I recently read on a parenting board that I frequently visit that a child’s SLP advised a mother not to praise her child for knowing his shapes, colors, letters, and numbers. This mom was bewildered because #1, they had spent lots of time learning those things when she was pregnant and on bedrest with twins and couldn’t do lots of physical things, and #2, she felt it might mean that the SLP thought he was autistic.
Kids on the autism spectrum are often obsessed with numbers, letters, and colors because they exhibit visual strengths (vs. those who are more auditory or “words” based). Some kids on the spectrum are so adept at this that they are reading at 2 (It’s officially called hyperlexia).
Many typically developing kids also LOVE these concepts because they get so much praise from adults for “performing” these skills. Many adults hyperfocus on teaching these kinds of preacademic concepts because to them it’s associated with ”intelligence.” Unfortunately the toy industry also believes this myth because they put numbers, letters, and colors on darn near every toy that’s made!
I think based on the mother’s comments that her SLP may think he’s using this kind of word or phrase pattern (color + noun) to the exclusion of expanding his vocabulary. I encourage moms of kids like this (and there are lots of them - on the spectrum and NOT on the spectrum) to model other kinds of phrase patterns - noun + verb, noun + preposition, verb + preposition, diffferent modifier (i.e.,- big, scary, loud) + noun, etc… - and to purposefully redirect to other words NOT because of the avoidance of feeding an “obsession” and NOT because I am failing to acknowledge an obvious cognitive strength, but simply to focus on expanding his vocabulary and interests. Kids need lots of different types of words to make longer phrases and sentences rather than vocabularies that consist of all nouns (names of things) plus a handful of descriptive words (colors and numbers).
I have had also lots of kids with apraxia get “stuck” on colors and numbers too because it’s a set of words their parents understand, and it’s easier to hook an adult’s attention in conversation if they know what the heck you’re talking about! Plus some apraxic kids HAVE to learn to talk on a sound by sound basis, especially if they have had a therapist or mom use the letters of the alphabet to cue them, so they are familiar with these concepts, want to please, and start to spit letters back out to the adult they know will give them the most positive feedback.
As far as being concerning, let’s look at the skills she’s talking about. Receptively identifying 6 colors is a skill that’s on the PLS - 4 (The Preschool Language Scale) at the 36 month range, so it’s an age-appropriate skill to work on at 2 1/2. Kids should also count 1-3 by 36 months too (according to the Rossetti Infant Toddler Language Scale) and use other quantity concepts to answer a question like, “How many ducks do you see?” by 3 1/2 on The PLS-4. All kids should know letters by entering kindergarten, and many, many two-year-olds (On and NOT on the spectrum) can do this too. So knowing these things at his age is not a “concern” in my opinion.
However, becoming fixated on numbers, colors, letters, and shapes to the exclusion of learning other new information is a concern. A mother is the best judge of that because you’re the one who is with him the most and can assess intellectual interest vs. obsession. If he’s truly fixated, help gently expand his interests not by halting the praise, but by pointing out another way for him to look at things - Little truck, garbage truck, fast truck, loud truck, rather than always blue/red/yellow truck.
Better yet teach the verb/action that’s associated with it since most language delayed/disordered kids, whatever the reason, need help learning to use verbs. To target verbs as a response to a question, instead of what color something is or how many of item he sees, ask, “What’s the _____ doing?”
Begin to ask for items by function, “What do you wear on your feet?” ”Which one says, “Moo?” “What do you ride?”
Don’t forget, “Where” questions to work on location words/prepositions. Instead of asking, “How many birds do you see,” ask, “Where do birds fly?” Instead of, “What color is the boat,” ask, “Where is the boat?”
When your child’s language level is nearing 3, use more advanced reasoning questions, “Why is the baby crying?” then ”Who will come pick up the baby?”
Sometimes kids ”get stuck” on certain words or patterns because we’re not giving them anything new to learn. To avoid this with your child, analyze your own words when talking to him. Are you always pointing out the color of an object, or asking him to count, or deferring to his favorite books or puzzles with shapes and letters? If you are, shake it up! Change what you talk about. MAKE yourself expand your own language you use to talk to him so that he can expand his language too.