Learning Colours

Learning colours takes time.

Around 3 or 4 years old, children can usually name the primary colours: red, blue, yellow and green.

At 5 years old, children can name colours like purple, grey and brown.

But it’s important to remember that children don’t learn colours at the same rate, and children sometimes don’t name colours correctly before kindergarten.

 To help children to name colours correctly :

  • Comment on colours in your environment: talk children about the colour of their clothes, of their socks, of the couch, etc.
  • Teach one colour at a time; once children understand and name a particular colour, introduce the next one. 
  • Play games: cut out pictures of objects or foods that are the same colour and glue them onto cardboard.
  • Have fun finding all the objects that are the same colour in a room and then name them and their colour (“I found a red pillow! I found a red sock! I found a red shirt!”)
  • When you read together, show children the colours in the pictures and emphasize them: the sun is yellow and the crocodile is green.

written by Dounia Askafi, Speech-Language Pathology practicum student at SpeechWorks Inc., and translated from French by Stephanie Harvey. Thanks, Dounia, for all your work. Good luck with your studies!

I hope this article was useful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. SpeechWorks Inc. offers SLP services in Manitoba, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Nunavut.

Help Children to Participate in Conversation

For some children, difficulty communicating makes it hard to participate in conversation. Other children are hesitant to participate in conversation because they are introverted, shy or anxious. It’s important to encourage children to participate in conversation – by participating more they improve their conversational skills and become more comfortable conversing.

Here are some ways to encourage children to participate in conversation:

  • Develop your relationship with them. This will make them more comfortable talking to you.
  • Talk to them as often as possible. Talk about things that interest them, or what they are doing or looking at in the moment.
  • Place yourself at their level, or even a little bit lower than them.  This can make them feel more comfortable. It’s usually best to face them, but some children feel more comfortable sitting next to an adult.
  • Use a soft, inviting voice.
  • Pause often to let them talk, but do not pressure them to do so.
  • Make lots of comments, since comments invite children to participate in a conversation without pressuring them to do so. Limit questions, since some children feel lots of pressure when we ask a lot of questions. Avoid telling children directly that they have to say something (Say “please” / Tell grandma what happened yesterday.)
  • Some children will finish your sentence if you start a sentence and pause before the end (I love cookies! You love…)
  • Reduce the stress of answering questions by giving choices. (What would you like to drink – water or milk?)
  • Support the child’s communication by accepting all of the ways that they communicate – gestures, sounds, words, drawings. When children look at an object or point to it, they are telling us something and it is our job to try to interpret the message.
  • Provide pictures or visual supports, such as pictures of past events or a 5-point scale, to help them participate in a conversation.
  • At the same time, say what they would say if they could. Do not ask them to repeat. Just model words and sentences for them as often as possible.
  • Avoid criticizing them or criticizing the way they talk.
  • Look for situations in which they feel comfortable talking, and increase these situations. They may like playing board games, looking at pictures in books and naming them, singing songs, or talking about their friends. Increase their opportunities to do the things that motivate them to talk.
  • Consider enrolling them in a social communication group, such as SpeechWorks’ Connect & Communicate groups. In these groups, we provide a caring environment with lots of support. We teach communication skills using direct instruction, and then we practice the skills in fun activities.

I hope this article was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help. Contact us today!

Repetitive Questions – What to do when your child asks the same thing again and again

There are lots of reasons why a child might ask the same thing over and over. Understanding why can help you figure out what to do about it. Children may ask questions repetitively because

  • Other people use lots of questions to interact with them.
  • They have trouble saying what they want to say.
  • They have trouble knowing how to get someone’s attention, or how to start or continue a conversation.
  • They need to know the answer to the question. They may not remember the answer you have already given.
  • They feel more secure when they hear the answer again, and it hasn’t changed.
  • They feel more capable since the question itself lets them show their knowledge.
  • They can avoid doing something else by asking this question!

