Teach Me to Talk: Building Verbal Imitation in ToddlersTeach Me to Talk - The Therapy Manual
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April 05, 2012 | Laura | Comments 8

Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers

teachmetalk.com is so excited to announce the release of the new book Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers in early May 2012.
Read the following description of the “theory” behind this approach written by Laura Mize, pediatric speech-language pathologist and founder of teachmetotalk.com:
Imitation is the core skill that many late talkers, regardless of their official diagnosis, haven’t yet mastered.
Many toddlers with developmental delays lack the fundamental skills necessary to begin to imitate single words, yet that’s just what we expect them to do when we write IFSP or IEP outcomes such as, “Logan will use variety of words to communicate his wants and needs to his parents and caregivers.”
As SLPs who work in early intervention and preschool programs, teaching verbal imitation is where our treatment plans usually begin. We jump right into treatment by “following a child’s lead” during sessions and narrating play with single words in hopes of jumpstarting expressive language. We advise parents to model functional vocabulary words during daily routines so that the child will begin to repeat those words.
If it were really that easy, would that kid be on your caseload in the first place?
Helping very young children with developmental delays learn to talk, and specifically learn to imitate words, requires that we revisit how imitation develops.
Imitation emerges very, very early in typical development and often occurs without direct teaching. Many times parents are teaching a baby through imitation without being consciously aware of the process. An infant’s earliest social and communicative interactions consist of looking at his mother and instinctively copying her facial expressions and vocalizations. The mother hears her sweet baby’s coos and repeats those sounds. The child responds by moving his arms and legs and vocalizing even more. During these back and forth gazes and early “conversations,” an infant, only a few months old, begins a life-long process of imitating another person.
In the second six months of life, this process evolves as a baby begins to imitate her parent’s actions with objects. A parent shows a child how to stack blocks or operate the new Busy Box. Actions begin to look more like communication when a child copies a parent’s movements in early social games like Patty Cake and Peek-a-boo.
Contrary to what we may have been taught, teaching imitation first begins with teaching a child to imitate actions, not words, during play. For many of the children we see, this serves a dual benefit of helping them learn how to play.
Just beyond actions, we move on to helping a child learn to imitate other kinds of body movements and gestures that become communicative.
Even then many late talking toddlers aren’t yet ready to begin to imitate single words. The child may need to learn several “in-between” steps before he’s ready to begin to imitate single words. Learning how to imitate mouth movements, early vocalizations like fake coughing and sneezing, play sounds like blowing raspberries and animal sounds, and easy exclamatory words such as “Wow” should dominate our early sessions with late talking toddlers.
Many times parents and therapists don’t see success with late talking toddlers because we’re not working on the right things. Changing our approach to target imitation in its earliest and easiest forms is the place to begin.
Read more about this book:
In this 180 page therapy manual Laura Mize, pediatric speech-language pathologist and founder of www.teachmetotalk.com, explains the hierarchy of verbal imitation skills she teaches to therapists throughout the country.
This simple, straight-forward approach is easy for both parents and therapists to understand and implement during familiar play-based activities and daily routines.
Laura’s method delivers a framework for knowing where to begin work with a late talking child, provides ideas for what to try when a young child’s progress stalls, and can serve as your new approach when your standard methods don’t seem to be adequate for a particular child’s issues.
Each of the eight levels is broken down into its own chapter and includes:
· A detailed description for each level so you’ll know exactly what to do to teach the new skill. The rationale is presented so that you’ll understand why you’re working on each skill and how the skill relates to overall speech-language development.
This information is critical for parents to understand as they work with a child, but often SLPs and developmental interventionists aren’t exactly sure how to explain what we do so that parents are able to carry-over those successes. Laura’s practical style will fill in that gap so that you’ll know what to say and how to teach parents to follow-through at home.
· The prerequisite skills a child should have mastered before each level is realistic are listed. You’ll know exactly when a child is ready to work on the next level. This will prevent a child from going weeks or months without seeing any measurable progress. You’ll also receive suggestions for targeting the prerequisite skills so that you help a child progress when he seems to be “stuck.”
· A chart is provided for each level with many, many examples of the skills to target with a young child to move him along to words. There’s no guessing! You’ll know exactly what to work on with a child to address each new level. Each chart is a great tool for therapists to copy for parents & caregivers to reinforce what you’re working on during visits and for “homework” between sessions.
· Each chapter includes a list of time-tested and toddler approved materials to use during play and during daily routines for each level. All activities are appropriate for use during therapy sessions in a clinic setting or during home visits with parents and siblings.
