Instead, hold out the item they want, gesture or give them a ‘what do you want?’ look (use your body language), and wait a few seconds.

This gives your child an opportunity to spontaneously communicate what they want. If you arrange situations where they need to ask for things, it increases their opportunity to ask.

Here are some ideas to arrange situations where your child is encouraged to spontaneously request:

  1. Put his/her cup of milk just out of reach.
  2. Place his/her favorite toy in a Ziploc bag or container that s/he cannot open.
  3. Take the batteries out of his/her favorite toy or game.
  4. Place a hand towel out of reach when they wash their hands.
  5. Give them a juice box without putting in the straw first, so they must ask for help.
  6. Give them food/a snack in a bag, so your child must ask for help to open it.
  7. Tell your child to color/draw, but give them only paper—they must ask for a crayon/marker.
  8. Do fun actions such as tickling, or picking up and spinning them. Pause the activity for a few seconds and model the sound or word your child may be able to say. As soon as he/she says anything, quickly reinforce by resuming the fun action.

With time and reinforcement, these actions can help your child learn words, and to speak them when they want something.

Have you used one of these techniques with your child? Please comment with your thoughts!