We can help children not to ask the same thing over and over!

  • Make lots of comments about what you see and do together, to model other ways of communicating.
  • Teach your child to talk about more topics. Looking at photos together is a wonderful way of talking about a variety of topics.
  • Use visual schedules and other visual supports to help your child feel secure.
  • Remind them of the answer and then make a related comment.
  • If they repeat excessively, tell them that they can only ask a question x number of times. After that you will ignore the question. Reduce the number gradually.
  • Occasionally, repeat the question to give your child a chance to answer the question instead of asking it again.
  • Do an activity together that makes it easy for your child to participate, such as a simple game with pictures to support their participation.
  • If your child reads, write the answer on a paper. Then you can show them the answer if they ask again.
  • Tell them that you already answered that question, “but we can talk about ____________.”

I hope this article was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help. Contact us today!

I am not you! Pronoun Use

I recently posted these suggestions on FaceBook when asked how to help a child use pronouns correctly. The child has Autism Spectrum Disorder and is using “you” for “I” and “she” for “he.” I thought they might be useful for lots of children!

  • Use photos of the child, myself and other people, which makes showing the child how to use “I” and “you” easier. You can use speech bubbles to write out what each of the people in the photos is saying. Videos can also be really powerful, especially if you can get the child to use pronouns correctly and videotape them doing so – children with ASD learn better by watching a video of themselves doing something successfully than a video of someone else. Lots and lots of gestures help too.
  • To target the distinction between “he” and “she,” you could add lots of photos of girls and boys but make them really explicitly boys and girls – some kids on the spectrum are not very aware of gender. Playing turn-taking games (I like the Peaceable Kingdom ones) gives lots of opportunities for practice.
  • You can encourage the child to use “I” by just telling them directly, but then give lots of opportunities for practice. Cues (hints) that give less support lead to more spontaneous language use: from least to most support I use commenting, asking a question, giving support, giving a hint, making a suggestion, and telling your child exactly what to say.

I hope this article was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help. Contact us today!

Social Communication

IMG_0285Social communication helps people to have conversations, get along with peers, have good relationships and succeed at work. Social communication can be difficult for people diagnosed with Social Communication Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Delay, or Non-verbal Learning Disability. Some people have no diagnosis, but come across as shy, awkward, or even rude. They may start a conversation in an unusual way, such as “What colour is your car?” They may talk a lot but only about a subject that interests them. They may have difficulty looking at people when they are talking. Or they may just walk away abruptly at the end of a conversation.

Social communication skills come naturally to most people. If they don’t come naturally, they can be taught! It helps to teach the skills directly with visual support, followed by an in-person or video demonstration. Practicing the skill is key to being able to use it in day-to-day life. Group programs give the opportunity to learn with peers, to have fun, and to get lots of practice. Volunteers add to the fun and provide even more opportunities for practice.

I love running our Connect & Communicate groups for children, teens and adults to work on social communication! I also see clients individually to work on social language.
Call us today at 204-231-2165 to find out more!

Halloween and Autism

Halloween is tons of fun! Dressing up, trick-or-treating, and getting candy all add to the excitement. It can be tricky, though, for children with autism.

Halloween is special – it’s different from any other day! Children dress up, go door to door, and yell “Trick or Treat!” For some children, this may be too far from their regular, predictable routine. They might not know what we expect them to do, which can be stressful. On the other hand, they may know exactly what to do – so long as everyone does what they expect. Not everyone follows the same script on Halloween though. Some people give out toothbrushes instead of candy! This might confuse or upset some children.

It’s fun when children come to the door and yell “Trick or Treat!” Most people also like it when children say “Thank you,” and even chat a bit. Children don’t often stay long enough to have a good chat, but it’s still fun to exchange a few words. Some children have trouble communicating, though. Some speak like younger children. Others use a device to speak. Some don’t understand spoken language. Some can talk to people they know, but find talking to strangers stressful.