· Specific “how to” instructions for eliciting each skill are included for each level. This information is especially helpful for parents, for therapists who are new to early intervention and have limited treatment experience with late talking toddlers, and for experienced therapists who want to expand their repertoire of proven treatment strategies for young children with speech-language delays.
· Troubleshooting tips for additional ideas are listed at the end of each chapter. There’s no more second guessing why a child isn’t making progress. You’ll receive specific instruction for what to try if you’re not seeing results, and the next steps are outlined so that you can move a child forward.
· A handy, one page quick reference chart is included at the end of the manual. This is particularly suited for therapists to use as a “cheat sheet” during sessions or to provide for parents as an overall guide for treatment.
Because young children learn best during play, Laura provides specific examples for using this approach with the following five common toys toddlers love: bubbles, farm animals, baby dolls, Potato Heads, and cars and trucks.
Additionally Laura lists specific recommendations for using this approach at home for several daily routines including meals/snacks, bath time, dressing/diaper changes, reading books, and playing in the kitchen.
If you’re a therapist looking for ideas to teach parents to use to incorporate language learning, then this is the resource for you! All charts and activity pages can be copied to share with parents as “homework” for between sessions.
This resource is INVALUABLE for therapists who work in programs embracing a “no toy bag” or consultative approach. Not only will you receive many, many practical ideas, but you’ll have plenty of written “how to” directions to share with parents in an easy-to-understand format.
Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers - Regular Price - $44.99
(PayPal customers can now easily pay with PayPal Express through our online store. Click the link above to order.)
Do you want to know more? Here’s an excerpt from the Introduction of Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers:
What happens when this sequence of events doesn’t unfold as expected?
What’s going on when a child isn’t talking when there are two or even three candles on the birthday cake?
Other adults try to reassure worried parents with statements like, “He’s too busy to talk,” or “Her words will come when she’s ready.”
A family member may mistakenly make learning to talk about behavior or personality by saying, “This child is too lazy or too stubborn to talk!”
Let me challenge your thinking here by stating a fact:
Late talking is a developmental skill deficit.
It’s not that the child won’t talk.
He or she can’t talk!
Making this distinction is a HUGE first step to help a child learn to communicate. When we begin to look at late talking as a developmental challenge rather than a behavior or trait a child can purposefully control, we find better ways to address the problem.
I’ve spent my career doing just that. As a speech-language pathologist who specializes in treating very young children ages birth to 3, I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of late talking toddlers and their families. There are a couple of things I do now know for sure:
All late talking children are not the same.
There are as many reasons, complicating factors, and contributing circumstances to late talking as there are children who are late talkers. There is truth to the age-old statement, “Every child is different and will develop at his own rate.”
I also do know this to be true:
Unless you’re working on the right issues, things are not likely to get better.
Well… let me back off that statement a little.
Because of a wonderful, naturally occurring phenomenon known as maturation, most children do eventually learn to talk, and that’s why many people, doctors included, do ill-advise parents to wait … and wait… and wait before seeking professional intervention for a late talking toddler.
But some parents begin to ask, “Just how long am I supposed to wait?”
That’s a very good question in light of research that tells us that communication skills are the single best indicator of developmental performance in children less than three years of age.
When a toddler is not talking, it does lead to questions about how things are going developmentally, and it can imply that a child is not learning and developing as he or she should.
For many late toddlers unless you’re working on the right skills, things are not likely to get better, at least in the short-term.
I am not one to wait around only hoping things get better in time; are you?
As parents we all want our children to live their best lives and reach their potential not only in the long-term, but we also want short-term success too. We want our babies to meet every big milestone when expected. It’s enormously stressful when that’s not happening.
I’ve rarely met a parent who doesn’t feel that they should and could be making a difference in their child’s development. All parents who take the time to enroll in therapy or explore additional ways to help a child learn to talk should be given a pat on the back for taking that first, big step! Their children will be much, much better off than if they had waited and waited or done nothing at all.
If you’re a professional, it’s a given that you believe in your heart of hearts that you can and do make things better for the children on your caseload. When we think about achieving milestones and meeting goals, sooner is always preferred over later!
But as a parent or as a professional, unless you’re examining and treating the underlying reasons for a child’s lack of expressive language, you may see your days or weeks of anticipation waiting for a child’s first words turn into long, long months of anxiety and frustration.
Before we get into the particulars of making sure we’re treating the right skills and in the right order, let’s step back and take a look at several different descriptions of late talking children. Maybe you’ll recognize one of these images as the child you love and are concerned about…
Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers - Regular Price - $48
PayPal Express is also available to our customers. Click the link above!
Reviews are coming in!

