A Black Board With ABC Written on it

An action causes a reaction – nothing comes for free. Make your kids say/do something to get what they want. Knowing what they want is half the battle – so take “that” and MAKE them say it. If you don’t know what it is, allow them to ‘show’ you but once you get there – say, “oh you wanted a cookie? tell Mommy “cookie””. Make them say it so that when the situation arises again, they will be able to know what to say.

Behavior IS communication so when your child is misbehaving, that is how they are communicating. So you need to address the behavior with signs and other forms of communication to assist them in not getting so frustrated. The goal is to understand what they are trying to communicate and help them elicit a more appropriate way to ‘ask’. Additionally, just because your child isn’t ‘talking’ doesn’t mean your child isn’t communicating with you. Pay attention and you’ll learn that there is so much being ‘said’ non-verbally or through body language or through facial expressions or just through pointing/gesturing. The key will be to pair meaning to those expressions so the child has a more functional way to talk/communicate.

Carryover is key for home reinforcement. Your therapist cannot do all the work in 2 thirty minute sessions a week. You need to talk/discuss/read the notes from the therapy sessions and do those things with your child at home. Reinforce what they are working on.

Don’t lose sight of your child’s strengths just because of their weaknesses. Use the strengths to build and guide the weaknesses. Use what you know they CAN do to help with things they struggle with. Encourage them and provide rewards so that it doesn’t get frustrating due to the difficult nature of the task.

Engage in a dialog with your child about what they are doing. Ask open-ended questions and not just yes/no questions if they are able to. Give choices to help elicit conversation or provide leading phrases to help them know what to say.. Encourage eye contact as that is key to conversation.

Nothing comes for FREE. Play dumb. MAKE your child talk/engage to express what they want – help them by offering choices but MAKE them talk. Don’t just give them what they want because you know – make them say it because you know!!!

Gestures – do NOT rely on gestures for a child to communicate. Knowing what your child wants is the hardest part. Make them say it/approximate it/sign if they have to, but pointing and grunting are not ok. If you allow them to get what they want by pointing and grunting then THAT is what they will do in the future to get what they want because that was the “condition” you gave it to them under.

Allow others to help. Don’t over-burden yourself. Mother’s Morning Out (MMO) programs or play groups are very functional and useful and can take some of the daily burden off you – your child needs to be with other kids and engaging them in a play group will be good for you as well.  It can give you a time to connect with other parents with similar situations and you can learn from each other.

Include your child even when it may take more time and require you to slow down. Working with your child on every-day tasks will pay off in the long run. Don’t take the easy way out and do it for them. That’s not helping them learn.

Joint attention – shifting attention from ‘what’ they are playing with to ‘who’ they are playing with. This is key in developing language and communication skills. We want to see joint attention during play activities.

The key to progress and reaching goals is consistency!! Put the effort in as you reap what you sow. The benefits that you get when you invest time with your child’s learning is priceless.

Many times I will let the child THINK they are taking the LEAD but in actuality I am steering them with choices. However, other times, just go where your child takes you and incorporate choices, vocabulary, imitation, requesting etc in those activities.

Find what motivates your child and use it to your benefit. Use snack time or your child’s favorite video to help them EARN it. Kids should be earning TV or iPad time. You could say that x number of minutes of speech HW earns them x number of minutes on the iPad. You can use snacks to help your child work on articulation. Each kid is different and each kid will require different motivation. Some will require a 1-1 correspondence of reinforcement during set activities while others may be able to work for a few minutes before needing a reward/reinforcement.

Narrate what your child is doing to help give them the words that they need while playing. They very well may understand receptively but expressively is much harder. So the more you talk and engage and show them/model the words needed, the more they will learn to use those words appropriately.

Use others to help you. Brothers and sisters are useful assistants. Make sure they understand what is needed to help your child so that they can hold them to the same standard. Many times siblings become the ‘mini me’ when I leave after therapy. It helps with carryover. Grandparents and other caregivers need to know the expectations you have with your child so that they don’t hand things over for free and that they have same requirements for your child.