Halloween is a treat for the senses. There are lots of unusual sights, sounds, and sometimes even smells. Yet this isn’t always fun. Some children have trouble making sense of what they see, hear, smell, feel and taste. Costumes are sometimes itchy. Some children hate to wear masks. Others cannot tolerate makeup. It’s hard to find a costume that is not too hot or too cold. If that is not enough, the other children yelling “Trick or Treat” may be too loud. Some houses have loud, scary music or noises, as well.

Changes in routine, problems communicating, and sensory differences can all make Halloween tricky. If we plan ahead, we can make Halloween less of a trick and more of a treat for all children. Here are some tips that might help your child:

Help them know what to expect

Talk about what will happen on Halloween. Show your child what to expect using photos, pictures or even videos. Read books and do Haloween-themed activities. Relate Halloween to a favourite activity – if your child loves to colour, then give them Halloween colouring sheets. If they love cooking, make some Halloween treats together. If they’re fascinated by maps, look at the planned route for Halloween.  You could even pick a costume related to something they’re passionate about.

Write about Halloween from your child’s perspective, and read it with them at least a few times. This lets the child rehearse what will happen, much as an athlete mentally rehearses before a big game. Try to use “I” sentences, and use language at your child’s level. Describe what will happen, when and where, who will be there, and how and why it will happen. Write about what your child should do, keeping the language positive. Describe how they might feel. Stories that are written in your child’s voice to help them figure out social situations are called social storiesTM (or personal stories). You can find out more about social stories from Carol Gray, who originally developed them, or from Autism Canada. Speech and Language Kids has a blog post describing how to create a social story for Halloween, with a sample story that you can modify for your child.

If your child has trouble communicating, practice what they will say on Halloween. If they can talk, practice yelling “Trick or treat” and saying “Hello” and “Thank you.” If they don’t speak, think about how they will communicate when they go door-to-door. Do you need to program some Halloween phrases into their communication device? Should they hand people a card that says “I can’t talk but I wanted to say ‘thank you'”? You can find business cards that explain ASD here. This can help children even if they usually can talk to people, since they may have trouble talking in such a novel situation!

Consider having a couple of practice runs before Halloween. Your child can dress up and go to one or two friends’ houses. This will help prepare your child. You might also find out more about what is tricky about trick-or-treating, so you can be better prepared for the real day.

Make Halloween simpler

Consider trick-or-treating at the mall. It is helpful for children who find bulky costumes uncomfortable. It also helps those who are afraid of the dark – let alone the witches and vampires out there!

Another possibility is going to a small number of houses. Ask friends to make it easier for your child – let them know about your child’s needs. If you are going to more houses, think about putting a note in mailboxes with your child’s photo and some helpful hints to make Halloween a joyful, fun time.

If your child is not ready to go door-to-door, you could trick-or-treat at home! Pretend each room is a different house. They can practice knocking on the door, saying “Trick or treat!” and being polite, but in the comfort of their own home with familiar people. (Thanks to Amy Lorraine Davidson for the home trick-or-treat suggestion!)

Another option for staying home is handing out treats to kids who come to the door. What a great opportunity to practice greetings, compliments, and sharing. That could be especially helpful for children who need predictability and control, or for those who have trouble going up and down all those steps. It’s something you can do together, too.

Let your child wear a costume that is comfortable for them. This may take some creativity! Some children do better with makeup, others with decorations stuck to their regular clothes.

Help your child stay safe

Make sure that your child knows how to be safe. Here are some Halloween safety tips adapted from Manitoba Public Insurance:

  • Cross at stop signs or lights.
  • Avoid crossing where there are parked cars.
  • Look all ways for traffic before crossing the street.
  • Wait for traffic to stop completely. Make sure drivers see you before crossing.
  • Always walk across the street.
  • Be extra careful when it’s wet or icy. Traffic cannot stop quickly.
  • Make sure you can see and be seen. Wear a light-coloured costume. Avoid masks that make it hard to see.

