Helping Your Toddler Listen and Obey – Improving Receptive Language Skills in Your Young Child

I have seen many parents and daycare teachers label toddlers as “difficult” or a behavior problem when the real problem is that the child doesn’t understand and process language as well as other children his age. Parents sometimes overestimate what their child who is not talking is able to understand. When I was talking about this with a good friend of mine who is a developmental interventionist, she offered an insightful comment. To paraphrase her, there are parents who would rather think of their child as “bad” rather than admit that he or she doesn’t understand much.

This is so unfortunate because a child must understand words before we expect him to talk and before we expect him to obey. A child who doesn’t understand much really can’t (and shouldn’t) say much either. To expect more is simply wrong. Many times toddlers don’t follow directions, and it’s not because they’re being disobedient, stubborn, or lazy. They don’t follow directions because they don’t understand what’s being said. They seem to ignore language because words don’t mean anything to them yet. Speech-language pathologists think of working on receptive language hand-in-hand with expressive language. When parents get on board with this approach, wonderful things happen. Before I give you ways to target this at home, let’s review the definition of receptive language, discuss the characteristics of children with receptive language problems, and then finally talk about ways to improve these skills.

What is receptive language?

Receptive language can also be referred to as language comprehension or auditory comprehension skills. This means how well your baby understands the language he hears. Examples of receptive language include how your toddler follows directions such as “Give me your cup,” or how he might walk toward the bathroom when you announce, “It’s time for bath.” These skills begin from birth when your baby early on begins to purposefully look at you and enjoy your attention and when he starts to notice environmental sounds such as the neighbor’s dog barking or a loud fire engine. It progresses when he begins to pay attention to what you’re talking about so that he looks around when you announce “Daddy’s home,” or watches as you point to a bird outside the window. He begins to understand early games such as “Peek-a-boo” well enough to cover his head himself and lights up when he pulls the blanket off and you yell, “Boo.” It includes being able to point to body parts when you ask, “Where’s your nose” and find pictures in books when you say, “Show me the dog.” Receptive language is closely tied to a baby’s cognitive, or thinking skills.

Until a child is age 3 or older, it is very difficult to separate receptive language and cognition. In fact, most of the skills listed on early developmental charts are actually similar for both domains. While it is true that some children may demonstrate cognitive strengths such as a good memory or exceptional visual skills, many times poor language comprehension skills are linked to underlying cognitive deficits. When assessing how your baby understands language at home, it is very important to be sure that your child is responding to the words you’re saying and not the nonverbal cues you might be giving. For example, when you’re asking your child, “Give me the block,” he may be responding to your outstretched hand as he gives it to you, or he may see the juice box you’re getting out of the refrigerator rather than understand, “Are you thirsty?”

What is a receptive language disorder?

A receptive language disorder is difficulty understanding language that results in differences in how and what a child understands when compared to other children his same age. Receptive language disorders can also be called auditory comprehension disorders. Another diagnosis which is closely related for young children is Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), which is difficulty in the ability to attend to, process, comprehend, retain, or integrate spoken language.  Kids who have receptive language disorders often don’t follow directions and not because they’re being “bad.” They don’t follow directions because they don’t understand what’s said to them. They also may seem to “tune out” because words don’t mean anything to them yet.

Early signs and symptoms of a receptive language problem:

  • Ignoring spoken language
  • Difficulty following verbal directions, especially if the command is new or you’re not using visual cues such as pointing or showing them what you want them to do
  • Repeating a question rather than answering it
  • Answering a question incorrectly (Such as shaking their heads “yes” when you ask them a question with 2 choices. Giving an off-target response such as saying “2” when you ask, “What’s your name?”)
  • Most of their speech is jargon or the same set of core words and phrases

Practical Ways to Work on Receptive Language at Home

During your daily routines at home, pay attention to HOW you’re talking to him. Toddlers with receptive language difficulties often need very specific and focused “teaching” (for lack of a better word) to begin to link words with objects, people, and events. If they were just going to “pick it up” in daily conversations, they would have already done it, and there wouldn’t be a problem.

Kids with difficulty understanding and processing language need adults who are there to “interpret” the world for them. They benefit from nurturing parents and teachers who can provide support to help them understand words and associate them with their environments. How can you do this for your child?

1. Reduce the complexity of what you’re saying.

Break it down for a kid who is struggling to understand. Use mostly single words and short phrases when you’re talking to him. Sometimes this isn’t stated to parents clearly enough. The advice is simply talk to your child. This doesn’t always work with children with receptive language disorders. Since there’s a problem with your child learning to understand, you must simplify what you’re trying to teach since he’s not getting it the “regular” way.

