Not moving forward? Try taking a step back!

back up

Not moving forward?  Try taking a step back!

“I attended your course in St. Louis… I used the strategies you taught the very next week and the sessions went very well. I just needed to drop back some levels! Thank you!” Ellen, SLP

This is the kind of email I receive almost every day at

In this post I want to share with you why taking a step back can be the very thing you need to do in order to help a young child learn something new.

Believe me, I know firsthand how frustrating it is when a late talker you’re working with does not seem to be making any progress. After several weeks (or months!) of getting nowhere despite your best efforts, you probably begin to question why what you’re doing isn’t working. Sometimes, instead of questioning what we can do differently, human nature seems to dictate that we double-down and try even harder without changing much of anything. Or worse, we may be tempted to give up, thinking, “This is never going to work.”

Neither one of those approaches is successful.  There is one simple lesson I’ve learned over and over again in my practice as a pediatric speech-language pathologist and, if I’m being honest, even in my role as a mother:

When a child is not making progress, back up!

We have to constantly remind ourselves when we’re in this situation that the real reason a very young child isn’t making any gains is because the goal we’re trying to get him to reach is too difficult. What we’ve chosen to focus on is somewhere beyond where a child is currently capable of functioning.

In other words, the goal is too hard.


No more analysis is needed. I firmly believe that if a child could do what we’re working on, he would.

When you find yourself in this predicament, we’ve already established that continuing to do what you’ve been doing won’t likely produce different results. And we’ve already said that quitting isn’t an option, which leads us to our default plan:  back up!

What do I mean by “back up?”

Look at the skills that come just before the one that’s eluding the child, figure out what’s missing, and begin there.

If this doesn’t make much sense to you, let me stop and share an analogy I use with the families of children I see in my practice. When a parent seems confused that what I’m working on doesn’t seem to be the end goal, I explain it this way:

Learning to communicate is a lot like learning higher level math. You’d never expect a teenager to understand algebra unless she knew how to multiply and divide. Teachers would not begin to teach long division until a child had memorized their multiplication tables. Kids aren’t ready for multiplication until they’ve had lots of practice learning to add and subtract. We wouldn’t dare think of teaching a child addition and subtraction unless they could write numbers. Children don’t learn to write numbers until they can identify numbers and have learned to count.


It’s a process.

Language development is a process too, but because it happens quickly and often without much effort in toddlers and young children with typically developing skills, we often forget just how sequential the process of learning to talk really is. We become anxious to jump to the end goal (“I just want him to talk!”) rather than realizing all of the things that must come first. Our intentions and our goals can become too big and unrealistic, particularly when a young child is obviously struggling.

To learn how to “back up,” we begin with what’s not happening and then walk it back (by looking at the continuum of developmental milestones in reverse) to the point where the first breakdown occurs. Then we go back a step, because that’s the starting point where the child is mostly likely to be successful.

Let’s look at a common example.  Let’s say that a mom expresses her desire for her child to be able to carry on a conversation with her but that’s not happening yet, as in, it’s not even close. How can we apply the “back up” principle in this example? Start with what your goal is and walk it back.

If you want a child to participate in conversations with you, start by analyzing what comes before adult-like conversation. Examples of what you would ask yourself are…

Can the child generate a full sentence on her own? Does she understand questions well enough to respond to you, or are her answers pretty limited? Does she already talk using a wide variety of shorter phrases? Is her vocabulary fairly large with enough “words in the bank” to pull from to generate longer sentences? When she attempts to speak in sentences, is she missing the “little words” only, or does she seem to not know what she wants to say? Does she understand the concept of turn-taking, meaning you do something and then I do something? Is her attention span long enough for her to stay with you beyond a sentence or two?

Can you see how all of those smaller steps lead to participating in the overall, “big picture” goal, which was conversation?

Can you also see how a child who is not doing the things I mentioned is not really ready for such a “big” goal?

This seems like common sense, something we should all understand how to do. However, many times when we’re working on something as important as treating a problem so big it’s warranted its own word – a specific diagnosis – we seem to forget that simpler is usually better.

I see this happen over and over in therapy and in my experience, it’s the main reason toddlers don’t make more consistent progress once therapy begins. Many times the problem isn’t that the therapy isn’t good or that parents aren’t committed or that anything else is going on. The problem is that we’ve jumped too far ahead of where a child is functioning developmentally and the chasm is too wide. We’re trying to cover too much ground at once. The child needs to master several preliminary goals first.

While the example I gave you before about speaking in conversations is pretty broad, you can take this same principle and apply it to every goal we target with toddlers who are having difficulty with speech-language development  – and really every other skill too!

The key is breaking down large goals (such as “I want him to tell me what he wants” or “I want him to understand what people say to him”) into smaller, achievable steps that should lead up to the overall skill.