Celebrate success!

Take lots of photos of your child having fun. Let them know what they did well, and remind them of the fun they had. That way, trick-or-treating will be even less tricky next year!

Happy Halloween from all of us at SpeechWorks Inc!

Stephanie Harvey, RSLP, MA, SLP (C)

Stephanie Harvey, RSLP, MA, SLP (C), is a Speech-Language Pathologist at SpeechWorks Inc. She runs Connect & Communicate groups to help children, teens and adults to develop social language skills, and provides individual speech and language assessment and treatment in English and French. Contact her today at 204-231-2165 to book an appointment.



Movement Can Help

Some children learn more easily if they move. Sometimes, sitting at a table and naming cards or playing a board game is not the best way to work on speech or language. Here are some ways to integrate movement into working on speech or language:

  • Get your child to jump  – each time they jump, they say a word or sentence.
  • If they are playing on a slide, get them to say a word or sentence before going up the stairs.
  • If they are on a swing, face them and catch them once every few swings. Get them to say a word or sentence before you let them go.
  • If they enjoy throwing things, have a container with balls (or even scrunched up paper) that they can throw into a basket. Get them to say a word or sentence before giving them a ball.
  • If they enjoy hiding, get them to say a word or sentence and then hide. Or you can hide objects or pictures of the word you are targeting.
  • Get them to say a word or sentence, and each time they do they get to do a movement. This is more fun if you make some movement cards and mix them up. Movement cards could be things like “Jump 3 times.” “Walk to the wall and back.” “Touch the floor.” This also works with yoga cards.

I hope this article was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help.

Bilingual Language Development

Research is clear that speaking more than one language with a child does not cause language disorders. In fact, some areas of language develop more quickly if children speak more than one language. However, some children hesitate to talk in a language even if they understand it. Here are some suggestions to help children to express themselves in your language:
  • Take every opportunity to speak your language to your child. Speak about what interests them.
  • Face your child and place yourself at their level. Make lots of comments and minimize questions, because some children feel lots of pressure when we ask questions.
  • During conversation, repeat back what your child has said, but in your language. Do not make your child repeat, because that may embarrass or frustrate them.
  • Avoid criticizing your child’s way of talking, and avoid criticizing others when they are speaking your language. 
  • Expose your child to as many people as possible who speak your language. It is helpful if they are exposed to the language in many different contexts.
  • If your child is just beginning to express themselves in your language, give them choices verbally, and at the same time, show them an object or a picture for each choice. While you ask “Would you like cereal or toast?” show them the cereal and the toast so that they can point to the one they want.
  • Start a sequence such as counting, saying the days of the week, saying the months of the year, and pause to allow your child to say the next item.
  • Say a sentence and pause before the last word to allow your child to complete the sentence.
  • Look for activities that your child enjoys in your language, such as games, reading or singing.
  • Repeat the same books, songs and finger plays often.
  • Photographs are a wonderful tool for developing language. Make a book of photos (You can use printed photos or use an app to add text to photos). Most children enjoy looking at photos of themselves or their family. Adding text allows you to repeat words and phrases, which makes it easier for your child to remember them.

If you are interested in more technical information about bilingual language development, here is a nice article:

Myths About Early Childhood Bilinguilism

Help Children to Organize Their Language

We can help children to organize their language, whether written or oral. Many of these suggestions are particularly helpful for condensing language when the child uses lots of extra words and sentences.

1. Graphic organizers – let her use a visual template to help organize her ideas before writing them down. This can be used for oral language too. There are lots of good ones in Success for all Learners, which is available from Manitoba Education and Training, or you can make your own.

2. Provide examples before asking her to do her own work.

3. Repeat – if she is talking and uses a lot of words to say something simple, repeat it back in as few words as possible. This will model of more succinct language and will encourage her to organize her ideas more concisely.