Let me give you an example you can relate to. This is like sitting in a college calculus class and knowing how to add and subtract, but you have forgotten how to solve an algebraic equation. Or imagine being dropped off in Mexico when the only Spanish you know is how to count to 5 and a few food words like “taco,” and being expected to understand directions to the airport to book the next flight home. You’re in over your head. That’s how it is for a child with a language delay. He understands some of it, but not enough to get him through the day.

Use lots of single words. Use lots of short phrases. Avoid long explanations or questions. When you’re asking your kid with language delays if he wants a cookie, don’t launch into, “Do you want one of these yummy chocolate chip cookies that Mommy just bought at the grocery store?” Hold up the cookie and ask, “Want a cookie?” See the difference?

For multilingual families, pick one primary language and stick to it. If your child is struggling to learn language, doesn’t it make sense that he’s more likely to succeed if he’s learning just one? That doesn’t mean that you won’t get to teach him other languages later. Educators who recommend teaching your baby several languages at once are not considering the effects on a child with language processing issues. If your child is having difficulty learning to understand and use language, please let him master (that is, catch up to his age level) in one language before moving on.

2. Talk about what he’s paying attention to.

When you’re eating breakfast in the morning and he’s looking at his cereal and milk, use those words and talk about the meal. Don’t break into a dialogue about what happened at daycare yesterday or grandma’s visit next weekend. Keep it simple and in the here and now so it “makes sense.”

In order to know what he’s paying attention to, you’re going to need to be “with” him and engage him most of the day.? Insist that he participate and stay engaged with you to limit the time he “zones out” or “shuts down.”

3. Talk directly to him using words he can use.

Kids with language problems need parents who go out of their way to “teach” them the words they need to communicate. Don’t spend lots of your time talking to him with baby talk or using adult conversational styles. While we all break into, “Look at mama’s sweet, sweet little, bitty baby boy,” and spend lots of time talking to our spouses in their presence, don’t miss opportunities to talk using single words and simple sentence structures he can learn.

4. Give him clues (or “cues” in SLP terms) as to what you’re talking about.

Usually children with language comprehension delays rely heavily on visual cues since they don’t consistently understand or process words. Point to direct his attention. When practical, show him the object. If you’re using books, point directly to the picture, say its name, and then make a brief comment. Provide other visual cues including gestures such as leading him and moving objects within his line of vision to be sure he knows what you are talking about.

Because they need visual cues, kids with language delays may depend on your facial expressions to add meaning to your comments. Make your expressions match your words. If you’re upset and he’s about to be in trouble, don’t send mixed messages by continuing to smile as you warn him. He may misread your cues. (This goes for husbands too!)

Some kids need picture schedules to help them know what to expect next. Many preschools use these kinds of systems to provide additional support. Take digital pictures and put them in a small album or post them on the refrigerator to “show” him things he doesn’t understand in daily routines.

5. Repeat directions (again & again) when he doesn’t seem to understand.

Toddlers with language delays need extra repetitions of information to be able to process what’s been said. Resist the urge to think and say, “I’ve already told you once (or twice).” Repetition helps his little brain to learn.

6. Break commands into smaller chunks of information.

Until he’s following directions consistently, limit yourself to simple commands with one piece of information, “Go get your cup,” rather than “Take your cup to the sink.” Once he’s gotten the hang of familiar directions, then work on adding more parts. “Get your shoes and bring them to Mommy.”

7. Reword what he doesn’t understand.

When you’re getting that look (like “Huh?”) or if he’s tuning you out, try using other words. If you’re saying, “Our family is going to church now. We have to get ready to leave,” and he’s not looking, you might try calling his name and saying, “It’s time to go bye-bye.” Pause. “Come here.”

8. Give him frequent opportunities to demonstrate that he understands.

Consistently ask him, “Show me the ____, ” and “Where’s the _______.” If he’s not pointing yet, encourage him to look around to find what you’ve asked him to locate. Other activities you can include in your daily routines:

  • Have him point to pictures in books. Focus on names of objects & actions. “Where’s the dog?” and “Show me who is sleeping.”
  • Once he’s mastered basics names for objects and common actions, up the ante. Teach object use/function with words such as, “Which one is for riding? Which one goes on your feet? Which one do you use to drink? Which one says moo?” ?Help him identify parts of an object rather than the whole picture – “Find the door of the house, the wheel of the car, the dog’s foot, etc..”
  • Retrieve objects on requests. Have him get items or put away specific toys on request, “Get your ball,” or “Bring me your puzzle.”
  • Have her perform familiar tasks related to daily routines. Toddlers can get diapers or wipes before changing time, throw things in the trash, put their own cups in the sink, take off their own shoes and socks, close a door, wipe off a high chair tray, pet the dog, and help you clean up toys by placing them in a basket. Involving them regularly in these kinds of activities increases their opportunities to follow directions (and help you out!)
  • During playtime give short directions and help him perform the action. For example, “Put ball in,” and then help him do it.
  • When you’re playing with puzzles, hold up a piece and label it with a single word as he completes the puzzle. When he is finished, have him retrieve the puzzle pieces one at a time by asking, “Give me the ________.”
  • When dressing, tell her to put her arm in the sleeve or leg in her pants. Hold up a sock and shoe and ask her to, “Get the sock.”
  • When he’s seated near a toy, hold out your hand and say, “Give me the _____.”
  • Place several items related to your play in front of her and ask, “Where’s the ______.”
  • In the bathtub or during diaper changes, ask him to point to body parts, and help him follow through.
  • During play time ask her to give her baby doll a drink or put her baby down to sleep.