“Hi Laura - I just love your new book. Thank you, thank you for this valuable resource for parents and professionals!!” Pat, Early Intervention SLP
“Laura, love the new book!! I’ve read about a fourth of it and I am already implementing some of the great ideas you provided. Thank you!” Angi, SLP, Alabama
“Thank you so much for the new therapy manual Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers! I love the handouts and think they will be so helpful to the families of clients in our birth to 3 program. ” Jennifer, SLP, California
“I received your book yesterday… I have been learning SOOO much – why didn’t I read this book in grad school???” Danielle, SLP, CA

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There Are 8 Responses So Far. »

  1. Hi,
    Myself Shikha is very much impressed with your ideas and in my case it works. My concern is about my 4.5 yr old boy , as he is not able to make sentences or you can say social communication. He can speak short sentences and very good in puzzles and understand the things also but yet he is lacking in communication.
    When he is watching Ice age and toy stories he remember the sentences and can tell goldilock , ugly duck stories. I am confused whether he understand or not , if he understand then why he is not making sentences.
    I will appreciate if you can help me in this concern.

  2. Shikha - Please take him to a speech-language pathologist to address his delays. I believe there are pediatric SLPs in Japan. If you’re not sure where to go, ask your child’s doctor for a referral. You’ll want someone to help determine what his issues are so you’ll know exactly what to work on with him not only in therapy, but at home. The SLP will help you learn what to do at home. Good luck to you! Laura

  3. Hi Laura, my daughter is going to be 3 next month. She’s currently receiving EI for speech but will be ‘ageing out’ next month. She’s gone from saying 2′learned’ 2-word phrases like thank you to speaking in 3-4 word phrases. She can cmmunicate her needs now and express herself much better. However, her pronounciation is still very off so we struggle with understanding her most of the time. She has troubles sayint B,F,L,M,P and leaves them out at the begining of her words and anywhere else they occur. Like ‘black’ is ‘ack’, ‘fish’ is ‘ish’, ‘monkey’ is ‘nonkey’ but she says ‘mummy’,'paper’ is ‘picture’ is ‘icture’, ‘ball’ is ‘all’, ‘basket ball’ is ‘ar
    all’ Her Early interventionist said we could look into speech therapy for her. But since she’d have to go through the school system, we’re concerned she wont get the one-on-one attention. A friend whose son is also 3 told us he gets little speech therapy and is more of peer interaction and conversing he does in the school therapy.
    She answers questions like “where is daddy” and say he’s in room or ‘here he is’ and the same with objects and toys. She refers to herself by name and doesnt know her pronouns only ‘he’. Most of her phrases are 3-4 words long and her vocabulary is expanding but understanding is hard due to pronounciation. She asks where,why and what questions. She cannot yet answer questions such as what did you do today, or where did you go or other complex questions. Is this because of a limited vocabulary? Or she just doesnt understand? Also she still likes to answer questions with short 2-word phrases, how do we get her to extend the length? She’s come a long way but i just want to know how far she is behind and if she can catch him up to the level of her peers before she starts school. Is speech therapy the answer especially seeing she wont get individual attention or will it correct itself? Should we consider private speech therapy? Any advice pls? Thank you so much.

