When your young child is not communicating after about 18 months it can be very frustrating for both you AND your child! Therapy can be a huge help, but as parents you spend the most time with your children so it’s important that you carry over therapy techniques and strategies to encourage language development. The following are my top tips that I give to the parents of new clients:
1. Environmental sabotage: This isn’t as scary as it sounds! This means you structure your environment in such a way that your child doesn’t have immediate access to what they want all the time, thus forcing communication. For example, toys are in clear boxes that the child doesn’t know how to open, DVDs are on a high shelf that can’t be reached but can be seen, food and drinks aren’t left out all day where child has easy access, etc.
2. Give small amounts/bites: When eating or playing only give one piece of something at a time, encouraging your child to ask for “more” before they receive it. For example, only give one blueberry or puzzle piece at a time. Keep the rest where your child can see them but not reach them.
3. Use sign language: It is a myth that teaching sign language to babies/toddlers will prevent them from talking. Research shows it actually ENCOURAGES verbal speech! Start modeling sign language as soon as you can. Common signs are “more, all done, please, thank you, eat, drink”. You tend to get more “bang for your buck” when using verbs as opposed to nouns.
4. Play turn-taking games: Rolling a ball back and forth, taking turns blowing bubbles, pushing cars, etc. all provide opportunity for your child to ask for his or her turn after the object is given to you.
5. Don’t be afraid of the pause: The pregnant pause paired with an expectant glance can do wonders to encourage communication from your child. Try to avoid completing your child’s phrases or anticipating their needs. Even if you know what they want, make them ask, even if it’s an approximated response at first (like signing, or a /b/ sound for ball).
6. Use toys that are hard for your child to operate: If you use wind up toys or other items that require an adult to use, this presents a lot of opportunities for your child to ask for continuation of the activity.
7. Narrate: It may drive you crazy at first but try and narrate what you’re doing throughout the day. For example, “Mommy is making dinner now! Let’s get the pot. Now it’s time to get the spoon! Stir, stir!”
8. Environmental Noises: Utilize a lot of noises during play such as animal sounds, cars beeping and vrooming, etc. This skill typically develops before verbal speech so it’s a good pre-requisite to practice.
9. Respond and recast: Take what your child says and expand/correct it. For example, (child sees a horse) “ook, mama, cow!”. You can respond with “Wow! You saw a horse!”
10. Keep it positive: Shaming your child for not talking or getting frustrated could hinder their progress. Language development is hard work so a little grace and encouragement goes a long way!
The best things you can do to encourage your late talker are to create communication opportunities by setting up the environment, respond positively to all communicative attempts, and model, model, model!
(*If your child is not talking by 18 months and/or not responding to their name or simple directions, seek an evaluation with a speech-language pathologist!*)