9. To build compliance with everyday tasks, try telling him to do things that he’s already about to do.

For example, if he’s headed for a ball, say, “Get the ball.” If he’s reaching for a book, say, “Read your book.” Now you know he’s not doing this because you asked him, but using this method gives toddlers a way to “get in the habit” of doing what Mommy says.

10. Insist that he follow directions by providing physical assistance as necessary.

Once you’ve given him a verbal direction and repeated it one time (maybe twice if he wasn’t listening), get up and help (make) him do it. Repeat the direction so he can link the activity with the words.

When he’s not responding, move closer to him, get down on his level, and touch him to redirect his attention.

Some children respond to claping or finger snappin more readily than a word to get his attention. Beware! Don’t overuse this technique, or he may start to tune this out, but because it’s annoying rather than because he doesn’t understand.

Try to make some directions fun too, such as “Come here so I can tickle/hold/kiss you.” Teach fun standards like, “Gimme 5,” so that everything isn’t about “obeying.”

11. Pause frequently when you are talking to him to give him time to process what you’ve said.

This is hard for chatty parents, me included! Give him enough time to think during your conversations. You may have to purposefully (but silently) count to 5 before moving on to your next point, or before you repeat yourself to be sure he’s had time to respond.

12. Lastly, but probably the most important, be very consistent with realistic behavioral expectations.

Children with difficulty understanding language need the same rules day-in and day-out that are easy to remember and follow. They need to be able to count on learning and knowing their routines.

If your child’s ability to understand language is much lower than his chronological age, you’re going to need to keep that in mind when determining behavioral standards and even disciplinary methods. For example, time out is recommended for children who are 2 and older. If your child is 26 months old, but his comprehension is at the 16 month level, time out is not an appropriate choice for him.

Some parents disagree with this and think that this is how you “teach” them, but believe me, you’re fighting an uphill battle. This is like trying to teach a 3 year old to tie shoes or jump a full-size hurdle. He’s just not ready yet. Use the same discretion when determining what is and isn’t appropriate behavior based on his comprehension level, and you’ll be a much more fair parent.



I’m so pleased to announce my new DVD series to target receptive language in toddlers and young preschoolers. If you’d like to SEE these strategies in action, check out the DVDs Teach Me To Listen and Obey 1 and 2. Here’s the link for more information –

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  1. Terrie on March 6, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    Thank you so much for your practical, everyday tips for parents. Things I wished my son’s ST would have shared with me long ago.

  2. Laura on March 7, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Terrie – Thank you so much for your nice comment! I enjoy hearing from moms who are finding this site helpful! Best of luck to you and your son! Laura

  3. Melissa Haas on April 12, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Thank you…insightful. wish our speech therapist was this helpful!! Have ID twins, 30 months and we need work on things…people jump to conclusions when I think they just don’t get it sometimes!!

  4. Becky Simon on April 15, 2008 at 10:15 am

    I have been searching the internet for weeks trying to find something like this. My daughter has been diagnosed with receptive language problems. After researching, I believe she has receptive language disorder. Her echolalia, following directions etc…right on target. I mean, she has EVERY symptom. Honestly, this is a REFIEF to me, because until this point, I have been so frustrated thinking she is being defiant, poor little peanut! She is getting help from a ST, but I also want to do what I can at home. That is why this information is SO awesome. I am almost in TEARS with gratitude. I want my little girl to be the most successful little girl she can be and I want to facilitate that. BLESS YOU!


  5. Laura on April 15, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Thank you so much Becky! That’s why I launched this site! Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you! Laura

  6. Irina on May 7, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    Just today one of my 27 month old id twins was diagnosed with receptive language disorder. I had so many questions… now I have all of them answered.
    God bless you!

  7. Gayle on June 29, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    Thank you so much for this article.

    My daughter turned three in June, 2008 but her language is still at the 20th month level. She said her first word at 30 months old, and has only recently started stringing two word sentences. She has had speech therapy for the past six months but received no services in the Summer. We took a longggggggggggggggggggggggggg vacation to another city so she could benefit from the 24/7 company of my nephew who is a month and half younger than she is but speaking FULL sentences!!!

