How to help late talkers with developing language to communicate?
A question commonly asked to Speech Pathologists is why is my child not talking yet?
It is a good question with no ‘one answer’ response. As Speech Pathologists, we look at a child’s overall communication ability and gain information to deduce whether there may be something underlying a child’s late talking, or whether the child is just not ready yet.
Part of our role is to discuss with families reasonable expectations for their child’s current level of development and work out through modelling and trialing different strategies what will work to encourage their child to the next level.
Often, children may not talk yet as they are not quite ready, due to a variety of reasons. Some late talkers go on to develop language typically, while others may take more time to get to the next communication stage.
Two strategies which can typically work to increase meaningful interactions between parent and child include:
Reducing questions and increasing commenting - this is a powerful strategy which may feel unnatural at first as an adult, as it is human nature to ask questions to elicit a verbal response. Working with parents to decrease the amount of questions and replacing them with comments is the first step to decreasing pressure on the child associated with talking and increasing the chance of words happening. For example, instead of asking:
“What’s this Dean?” Saying: “Apple!” and then waiting expectantly. If a child is already using single words and not yet combining, saying “Crunchy apple…” then waiting expectantly for the child to hear the language model in context to make the link between the words and the object and action.
Giving things ‘little by little’ is a second strategy which increases communication opportunities for children. Instead of opening up a packet of crackers and giving the child the whole packet to eat independently, showing the crackers, modelling “crackers…” and waiting. The child, if motivated by the food item, may indicate they want it opened. Modelling “open…” and waiting for a communication attempt, before opening it up. Giving the child a cracker, waiting until they finish it and approach you to request for ‘more’ means that you are needed for the child to access what they want and therefore, motivation to communicate further is present, giving your child the best chance to develop meaningful interactions in context.