Give a Child Words
“Uh uh uh!” your child says as she reaches toward the counter.
Instantly, you know what she wants. You reply with…
Your little girl smiles in confirmation and moves her little hand toward you as you hold the banana and begin to peel.
Again you say, “Banana!”
She begins to bounce in anticipation.
You respond… “I… want…. the…. (longer pause to build anticipation) banana.”
She copies you…
Her first attempt for the word banana.
I love this strategy!
The official terminology is linguistic mapping, but most of us speech-language pathologists who work with late talking toddlers and their parents call it “Giving a child words” or “Modeling” which means that you’ll say what you think a late talking child wants to say, but can’t.
It’s a powerful tool for parents of children who are just beginning to talk and imitate single words.
It’s even more powerful when you pair it with the messages your child is trying to send with his gestures or facial expressions.
Watch for your child’s cues. When a child grunts, reaches, tugs, leads, grimaces, or does anything to communicate a message nonverbally, provide the words.
In my practice, I’ve found that it’s most effective for parents (and therapists!) who are over-talkers. Confession time… just so you know, overtalking continues to be the #1 issue I STILL need to change about myself during therapy.
Sometimes, in our effort to help a child who’s not talking yet, we talk waaaaay more than we should.
When I was a younger therapist, I’d do it to fill the air with something besides s..i..l..e..n..c..e as I worked with a little one who barely made a sound during an hour-long visit. I felt the eyes of a momma who so eagerly wanted her baby to talk and I became anxious as I too waited for those words.
But instead of leaving a space for that child to fill, I’d jump in when I should have simplified and paused.
Many times, just giving a child words and then waiting works better than any other thing we could try to help a child begin to talk.
So today, try this.
Give your child words.
When he’s frustrated because he can’t operate a toy, say, “Help! Help me! Help Momma. Help.”
If she’s holding up her arms for you to pick her up, say, “Up!” or “Pick me up!”
When she’s lunging for your water bottle for the fourth time, say, “Water! More water!”
Say what a child would say if they could talk and then just wait.
Wait for a child to begin to imitate.
In case you’re wondering, you should go ahead and give them what they want, even if they don’t say the word.
Model the word they should say at least a few times. My guideline is saying the target word 3 to 5 times, but if a child is super frustrated after just two times, don’t continue to withhold what they want and risk losing a child’s pleasant participation. Beyond that, I think it’s just plain mean to provoke a child who can’t talk to tears or tantrums, and we never want to be mean-spirited! Give them the item as you continue to model the word.
Over time, a toddler who is developmentally ready to talk will begin to respond to this technique.
You’ll begin to hear more word attempts.
So start today.
Anytime you see your late talker doing something to let you know he’s trying to communicate with you, give him the words.
Don’t forget about using thei strategy beyond requesting. Give a child words whenever he’s dysregulated and doesn’t know how to respond.
If he’s throwing his food on the floor, model “All done!”
When he’s crying because his older brother is trying to take his toy, say, “Mine!”
As he points toward the neighbor’s barking dog, say, “Look! The dog!” or even “Woof Woof!”
If he’s holding up his hand or turning away when you’re offering her a toy or food she doesn’t want, say, “No momma.”
Give late talkers the words they need.
Pretty soon, they should start giving them back!
If this strategy is not effective after a few weeks, then you’ll need to work on helping a child learn to imitate easier vocalizations first, or perhaps, learn how to imitate body movements and actions with toys and objects. You can read more about that treatment strategy here.
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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."
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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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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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Thank you so much, endlessly."
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"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."
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