    I have been very depressed these past few months and finding your site was a relief. I know she has receptive language issues and I know this won’t clear up overnight but I am hanging in there and trying the hardest a mother can try. I believe that she knows I’m there for her and will do everything in my power to help her become the best person that she can be. Somedays, I feel so desperate and drained but now’s not the time to sit back and give up because EVERYTHING depends on the effort her father & I put in for her now.

    Thank you for publishing this article. It will help ALL of us a lot in our journey to helping our daughter communicate.

  8. Laura on June 29, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    Thank you Gayle for your comment. I applaud your dedication to your daughter and wish you all the best. Please read the other articles in the receptive language section too for other ideas. Just so you know – we’re filming the rest of our DVD Teach Me To Listen in July and August, so HOPEFULLY it will be available in September.

    Some of you probably don’t believe me since I thought Teach Me To Talk would be out in May and it’s now the end of June. I will tell you that Teach Me To Talk is hopefully only days away from being on the site for sale (I PRAY!). Please keep checking back!!! Laura

  9. Nicci on August 12, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    I have worked for the past 10 years as a habilitator for children with developmental disabilities using many of the techniques you discuss. Recently my husband and I became licensed foster parents, and our 14 month old foster son will most likely be diagnosed with a receptive language disorder. Even with all my experience, it is so hard to remember the techniques I’ve learned and explain them to my husband and other care givers. I have been searching the internet for information to pass on to others, with no success… until TODAY! This article is so thorough, Thank you for sharing! I can’t wait to pass this information on to others!

  10. Laura on August 13, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Nicci – Thank you for your nice compliments! I wanted to let you know that we have just finished filming our 2nd DVD which focuses on strategies for parents to use at home to work on improving receptive language skills. It’s called “Teach Me To Listen and Obey.” Look for it in September! Hope the ideas from the articles help too! Laura

  11. Cara on February 7, 2009 at 9:54 am

    I have another question. I posted on a nother thread about my 13 month old twin boys. One of them was evaluated and said to have a 5 month delay in receptive and expressive language. Is it possible with therapy for my child to catch up and not have learning disabilities for the rest of his life? I am terrified of this right now.

    Right now he is not pointing or waving and doesn’t answer to his name all the time. However, he is not showing any other red flags for autism so we are not thinking that right now. The ST said he isn’t gesturing or answering to his name because of a receptive delay. Otherwise he is a normal happy social little guy.

    however, I am scared because everything I read on receptive delay is much worse than expressive delay.

    Any advice would help.


  12. Laura on February 7, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Cara – Yes! Children who receive early intervention CAN catch up and not have other issues. This is the only reason I do this job! If kids had no hope of going on to be pretty typical, I’d have to find a new line of work. You’re doing the right things by having them start services so early. I totally agree that not responding to his name or not using gestures can be solely due to a receptive language delay without signs of other developmental issues. Keep working with him! Read the articles I suggested in the other reply for ideas! Laura

  13. Jill on February 19, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    thank you for this site. I just found it and it has been very helpful. My son is 33 months old. He will point to objects I name and name objects I point to. He can name body parts and will follow directions such as “Get your milk or Find your book.” He can even speak in very simple 2-3 word sentences (“want read book or go stroller ride.”) However, when I ask him “what did you do today?” or “Did you have fun today with grandma?” he looks at me like he doesn’t understand.
    He can answer “no” now to things he doesn’t want but he doesn’t seem to understand the concept of “yes.” Nor does he nod his head to commuicate this idea. Also, like I already wrote, he doesn’t seem to understand questions that ask about past actions such as “what did you do today?”
    I have finally called for an appointment with an early intervention program for an evaluation. It’s just confusing to me because it seems like he is on target with some language benchmarks but with other ones they are completely absent. I’m just not sure what that means. You’re suggestions are very helpful, but I feel like there are still big gaps in his language development and would appreciate any advice or activities you think would help with this. Thank you!

  14. Laura on February 20, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Jill – From what you’re describing, it sounds like he’s having some difficulty processing questions AND/OR retrieiving the words to formulate an answer beyond a short phrase.

    Some kids have a tough time learning to answer “yes.” It’s on the developmental milestone list as a 30 month skill. I’d keep modeling how you want him to respond by nodding your head and saying “yes” when asking him if he wants something he really, really likes. For example, ask him, “Do you want cookies?” PAUSE “Yes?”
    When he’s doing this well, back off on your cues just a little by asking questions in this way but only nodding your head without saying “yes” and wait for his word. You’re still cueing the “yes,” but without the direct model of the word.

    You can also try using someone else to do this and then rewarding that person with the item saying, “You told me yes. You shook your head yes.”

    Try giving him choices to help him answer the other kinds of questions you mentioned – “What did you do at grandma’s -swing or make cookies?”