4. Use the same questions to do the same kinds of activities. For example, you can ask her to describe her day:

  • What happened first?
  • What happened next?
  • And then?
  • What happened last?

or to describe an activity:

  • Who were you with?
  • Where were you?
  • What did you do?
  • What was the best thing about it?
  • What was the worst thing about it?

Using the same set of questions over and over will help her to organize her language.

5. Practice being brief – ask her to write something, but set a limit on the number of words or sentences.

6. Barrier games are great for teaching more organized language. To do a barrier game, supply two sets of material. In partners, each person tries to make the same thing without seeing what the other person is doing. For example, both draw the same thing or colour a picture the same way. A barrier between the partners stops them from seeing each other’s drawing, and forces them to use words to describe the drawing to the other person.

Help Me Talk Better

Some children talk like younger children. Some make lots of mistakes when they talk. There are some simple ways we can help them develop their language skills.

Talk to them as often as possible. Talk about what they are doing at that moment. If they are playing, talk about what they are playing with. If you are looking at pictures together, talk about the pictures that catch their eye. If it is dinner time, talk about what they are eating and what their favourite foods are. Use sentences that are the same length as theirs, or a little bit longer. If your child uses 2 to 4-word sentences and you reply using 12-word sentences, they may lose interest! Likewise, you can use new words but not too many at a time.

If they say something, but incorrectly, repeat it back correctly. This way they hear the correct form of what they just said. If they say something correctly, repeat it back to reinforce their good language skills. You can also add a word or two to what they just said, to help them use longer sentences.

If they make the same mistakes often, you can teach them the correct way of saying it by using the structure you want them to use. If they say “he” for “she,” you can make lots of sentences about a female family member using “she.” (“Oh, look! Mom’s home. She is back from work. She looks tired. She looks happy though. She is happy to be home.”) To an adult, this may sound boring and stilted, but to a child it can simplify language enough to make learning to talk a little easier.

To give them the best chance of benefiting from your language models, face them and place yourself at their level. If they are a lot smaller than you, you might put them in a bigger chair and take the small one for yourself. Eliminate background noise, or reduce it as much as possible. Speak a little more slowly and clearly than usual. It is also important to pause often, to allow them to participate in the conversation.

One activity that is especially helpful for language development is looking at photos together, especially photos of events in the child’s life. Most children love looking at themselves and their family! You can label the photos so that they hear a consistent language model each time they look at the photos. When the label gets too simple, you can replace it with more advanced language. One family I know has a blog with lots of photos of events in their life. There are also apps available for tablets such as the iPad that help put photo albums together, such as Story Creator and Pictello. They make it easy to label the photos for consistent language stimulation.

The most important thing about activities for language learning is that they have to be fun. Children learn best when they are enjoying themselves.

I hope this article was useful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. SpeechWorks Inc. offers SLP services in Manitoba, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Nunavut.

Word Finding

Some children have lots to say but they seem to have trouble finding their words. They might use general words such as “that thing” instead of more specific ones. They may use related words, such as “dog” for “cat.” They may use gestures instead of words. They may describe what they are talking about instead of naming it: “You know, the round thing that you bounce.” They may take a long time to express themselves. Children who have word-finding difficulty often have difficulty answering questions, even though they know the answer. They may be very frustrated by their difficulty accessing words.

We can help them! Sometimes we know the word they are looking for. However, if we are too quick to say the word for them, they do not make the brain connections that help them find the word the next time. Here are some things that help make those brain connections, and that therefore help in the long term:

  • Wait a moment to see if they can come up with the word on their own.
  • Give them a choice between 2 words. You can slowly increase the number of words you get them to choose between.
  • Say the first sound or syllable of the word.

If we don’t know the word they are looking for, we can re-start their sentence – just repeat what they just said and then pause. Sometimes this is enough to help them find their words. If that doesn’t work, we can ask them to show us – draw it, mime it, or take us to something that will help us figure it out.

