Ineffective communication in all humans, will affect how we behave. Children who cannot communicate, do not have the life experience to handle their feelings and situations and that presents in their behavior. Ashley Scott, SLP-BCBA, shares in this episode the ongoing and intentional processes of building expressive language in children.
There is a difference between having vocabulary and functional language skills. A child may be able to count, say their ABCs, or identify color, but they may not be able to communicate. So they may know the color orange, but if they want an orange, can they say “mommy I want an orange”. Functional language is not just talking but using words to request, negotiate, and communicate with their parents and peers.
It is not cut and dry, “a kid can talk so they start talking”. If you are working on getting a child to talk, there are so many things that need to be in place, so it is important to have less focus on words and more focus on foundational skills as simple as learning to sit. Ashley’s advice for parents is to ask fewer questions. Narrating is a key to building language skills and understanding the meaning behind words. Ask less questions and comment and narrate everything as you and your child are doing it. Pair everything you’re doing with real words, to build connections between the activity or item and the word.
We want to expose kids to a rich vocabulary, but when kids aren’t communicating, keep words simple. They don’t have to be long sentences, but instead small phrases and keywords. For example, you don’t need to say “you’re putting on your shoes” instead hold and point to the shoes and say “shoes on” or you don’t need to say “let’s open the door now” instead say “open” but say it a few times, clear and exaggerated.
One of Ashley’s big questions for therapists and parents is, “how much are you facilitating?” Wait time is a big piece. It is critical to give children time to process and respond. One thing Ashley said that makes so much sense is working on language is an art form, a unique balance between foundational skills, modeling, narrating, and allowing silent time for processing language.
Another key part of therapy is that the skills a child can perform in therapy should be able to be performed, across all of their environments and with all people they interact with. It’s important to create opportunities for communication. This differentiates the difference between can’t do or won’t do. Reinforcement is critical, modeling what it looks like to respond to a request. Repeating a request over and over is not effective. Say it one time, and if they do not comply, physically complete the request with them. For example, you don’t need to say come here over and over. If they do not come the first time, show them what coming here looks like.
Building expressive language is about building independence. There are so many teaching opportunities that are missed because as adults we meet the child’s needs that they can do themselves and we do not give them the opportunity to ask for help or demonstrate their knowledge. The biggest takeaway for parents and professionals here is language and communication is more than just talking.
Ashley is a pediatric therapist with a concentration in developmental delays and Autism. She works with infants and toddlers with feeding disorders due to tethered oral tissues and behavioral issues relative to feeding. Ashley loves training up and coming professionals in the field, as well as providing community workshops and learning opportunities to others. Her journey began in public schools as a school SLP, then pupil appraisal, and finally district coordinator for the speech/hearing dept. While working in the schools, she saw clients on the side and ultimately resigned to open her private practice: Chatter Nola. Ashley’s greatest accomplishment is being a mother to 3 little boys and a devoted wife of 13 years.
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