    Understanding these kinds of questions do seem to be just beyond where you’ve described him communicatively. Using simple 2-3 word phrases is considered to be a 24 to 27 month milestone. Answering questions accurately with yes/no and answering other what/where questions are both around 30 to 33 month level skills, so these may be just around the corner for him, especially if you begin to focus on these at home.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t qualify for your state program since children have to exhibit pretty significant delays to be initially eligible. However, I think you should still be concerned and follow through. If he doesn’t qualify for your state program, you still may want to consider private speech therapy to give you very specific ideas for things to work on at home. Addressing even mild delays at 2 and 3 is soooo important so that these kinds of problems aren’t still an issue for him when he begins kindergarten.

    Keep reading the receptive language articles for more ideas, and good luck in your efforts to help him! Laura

  15. Jill Layton on February 21, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Thank you for your comments. They were very helpful especially since so many people that I’ve talked to (including my son’s doctor have been the “wait and see” variety). It is a relief to know that we (his parents) were on the right track in seeking help.
    we are planning on taking your advice and seeking private speech therapy if he does not qualify for the state program and have already implemented some of the ideas you wrote about in your notes. I’ve also just ordered the “teach me to listen and obey” DVD part 2 as I think this one is more appropriate for where we are with our son. We are very much looking forward to watching it. We also plan on having our son’s babysitter watch it as well so she can know what to do on the days she is watching our son.
    Thanks again for the wonderful website!

  16. R on August 13, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Thank you so much for this site! My son just turned 2, and while he is a very smart kid, and can memorize songs, and even scenes from his favorite movies, he doesn’t communicate with us well at all. When we talk to him he seems to not hear us, he will not answer questions, point to objects in book (or in front of him) or tell us what it is when asked, though often times he has said these words before. He also doesn’t really respond to his own name. After doing some research on my own it seems that he does seem to be delayed in his receptive language. We will be having a consult with a speech therapist soon to determine for sure, but in the meantime, I look forward to trying to use some of the tips listed here to work with him on my own! If only I can get him to pay attention to me!
    Thanks again for such an informative article!

  17. Mickey on March 15, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    What a useful website! Something is wrong with our boy who’s 21 months and this is the first time I read a description that fits so well. The problem with him is worse as he doesn’t speak at all. At eight months he says bababa and all kinds of random noises, but since then stopped trying. He’s very intelligent and has very good motor skills and memory. He can go up and down the stairs alone (crawling carefully) climb on stuff and use various machines including play games on my iPhone.

    But he seems to grasp no language spoken to him. Oddly he will immediately react if I start singing to him. Could it still be what described in this article if he doesn’t speak at all at this age, or might it be something more serious?

  18. Laura on March 15, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    Mickey – Kids HAVE to understand language AND be socially connected and interactive with you before they begin to talk. Some SLPs (and unfortunately nearly all pediatricians)don’t state to parents clearly enough. If a child isn’t following simple directions in his daily routines and play, he isn’t ready to talk. If he’s not happily engaged with you in lots of back and forth play, he’s not ready to talk either.

    By 21 months a child should be able to point to several body parts on request, point to a few familiar pictures in books when asked “Where’s the _____?”, get several familiar objects such as when you say, “Go get the ball,” wave bye on request without seeing you do it, and understand many familiar routines such as him running to the bathroom when you say, “Time for bath,” going to the kitchen when ask if he wants a drink, or running to greet Dad at the door when you announce, “Daddy’s home.” If he’s not doing these things, then I’d be very concerned about him.

    You can get lots on info here on the site to help you learn how to teach him to make connections between actions and objects so that he does learn what words mean. If you need better descriptions, then take a look at my DVD series Teach Me To Listen and Obey 1 and 2 and Teach Me To Talk. Sometimes SEEING strategies and therapy techniques makes it easier for parents to implement these at home.

    I’d also recommend that you have him evaluated by your state’s early intervention program. If he’s not understanding much language at 21 months, he’ll qualify for therapy and then an SLP will teach you how to work with him at home. You can find more info about your state by Googling your state’s name and the phrase “early intervention.” Many pediatricians tell parents to wait until a child is 2. That’s not even great advice for a child who is understanding everything at age level, but it’s a recipe for DISASTER for a child who likely has comprehension or receptive language delays. Please consider pursuing the assessment.

    Hope these ideas help! Laura

  19. Leslee Basaga on March 19, 2010 at 7:17 am

    Wow. What a great website! I’ve just learnt about it and would really appreciate your thoughts on my son, Kaan. He’s 29months old and says c.130 words and is just starting, slowly, to link two words such as ‘mummy help’ ‘daddy go’. We are a bilingual family and are following the One Parent One Language approach. Whilst his receptive language skills seems completely fine – he understands everything we say to him in both languages, can follow 2step commands, bring items from another room on request, points to and names more than 12 body parts etc – I am concerned with his expressive language.

    His father did not utter a single word until he turned 3. I am told that language delay may be genetic and wonder how accurate this is?