Use PECSpicture exchange communication system to help your child functionally interact. This is a vital option if your child is non-verbal and needs a way to communicate. Take pictures of what your child plays with, what they play with, what they eat, where they go. Print pictures in a 3×3 size and laminate (doesn’t need to be 4×6). Create a board on a wall with the pictures divided up into categories (food, toys, places etc) and then your child can take a picture and exchange it for what they want. [This is the nuts and bolts explanation but your therapist can assist you in creating and using this system.]

Questions – ask your child questions. Depending on their level, start out open-ended and then provide choices if need be. Get your child thinking on their own. Use picture stimuli to help with naming.

Real progress can be seen by engaging in a sing-a-long… whether its ABCs or Wheels on the Bus. ABC puzzles are great for learning vocabulary, manipulating pieces, asking for ‘more’, taking turns, following directions, listening for descriptions to locate a given piece….Additionally, saying the abcs allows you to hear how your child’s articulation is forming. When you sing songs leave off words – have your child fill it in. This way they can anticipate what is coming. Use repetitive rhymes…..Brown Bear Brown Bear or Old MacDonald or B-I-N-G-O!

Sign language elicits communication – learn a few key signs (more, please, help, hurt, drink, eat, all done etc) for basic communication but pair with a verbalization to help them understand that the ‘purpose’ is to talk with our mouths. Eventually you will withdraw the sign and encourage the vocalization on its own.

Turn-taking is important for kids to learn for obvious reasons. They need to learn that a conversation is two-sided and that you ask questions and wait for answers or provide information. There are many goals of communication that require interaction and if you interrupt and don’t pay attention to what the other person is saying then it becomes difficult to communicate and understand the other person. Make good eye contact and follow social cues.

Understand how important follow through is. If you don’t follow through on what you say then you are teaching your child that your words don’t have meaning. Be strong and don’t give in or else you will be teaching them that when you say “no” they can still get it if they have a tantrum.

Use video and pictures to help your child see what a great job they are doing. Many times kids will talk again and again when they see themselves on video. It reinforces the skill/word etc. They want to see themselves so use the opportunity. Take videos of others doing something you want your child to learn to do (wave/say hi or bye) so by watching the video of a familiar face they may engage and connect with it more.

Welcome – work on greetings and welcoming people. Work on waving and saying hi/bye. There are so many times in a given day when this can be incorporated so its up to you to maximize the opportunities.

Examine yourself. Are you giving things away for free? Are you making it easy on yourself by handing things over and not MAKING your child talk? Think about the end goal. Do you want your child relying on you every step of the way? Or do you want your child to be an independent thinker? Your actions and choices impact that end goal.

You always have two choices. Two choices with behavior or two choices with answering a yes/no question. Its not black and white – its not clear cut. But you and your child both have two choices on how to handle things. Talk them through it by reminding them of the choices – if they do “this” then they get “that” – or if they DO NOT do “this” then they do NOT get “that”. Keep it simple

Exaggerate your responses!! Emphasize what you want to say. Be animated!! The more fun and energetic you are the more tuned in your kids will be!

Other thoughts…

  • Praise success…don’t always focus on what they are NOT doing – focus on what they are doing RIGHT.
  • You have to MAKE a change to SEE a change. “Insanity” is defined by doing the same things over and over again yet expecting different results.
  • Echolalia – interject before they respond to your questions (so they don’t repeat the question) by providing them with a leading phrase to show them HOW to respond. Echolalia is a child’s way of trying to respond but now knowing how. *Kids will answer questions when they understand what is being asked of them and will echo when they don’t.
  • When playing games on the iPad that are more receptive based, for example, pull the iPad away (momentarily) to get your child to say a word/repeat/ask for something. You want them to learn to label – not just ‘understand’ and that is the difference between receptive and expressive games. Sit next to them and play WITH them.