When words are well-organized in the brain, they are easier to find. They are also easier to find when they are connected to lots of other words. Therefore, the following activities may also help:

  • Name as many items in a category, such as animals, as possible.
  • Sort items into categories, such as fruit and vegetables.
  • Think of things you need to do different activities. What do you need to play hockey?

It is no fun getting stuck on words, but try to have fun with the above activities. Children learn best when they are having fun.

I hope this post was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help.



Speaking Spontaneously

I see a number of children who can talk, but they repeat what they have heard other people say. This is called echolalia. Here are a few things that you can do to help a child who echos but doesn’t speak spontaneously:

  • Break apart the chunks – if they repeat a sentence often, say different parts of it back to them. If they say “Have some milk,” you can say “Milk. Mmm, milk is good. I want some milk. I’ll have some milk now.”
  • Accept any communication – gestures, sounds, echolalia. Pay close attention to what your child is telling you. Respond to their message. At the same time, model how to say it in words.
  • Say things as you would like your child to say them. This teaches your child to communicate in a way that other people understand.
  • Model language that is a bit more advanced than your child’s spontaneous communication. If they only echo, and don’t have any spontaneous phrases or sentences, model 1 – 3 word phrases.
  • Spend lots of time interacting with your child.
  • Do the same thing your child is doing, and talk about it.
  • Play the same game several times, and then stop part way through. This encourages your child to communicate that they want you to continue.
  • Put some preferred objects out of reach, or in clear but in tough-to-open containers. This encourages requests.
  • Make funny or interesting changes to your child’s surroundings. Wear a funny hat or put a shoe on the table. This encourages comments.
  • Work on lots of different reasons for communicating: to keep a game going, to refuse, to ask for more, to request an action, to request an object.

In the past, people discouraged children from echoing, but now we know that it can lead to spontaneous language. Encourage all speech!

I hope this post was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help.

Talking More

Some little children seem to know what they want to say, but it is really hard for them to get their mouths to cooperate! They say few words, and the ones they say are pretty difficult to understand. This may be due to a difficulty coordinating the movements for speech. See if these suggestions help:

  • Pick a few words and short phrases to model during an activity.
  • Say them as often as you can.
  • Say them slowly. Occasionally say them very slowly.
  • If your child makes a sound, repeat it. If they say a word, repeat it correctly. If they take another turn, keep it going as long as you can.
  • If they say a few words, do activities that encourage them to say those words. If they say “Mom” and “Dad,” look at photos of “Mom” and “Dad” together. If they say “eyes,” look at lots of creatures together, pointing to their eyes.
  • Reduce pressure to talk. One way to do this is to ask fewer questions.
  • Start sentences for your child to complete: “Oh look! It’s a _____” is easier and more encouraging than “What’s that?” for many children. If you don’t get an answer you can finish the sentence yourself and keep playing.
  • Pause frequently, so that your child can choose whether or not to take a turn.
  • Watch them closely and interpret their gestures and sounds. Model what they seem to be saying, without asking them to say it.
  • Sing songs, do nursery rhymes and read simple books – the same ones as often as possible, and as slowly as possible. Slowing down reduces pressure and makes it easier to coordinate the movements for speech.

I hope this post was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help. We provide services in English and French for children and adults to help with speech, language, swallowing and memory.

The Link Between Paying Attention and Learning

Some children have difficulty paying attention. Sometimes they have difficulty staying in one spot for longer than a few seconds. Sometimes they get so focused on what they are doing that they have trouble shifting their attention. They may miss much of what you say. They may miss the beginnings of sentences or words. Here are some suggestions that will help small children to pay attention:

  • Follow your child’s focus of attention. Talk about what interests them. This helps them connect your language to their actions.
  • Speak slowly. Repeat new words in a few different sentences.
  • Minimize distractions. Shutting off appliances, shut off the radio, and shut off the TV. Have only one or two toys available at a time.
  • Do not get your child to shift attention too often. If you direct their attention to something else, give them time to shift their attention before talking about it.
  • A gentle tap on the shoulder may be a better way of getting them to shift their attention than just talking.
  • Talk to your child face to face, at the same level. It is much easier to pay attention to someone who is “in your face.” If you are holding an object and talking about it, bring it close to your face so that your child can pay attention to it and to you at the same time.
  • Use lots of gestures and facial expression as well as an animated voice to get your child’s attention.
  • Use what your child is interested in to capture their attention. For example, many small children like to open and close containers. Put small objects or pictures into clear containers with lids – then talk about them as your child opens and closes the containers.

I hope these suggestions were helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help. We provide services in English and French for children and adults to help with speech, language, swallowing and memory.

Early Language Stimulation

It is easy to talk to a chatty child who engages in conversation easily. It’s a lot harder when children don’t talk much – and especially if they don’t talk at all.

If they don’t talk yet, you can use single words and short phrases to talk about what they are interested in. Observe what they are looking at or what they are doing. Talk about that! Getting down to their eye level will help you to know what they’re interested in, and will also help them to see and hear you better. I like to sit in a smaller chair and put my little clients in a bigger chair, so that we can see eye to eye. With some of my smallest clients, they sit facing me while I lie down on the floor!

It helps to speak slowly and to pause often, to give them more time to understand and respond to what you say. Switch off anything that makes noise so that they can hear you clearly. Repeat the same words often to give them more chances to learn words and sentence structures.

They may already communicate by using gestures or noises, like pointing to what they want. You can imitate what they are doing to encourage them to keep using gestures and noises, and to let them know that they are effective communicators. You can also use a word or phrase to say the same thing. It is always helpful to model language that is just a step more complex than they are using. Don’t get too complex, though – you may lose their interest!

If they are starting to talk a little, pay close attention to what they say and respond to it. Repeat what they say as well, adding a word or two. Short, simple, correct phrases help. Give them lots of opportunities to use the words that they already say. For instance, if they can say “uh oh,” take turns dropping things on the floor and saying “uh oh.”

It’s tempting to pressure a child to talk, but pressure often makes children less likely to talk. It’s important for children to feel relaxed for their brains to work optimally!

Is “baby talk” helpful? Talking to children in an animated way, with lots of facial expression and a voice that captures their attention, is definitely helpful. It tells them that you are talking to them! And it gives them information about the sound system and helps to highlight important words, too. One word of warning, though – some people change the sounds of the language when they use “baby talk.” It is always best to model correct speech and language for children.

Hearing is crucial for language development, so if you have concerns, get your child’s hearing checked. Even fluctuating hearing loss from ear infections can affect a child’s ability to learn language. Talk to your doctor about a referral to audiology as a first step to making sure your child can hear well.

I hope this article was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help.


Starting a New School Year

Transitions can be difficult for anyone, and especially for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, including Asperger Syndrome. The new school year is a major transition – even more so if a child is changing schools.

Many children with ASDs have areas of intense interest. Whether they are trains, LEGO, fireworks, primates, or art, their interests can help the new school year get off to a great start. Paula Kluth and Patrick Schwarz describe how to use special interests to achieve a variety of goals in Just Give Him the Whale, an excellent resource book. Some ideas to try:

  • Paste photos related to an interest in the child’s agenda and in notebooks or binders.
  • Use magnets to post pictures related to the interest in the child’s locker.
  • Work the interest into lessons.
  • Ask questions about the interest during class, to give the child a chance to shine and to be known.
  • Ask all the children in the class to make a short presentation about anything that interests them.
  • Let the child start a club related to the interest.
  • Have materials related to the interest handy to help the child to calm down in times of stress.

Simply asking about their interest can help you connect with the child, and get the new year off to a great start. We often hesitate to let a child talk about their interest, because we want them to talk about other things, too. Show an interest in what is important to the child, and they will more easily show an interest in others.