    The other interesting thing is that he is very expressive at home and does use a lot of individual words, even talks to his teddys telling them to ‘come’ ‘stop’ ‘go’ etc. However, at nursery or when we are out with friends he does not utter a word! Is this unusual or can it be attributed to the fact that he is quite shy?

    Any advice you can offer would be much appreciated. We live in Turkey and don’t have access to any early intervention programmes but I am also not sure if he needs speech therapy now or am I just being too pushy and should just give him time to develop at his own pace?

    Many thanks

  20. Laura on March 25, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Leslee – Thanks for your questions. It’s GREAT that his receptive skills are age-appropriate, so good job with that. Research tells us that children raised in bilingual homes do speak later. Parents who were late talkers are also very likely to have children with language delays.

    Temperament has a lot to do with how socially communicative toddlers are away from home. If he’s talking at home, he’s probably fine. However, over the next year, you want to make sure he’s using language wherever he is. Make it a point to ask him things or having him ask you for things he wants when you’re out – this way he’s communicating with Mommy and should be more likely to talk – regardless of your setting.

    Kaan has a large enough vocabulary to be using phrases, so I’d take a look at the article here in the website called “Making the Leap from Words to Phrases” for ideas to help you jump start that process. While speech therapy would be very helpful for him, it doesn’t sound like his delays are severe, so I think you can target this at home. I don’t think you should do NOTHING or “let him develop at his own pace.” I’d take the ideas in the article and here on the website and put those ideas to work.

    If you need more specific examples, try taking a look at the DVD clips so you can SEE the kinds of things that work with toddlers. Thanks again for your questions! Let me know if you need more specific advice! Laura

  21. Tiffany on April 15, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    Hello, I am so glad I found this site. I think I might finally know whats up with my 22 month old. Shes not following simple direction like “Go get the ball”. She dosen’t seem to understand most of what I say, allthough she understands “bath time” and “Were going outside”. The other day I was feeding her yogurt so she wouldn’t make a mess and then I handed the cup to her daddy. I then told her “Daddy has it”. I repeated this about 5 times while she looked all over me and behind me for it. I had to finally point to her father so she would understand. She will not point to her body parts. I am pretty sure she knows at least 6. She will not tell us whats in the picture if we ask. I though maybe she had some delay and am getting her hearing screaned tommorow. The thing is, I really dont think she has a major issue, because she does understand things that I say all the time. ” Get down, go to bed, stop, put it back, want bites, Are you thirsty?” Other than that she just kind of gets confused. I thought about having her evauluated if her hearing came out ok. Do you think I should. She is a very bright child for the most part. I have heard her sing her ABC’s and count to 3. Allthough, what she does say may be hard to understand. Its more like she mimics the sound of the words than the actual words themself. I am worried. Do you think its is language problem?

  22. Laura on April 18, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    Tiffany – This is definitely a language delay, and I would strongly encourage you to go ahead and have her evaluated. Based on what you’ve said, she is likely having difficulty processing language at an age-appropriate level. Many of the things you credit her for doing are 12-15 month skills (understanding familiar questions related to her daily routines). By 22 months she should be pointing to body parts and pictures, and she certainly should be able to give something to Daddy on request. Imitating the prosody of the words rather than the sounds is another clue that she’s having difficulty processing language.

    You can find specific ways to help on my DVDs Teach Me To Listen and Obey 1 and 2 if you need some ideas for working with her at home.

    You’re so smart to have discovered this problem NOW so that you can get her some help and more importantly, so that you can give her the extra cues she needs to learn to consistently understand language. You sound like a great mom who is committed to helping her, and I wish you the best of luck! Laura

  23. Jenifer on September 5, 2010 at 8:20 pm


    I have a 33 month old son who was diagnosed for speech delay when he was 26 months old. He has been on Speech theraphy for the past 3 months. He also goes to Preschool. From a 30 word vocabulary at 26 months, he is currently at 400 words.Counts 1 to 20. Knows his alphabets and identifies letters. Knows his shapes and colours. I have the following issues.

    1) His receptive is sill at 28 month level. His expressive is at 32 month level according to the latest evaluation by his speech therapist.(His initial evaluation showed both R/E to be at 3-6 month level with scattered skills at 12-15 month level)

    2) He uses words but not consistent. He flaps his hands and cries when he is angry or upset.

    3)Doesn’t make conversations. Can make 4 to 6 word sentences. But he will not follow through. He is good at labelling but has difficulty with sentence structure.

    Has become better at imitating but still a long way to go!
    I met up with a couple of friends who have kids similar to his age and the difference is drastic.. This has made me frustrated and really want to help my kid develop. Please provide some ideas.