As a parent, unless you’re an expert in child language development, this may be well beyond your ability to do alone. AND THAT’S OKAY! Just because you’re a mom or dad, you’re not supposed to be an expert in everything! Get yourself some help!

Hopefully, your child is already in therapy and you have a great resource readily available to you – your child’s therapist. Ask him or her about the concept of “backing up.” Say something like: “I think my excitement (or anxiety, or determination, or paralyzing fear – Whatever your emotion is, name it!) for the end result has clouded my judgment and I’m not realizing all of the little things that must come first before my child will be able to _____.”

In a perfect world, your child’s therapist will grab you in sheer relief and say, “That’s what I’m here for! I can help you with that! Here’s what we should do!” If that doesn’t happen, you may have caught the therapist a little off guard. Give them a little time to catch up to your new revelation and have the conversation again in a week or two when they have had some time to process what you’ve said and make adjustments.

If your late talker isn’t in speech therapy and you’re going it alone, for whatever reason, do your best to logically think through developmental milestones.  Then determine what a realistic goal would be so that you can direct your efforts toward working on what’s more likely to be successful.  My advice is to get yourself some credible resources…and use them!

An article like this can’t possibly provide the kind of information you need in order to do this. Every child, with his or her own set of unique strengths and weaknesses, will be a little different.  There’s no way that a single post, or an entire website about language development (even this one with hundreds of articles, podcasts, and videos!) or entire books will answer every one of your questions about your own child.  The only way that a professional can truly determine what interventions are right for your child and your situation is to meet with you and your child your child.  Still, educating yourself with books, DVDs, podcasts, and website posts is better than doing nothing. You’ll find a good place to start.

In closing, finding the correct starting point for working with a very young child sometimes feels like a moving target, so don’t get discouraged.  You will have to tweak and adjust until you find just the right step in the process that works for your child, but it is there waiting for you. I’ve listed some ideas for you at the bottom of this post to point you in the right direction…so you can back up!

Until next time –



Resources for helping you figure out how to back up…

“I’m teaching my toddler to talk, but I know I need more direct guidance. I want to back up, but I’m not sure how.” Get my book Building Verbal Imitation Skills in Toddlers to walk you through the steps for helping a child learn to imitate new words.

“I’ve been focused on helping my child learn to say words, but now I realize that he may not understand what many words mean. He doesn’t follow directions very well.” Try Teach Me To Talk: The Therapy Manual or Teach Me To Listen and Obey 1 & 2 so you can learn about receptive language and what you can do to help your child begin to make connections and follow verbal commands.

“I am frustrated with our lack of progress in speech therapy. We’ve been going for a while, but we don’t see changes yet.” You may be working on the wrong things! This usually means there’s something missing that you’ve not yet identified. The checklist in Let’s Talk About Talking will help you determine which of the 11 prelinguistic skills a child has mastered and which ones still need more work. The best part is that the activities and strategies are right there to help you move a child foward.

For SLPs…

If you’re new to early intervention or haven’t had the success you’d like, I have fantastic resources that you can use TODAY to help you achieve the results you want.

For help with first steps establishing interaction and engagement with toddlers who don’t participate or attend – Teach Me To Play WITH You

For a comprehensive list of every receptive and expressive milestone with strategies and ideas for how to target each goal – Teach Me To Talk: The Therapy Manual

For step-by-step instructions for helping a toddler become verbal – Building Verbal Imitation Skills in Toddlers

For specific help writing treatment plans and selecting goals for children with autism or characteristics – The Autism Workbook

For specific help writing treatment plans and selecting goals for nonverbal toddlers and preschoolers – Let’s Talk About Talking

For guidance with treating speech intelligiblity and articulation issues in toddlers and young preschoolers – FUNctional Phonology




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"Hello Miss Laura,

First, I would like to thank you for all you do for us moms who are lacking support in the autism community, and thank you for providing tons of information and resources to help our bright children. I myself benefited so much from watching your videos and reading your daily emails. I cannot stress enough how much all this information helped my toddler. Of course, getting an autism diagnosis for your child is extremely scary (she was diagnosed at 2 years old) and I was depressed and did not know what autism was, how it affected children, and how to teach children struggling with this condition. However, your videos helped me to find light in my child and now I am your biggest fan! I rewatch your videos over and over again to make sure I didn't miss anything that can help my daughter. I even purchase two books- Autism workbook and Teach me to Play. My toddler was completely non-verbal, she didn't know how to imitate, no eye contact, no pointing.. you name it she didn't have any skills and I didn't know how to teach her! And that is until I discover ed You- my toddlers (Fairy: smiling_face_with_3_hearts:)!