  4. Laura, my son is 20 months (age adjusted 18 1/2) months and is just starting to do conjugated babbling. He is also still not eating “adult food” other then Mac-n-cheese and spaghettios. My pediatrician does not seem concerned, but not only was he a preemie, but he had a TEF and a duplicate aortic arch and for varying procedures he has been intubated 22 times. He is doing wonderfully from a gross motor stand point, but I’ think I am the only one concerned he has an oral motor delay. We are in EI, but he does not seem to be getting a lot out of it. I have a close friend who gave me a nuk and some other tools, and I got a referral for our SLP who worked with him in the NICU. He is an enormously social child and is starting to stare into your mouth when you talk and imitate the movement of the tongue. Am I over-reacting, or is it appropriate to see SLP. Interestingly, my husband and his 2 brothers were in speech therapy until they were about 8-9 because of speech delays. His hearing has been tested twice and is okay. Any other suggestion?

  5. Letter from a mom I received today:

    Hi Laura

    I just wanted to email you to say thank you so much for your informative video “Teach Me To Talk” and book “Teach Me To Talk – Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers”.

    We have had some great success with Colby who is 2 next week in getting her to start talking more. The first thing I did with her was to teach her some sign language and I couldn’t believe it but within the first week she was saying more, ta, please, drink which she had not said any of those words before. She still needs a lot of prompting but she now tries to copy so many more words. She would easily have 50 words in her vocabulary now (which I know is on the low end of the scale but compared to where she was 2 months ago it is a huge improvement).

    I am so thankful for the internet and the way you have helped our family through your DVD, books and website – keep up the great work!!!!

  6. Michele - I would definitely pursue speech for him for a variety of reasons. He was a preemie, he’s had lots of health challenges, AND you have a family history of speech delay. I’d be shocked if he weren’t behind!

    I’d also get a little more aggressive about making sure your’e working on the right things. He does have some feeding issues, so an oral motor approach seems reasonable, BUT don’t discount other factors such as how much language he’s understanding. If you don’t have great evidence of COMPREHENSION, then that’s where your focus needs to be. Is he following directions for you? Can he point to body parts on request? Is he participating in speech games - like Patty Cake, Peek a Boo, etc… and doing his part in those? Is he waving bye bye and using other early gestures? Those things are just as important, honestly, if not more important, than how he vocalizes or his oral muscle tone. He’s got to have something to talk about - not just be able to physically complete the process. Don’t get me wrong, that is HUGE too, but don’t ignore the other foundational pieces.

    Do you have my DVDs yet? If not, check those out because I think they will be tremendously helpful to you in making sure you’re working on the right things with the right approach at home.

    Thanks for your question and good luck to you! Laura

  7. Letter from an SLP used with her permission:


    I am so thankful that I found you, your knowledge base, and your wide variety of reliable and evidence based published information!

    My youngest child is classified as a very late talker, and as a graduate student studying speech-language pathology, I was beginning to feel helpless while attempting to help him speak. I had scoured my textbooks for proven and practical therapy ideas to use with my late talking toddler; however, I continued to find more theory than practical therapy procedures. While I am certain that I need a sound theoretical foundation, I also need proven and practical treatment ideas.

    Thank you, Laura, for compiling your knowledge and experience in a published format! Your new book, Teach Me To Talk: Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers, is an interesting and easy to read manual! I personally appreciate that aspect! From a professional viewpoint, I appreciate how you seamlessly combined evidence based research with entertainment and practicality! The step-by-step progression through the eight levels of building verbal imitation will benefit parents, caregivers, SLP professionals, and SLP students.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and being accessible via email! You have a kind and generous heart, along with a mind full of wisdom and experience!

    Very Respectfully,

  8. Laura,
    my worry is about my daughter who is 3 years old…she is a preemie..she hasn’t started effective communication till. She sings, recites, babbles to herself and busy playing.But when a question is directed, a simple one “what is your name”, she is blank.Only rhymes, songs catches her attention.If we force her to listen to us, she is frustrated and hits herself against wall/object nearby.I have already got her evaluated and she is under speech therapy(3 months so far). Am I doing right enough? Is there some other problem, overseen ? What do you recommend ?

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