  24. Mindy on September 9, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    I have a 14 month old girl. She was diagnosed at 9 months with “developmental delays” in by our school district. She qualified in areas of gross and fine motor, speech and cognitive. At that time she was not sitting. At 14 months she is crawling and beginning to climb stairs YEAH. But we have not see huge improvement in fine or speech (oral motor) she has low muscle tone in her mouth and often has her mouth open and lives in a bib, due to the drool. We see a SLP at a private center as well but I want more! Where should I start? What DVD or book? She was saying vowels and 3 weeks agon we got some concinents!!! No piercing of the mouth, no connsecutive suck and swallow (just puddles!) Please HELP!!!

  25. Hannah on February 17, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    My 26 month old son is not responding to his name very often. He zones out frequently. He makes eye contact but not the same as most toddlers. He makes animal noises and has a few broken words. He cannot respond to my questions very well. I don’t know what steps to take. Do I wait to see? Thank you.

  26. Laura on February 18, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    Hannah – Don’t wait. Get him evaluated ASAP! Call your state early intervention program for an assessment since he likely will qualify for services. You can get your state information by Googling the phrase “early intervention” plus your state’s name. In the meantime, read through the articles here on the site for ideas. You may also want to check out my DVD Teach Me To Talk which can show you how to play with him at home to facilitate language development. Laura

  27. Valerie on April 20, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Hi Laura, I am really loving your website.It’s so great to know that I don’t have to wait for an evaluation to help my son. The other day I told him to say thank you to my husband & he said thank you Dada. Does that count as putting words together since he added the Dada part on his own? I’ve noticed when he doesn’t want to answer a question he will try to get me to singing a song or recite a cartoon with. I try to ignore him but sometimes give in. How do you think I should handle that?

  28. Laura on April 20, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Valerie. What you’re describing is a cued two-word phrase, but if that’s the only one he’s imitated, you’re not going to want to “count” that as him doing phrases consistently yet. The other behavior is him redirecting you to avoid what’s hard for him. Does he understand and follow your verbal directions? If not, then you’re going to want to learn how to help him link meanings to words. There’s lots of advice here on the website, but my DVD Teach Me To Listen and Obey will demonstrate for you how to work on those skills at home. Check those out. Laura

  29. Valerie on April 20, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    Laura, he is very good at following my verbal directions. I can tell him bear wants to eat and he will offer his teddy bear a cheerio. If I ask him if he wants to eat he gets excited and will tell me what he wants to eat but if I ask him what are you eating then he will redirect even if I give him the answer.

  30. Brady's mom on September 2, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Hi Laura,
    I have a very active 26-month old, Brady. He climbs everything and is constantly on the go. He just finally started to sit and read 1 or 2 short books with us. At 24 months, he really only spoke about 3 words, but that has increased to about 25 in the last 2 months. He seems to really understand everything we say to him, but he does not respond to questions. I have asked him “what’s that?” about his shoes, but he won’t respond. However, he will point and say shoes on his own all the time. Our pediatrician said to have him tell us what he wants. So when he he sees me pour milk, I’ll ask him to say milk. He will sign milk, but says “gggg, ggg” and seems so frustrated. I am wondering why he would say “ggg” when he has the “mm” sound since he says mom just fine. At this point, should I have him evaluated or give him more time, since he made some progress over the last two months? Any feedback you have would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much!

  31. Leena on April 27, 2016 at 11:35 pm

    Hi Laura ,

    my daughter is 3.5 year old and is going to kindergarten . her teacher told me that unlike other kids she does not respond well. teacher has to repeat an instruction multiple times , like when she says ” all kids stand up make a queue” and when all kids starts doing that she would stand still and keep noticing.

    at home she is active . she responds well to all family members . but sometimes i also noticed that she has to be told multiple times to do any certain thing. mostly she wont obey in these cases.

    what should be the best way to deal with this situation and help her to follow instructions .


  32. Margie Lumawan on June 14, 2016 at 6:53 am

    Thank you for this site. It gave me the answer I was looking for for years already. I have a son who will be 5 next month who I now believe has a expressive/receptive language disorder, based on the description you gave in another post. I am from a third world country and we do not have something like the early intervention services from the government, like the one you mentioned, and I haven’t heard about any therapist nearby. I took my son to a developmental pediatrician when he was two but all I was told is to relax and wait because the language skills will come. Almost three years later, there was a little bit of improvement but not really on-par with other children in his age group. Since his language environment is multilingual (we speak 4 and sometimes 5 languages in our house because of intercultural members of the extended family). So now my son’s language is mostly English, not because we talked to him in English but because that is the language he hears from his video and games. He has learned to spell some words lika apple, ball, car, dog, elephant (all the usual examples given in books) orally and in writing and is able to write his ABCs, and count, but he refuses to write or say his name, like he does not understand that that is his name. Everyday after work, I’d come home and say, “Hello Xami.” And then after a week of doing that, the moment he sees me by the door, he’d stop what he’s doing, smile, look at me, and say, “Hello Xami.” I’d correct him, and tell him that he is Xami, and that he should say, Hello Mommy, and he’d repeat it for maybe twice, but then starts ignoring me. Now, a month later, he won’t even say Hello. When a cousin of his whom he doesn’t like comes by the door, he’d say, “Bye bye, by bye!” making a “go away” signal with his hands.