Now she is little sweet 2.5 years old and she says "mama" (I cried when she said that magic word), she waves bye bye or hi, she points, she gives "high 5", her joint attention is great and overall she is doing so much better! And that's all because I have been doing everything you described in your books and videos! I. My mind I always play "repetition, repetition and repetition", teaching her everything through play that she so much enjoys!!! I can write forever explaining how much I taught her through yr videos and books! And the most amazing thing is that her speech therapist is a big fan of yours as well so it worked out perfectly since we understand each other and work based on your teachings! The therapist even owns the same books I own ...I am so grateful that my toddler has such an amazing therapist; especially the one that understands autism and is ready for a real challenge! God bless you for all you do and I cannot wait for my toddler blossom.. you gave me hope and lit the light inside me. And I'm determined to work with my girl :)"

"Dear Laura Mize and Team,

Thank you so much for all your hard work and publishing books! Our 17-month-old toddler suddenly exploded into speaking and imitating everybody's gestures and sounds, just a week or two after we 'completed' all activities that are listed under 11 pre-linguistic skills! Your method really works!"

Grateful customer.

"Hi Laura!

I absolutely LOVE all of your workbooks, especially your Autism Workbook. Starting with Social Games has been a game changer for many of my littles with ASD and their families. It's been the best way for them to finally connect and sustain shared attention and engagement, leading to longer social interactions, through play!"

Jodie, Dev, Therapist

"Hi Ms. Laura,

Thank you so much for the videos you have posted on your youtube channel. They are so direct, informative, and helpful. Thank you for being a resource for me to become a better therapist."


"Hi Laura - I just wanted to say I received my copies of the Apraxia workbooks yesterday and I LOVED workbook 1 (not ready for 2). I'm on chapter 8 and going through the questions carefully so I'm prepared to help my son. I knew it was a great book when you acknowledged the fact that sometimes therapists and doctors don't bring a positive and supportive vibe when diagnosing. I remember being terrified at the mention of apraxia and ASD by both because they had these very concerned looks and made it seem like it was a death sentence. I know now (in LARGE PART, THANKS TO YOU AND YOUR VIDEOS) that it doesn't have to be!! I see a future for him now. You SINGLE-HANDEDLY, through your books and videos have empowered me to help my son after the doctors and therapists have gone home. You've given me strategies, play ideas, plans on how to keep moving forward. I don't always do things right, but I know I'm on the right track and I love that I can reference, and re-reference your books to help me keep going. As I was reading the book, I was so proud of myself because I've used strategies from your previous books and it felt good because I could check off a lot of the skills that you discuss. So, thank you for all your previous books as well!!"

"Gosh, I love all of your emails/podcast/website, just everything!! I work in early intervention as a behavior analyst and am learning so much from you!"

Thank you!




I love your work! I am a professor of early childhood special education and a speech language pathologist! I have worked to help children learn to communicate and I know how valuable the information you share is for both early interventionists and pediatric speech language pathologists!

Thank you for systematically organizing and explaining essential steps for young children to learn and develop. You are having a great impact on our profession, the ECE profession and families!"



"Thank you.

If this is Laura herself reading this email let me take this opportunity to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have put forth for us professionals. I own every manual (except the autism manual) and have watched every course on DVD. I have listened to countless podcasts. All of what I’ve come to be as an Early Intervention speech therapist was absolutely to your credit. With your resources at my side I have never needed to scramble for answers and strategies and above all the clear language I use when communicating with parents. My fun, animated affect and key phrases I use have been learned through watching your example. So….thank you! May you be blessed."


"I just wanted to thank you so much for your incredible help! You are so kind and lovely and every time I implement something you've taught in your manuals or videos it is always a success, I cannot thank you enough. I really appreciate how specific you are in giving us examples of wording to use and how to use a toy in therapy with your videos, it is exactly what I need to properly help my little students. I also really appreciate your list of books of list of toys. I have seen my little students make significant progress thanks to you. I'm looking forward to watching more of your videos, taking more of your CEU's, and reading more of your materials. From the bottom of my heart: thank you so much again!!"


"Dear Laura,

What an inspiration!

Thank you for helping me be a better Developmental Therapist. I often listen to your podcasts which help me help families.

Your enthusiasm, professionalism and
the sheer volume of information is so great.

You are part of my team.

I just wanted you to know I appreciate you."


"Dear Laura,

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!

You make a powerful difference in this world! ❤"

With gratitude,

"Laura Mize, you are a Godsend. I don’t know how one human can have so many helpful things to say in a beautifully organized way, so often. Always amazes me when another super helpful email comes from you, and for free. With free YouTube videos and cheap CEUs. THANK YOU!!!"

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."

"I’m sure Laura gets these messages all the time, but I thought I’d share. I stumbled across Laura‘s "Autism or Speech Delay?" YouTube video when I really needed it. This video finally listed and explained some of the red flags my son was showing for autism. I share the link anytime a parent is questioning in my FB autism group. This mother I don’t even know said Laura's video changed her life. I know exactly how she feels because It changed families too. Thank you to everyone at Teach Me To Talk."