    The only words he uses to communicate are, “No, Let’s go; Eat; Milk; Papa; Mommy; Help Me; Come; Book; pen; crayons; shirt; pants; take a bath; Jollibee (his favorite fastfood), spoon, fork, and all the other names of things and animals and body parts whose pictures he sees in his books. He rarely says Yes. He does not know any word from my husband’s language, or my language, or from the national language that my husband and I use to understand each other. He mimics some of the words in my language that he hears or that I ask him to repeat but lose interest almost immediately.

    So I do not know if I should still try to talk to him in the three languages we mostly use around the house or just stick to English since that is the one he has the most of in terms of comprehension and vocabulary. The problem is, none in my family is that fluent in spoken English. I can write in it with some fluency but not much when I talk with it. (Not enough time to think about what to say next and how.)

    Today, he was in school, the teacher gave him a page with a big smiley apple and instructed the whole class to color the picture. He turned the page over, took his pen and draw an apple and colored it with the right colors, and wrote a Big and small A and labelled it with APPLE. So I do not think he is retarded but just that it seems his comprehension is lacking.

    He just started kindergarten and I sat with him for a day. While the other children are answering the teacher’s questions, he is busy drawing or touching the toys that they had just played with and put away. If I try to redirect his attention to the teacher, he does not look at me, as if he is not hearing me. We thought he’s deaf but then he sings along with his nursery rhymes although a lot of the words are not right but at least he produces the sounds he’s hearing.

    I have been trying to find a doctor near us who can evaluate him but have not found any yet. I should probably take him to the big city but that is beyond by reach right now.

    Anyway, I will try the tips you have given here and I hope to see improvements soon.

    By the way, I did not teach him to write or count or spell, he learned it from the phonics he sees on youtube. When I try to teach him, he does not like it. He’d scream this ver high pitch scream that I’d just give up. He is also able to look at written words and type them on google to look at its pictures. He tries word combinations even strange ones. One time he typed Blue apple worm, square white boy… things like that. But he still cannot converse with me or anyone.

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What an inspiration!

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I just wanted you to know I appreciate you."


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Thank you for your generosity in sharing so much knowledge in such a clear and enthusiastic way.

As a retired audiologist with a fabulous and language delayed grandson, I used your podcasts and outstanding publication, The Autism Workbook, to inspire and guide me over the past year.

It works!! He went from barely verbal, no gestures, didn't respond to his name etc etc to a verbal, social, curious, ready to imitate anything, fill in the blanks on familiar "set" speech, generate his own totally appropriate and mostly understandable sentences...not just short phrases anymore... full little paragraphs...about imaginary things, what he did during the day, what he wants. True communication!

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Sheila, Canada

"I purchased the book on autism and have watched the #400s series podcasts. Laura Mize has been more effective in teaching autistic tendencies, than many professors, shadowing professions, and the 100s of books, articles and classes or videos, or live workshop speakers, have been at teaching effective practices for a child with ASD. Some of the many lessons she has taught, which I will now use, to be a more effective Interventionist, include but are not limited to: red flags, typical behaviors, self-stimulating behaviors, not taking away toys, rather showing child to play with toy appropriately. She gives examples of child's actions, "inappropriate," explains the reason for: why the child is engaging in these behaviors and how they can be replaced with more appropriate, effective fuctional and age-appropriate skills."

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I received your book (The Autism Workbook) yesterday and it is absolutely amazing! As I evaluate young children (0-3) for developmental delays and write plans for them with their parents, there are a ton of ideas that are ready to use. Others that reinforce what I have been doing, and saying, all along. Thank you so, so much for writing this incredible book and pulling everything together in one place!"


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I’m a parent who bought the autism workbook and it’s the only clear resource I found to make a change in my son. I’m really thankful to Ms. Laura for helping out people like us all over the world."

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"I wanted to send you a quick email to say thank you. I started watching your videos/podcasts about 4 months ago. My son has gone from losing words he previously used, only having about 7 words at his 2 year check up in August (assessed at a blended 10 month language level) -- to now having so many words, increased social engagement, following commands, spontaneously requesting things, and naming letters & numbers (not in order) as well as colors. We had our monthly meeting with our SLP through the state infants & toddlers program and it felt like we were just bragging the whole time, but I knew in the back of my head it was because I have been using strategies you taught me.

We still have so much work to do with our sweet boy, but I know in my heart he would not have succeeded without the education you provided. I will continue to read your emails & watch videos as we go along this journey and face challenges, but credit is due to you, Laura.

Thank you so much, endlessly."


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