"Good Morning Laura,
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!"


"Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge, experience, and guidance.
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."

"Laura Mize, all I have to say is that ALL YOUR STRATEGIES WORK."

ANNE, YouTube viewer

"We have 7 SLPs in our preschool (public) program for special needs children (ages 3-5) and we use your courses, books, and techniques every day! :-) We have seen our preschoolers make such great gains!"


"I just received Teach Me to Play With You, and it is ALREADY WORKING! WOW!

Girl…my son is 3 years old, and he NEVER asks for something using words. We were playing “Get Your Belly” (from Teach Me to Play WITH You), and after several times, he laughed and screamed "BEWIEEE!!!"  It was a hoot. And I can't believe he said it! I have played with him like this before, but this time I took your advice and acted CRAZY!! I will act like a total lunatic if it will get him to talk to me!  Now I can give him "the look" from across the room, and he will say it. That manual is so amazingly practical, and it is a GODSEND right now! Thank you SO MUCH!”

"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."


"I just want to tell how fortunate I feel to have found your website and you!! I became a special instructor in EI almost a year ago and I started with hardly any applicable training. I felt so lost and confused as how to help the kids I work with learn how to use words and play. Honestly, I didn't even understand the importance of play, although I always played with my kids. But, once I started to watch your podcasts and get some of your manuals I felt a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and that I could finally teach these kids and their families something of value from a real therapist and based on research!. Thank you so much for seeing the need to help other EI service providers and providing a forum to share your knowledge and years of valuable experience. I'm sure you get a lot of these emails every week if not every day, but I wanted to make I could add to those notes of gratitude!! THANK YOU again!!"


"Just wanted to say a HUGE thank you for these emails and your books, I have them all and they have seriously saved and improved my sessions with my kiddos. Huge thank you."


"I was very frustrated with how speech therapy was going for my child. I would take him and drop him off and not hear much of anything from his therapist and teachers other than, "He had a good (or a bad!) day." Your materials were invaluable for us because I learned how to work with him on his speech. I learned how to teach him to talk and play. I learned how to pay attention to his cues and work with him to teach him to communicate. Without it, I have no doubt he still wouldn’t talk."


"Hi! I just wanted to say (from an SLT perspective) how incredibly useful I am finding absolutely all of your articles, blogs and resources - I only discovered your site last month and have just received all your books which I feel I am learning more than on my entire university training course!! But also the way in which you give specific, realistic, fun, encouraging ideas for working with parents is really just fantastic, I only wish I have your site sooner! Thanks so much from the UK! Kind regards."


"I just wanted to reach out to say thank you for making things a little easier to manage for me this year. I made the transition from school SLP to private therapist about a year ago. While the change was welcome, it was a lot, and I was just getting my footing in the clinic when I began teletherapy full time. Your website has been a huge lifeline in helping me work with late talkers and coach their parents in an accessible but effective way, even remotely. I look forward to getting your emails each week. I am floored by the amount of valuable, free information that your website provides, and I’m looking forward to investing in your workbooks soon. A sincere thank you for all you do!"


"You are an inspiration! I am truly grateful for the way you put into words and writing how to do what we do as SLPs. At this time in my 13 years of practicing, I find your encouragement keeps me going. As a single mom, I find it a stretch to buy materials these days and I am so thankful for the freebies you so generously share that help me teach my families. I don’t have much time to put together lists or quick references for parents!! Much gratitude!!"


"I just really appreciate your courses! I have two new clinicians that I’m working with and have recommended these courses to both of them. I’ve watched quite a few and have learned so much about serving this population. To be honest, before I started implementing your strategies I was a little frustrated with the lack of progress. My skills with engaging these little ones have improved so much! Thank you so much for making these CEUs so valuable!" C, SLP

Laura thank you so much. Btw, you have transformed my therapy- I have become such a competent and strong therapist after watching probably like 350 of your videos and podcasts over the past few years. And I am a seasoned therapist with almost 25 years experience. (Yes prob 350 episodes ha!) But there was still a lot I learned from you. I have such a thorough understanding of birth to 3 development and how to properly incorporate appropriate therapeutic goals, techniques and strategies now, thanks to you. Kelly

But I just keep watching and learning because we can always learn something new! 
Thanks for all you do! 

Hi Laura,I want to thank you so much for the resources you provide, my daughter has delayed speech and though she qualifies for CDS. Honestly the most progress she has made in her speech/language development has been after I implemented your 5 top strategies for delayed talkers! She is now almost 2.5 and her vocabulary is well over 75 (I haven’t counted recently, could be over 100) words when at 2 she barely had four words. Honestly the last few months have been a transformation for her.