New Resource: How to Build Sentences with Your Child

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Without question, the following line is one of the biggest challenges I hear from parents: “My child with autism isn’t speaking in sentences.” After all, building sentences is central to a child’s communication success. This skill develops as babies listen to adults around them having conversations. Then over time, babies slowly start to emulate adults by first producing single words and eventually short phrases.  As language skills grow, their sentences become more and more sophisticated.

Unfortunately, this process isn’t quite as simple for children with autism. A lot of my clients might be able to repeat words or phrases, but they are mostly using scripts and aren’t formulating their unique thoughts and ideas into sentences.

This is where I find visual supports to be incredibly helpful. And it’s because of this that I created a “Building Sentences” board to help support my clients with autism who were having challenges expanding their communication beyond single words. It’s quickly become one of my most popular resources at talks and during consultations, so I wanted to make it available for parents and speech therapists.

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I use this tool as a way to help children with autism learn basic sentence structure so they can start creating sentences on their own. This is perfect to use with children who are nonverbal using AAC or for children who are talking but are using a lot of scripted language.  

Many of the kids I see in my speech therapy practice are stuck using the “I want” phrase. They can get their basic needs met, but aren’t expanding to more complex sentence building.

I use a test to judge if a child has challenges creating sentences. What I do is show a child a picture and ask them to tell me what the person in the picture is doing. Often times children are able to label all of the nouns in the photo but aren’t able to answer the question (i.e. “She’s eating an apple”). This indicates that formulating sentences is a challenge and that's where the "Building Sentences" board comes into handy. 

How I use this board... 

The layout in this resource supports both building sentences and answering questions. This is done through strategic color-coding and visual support that help children understand the four basic building blocks to sentences:

People

Actions

Things

Places

It’s important to break down the sentence-building process so children start understanding the various parts of speech and how to follow a basic sentence structure: subject + verb + object.

Depending on the child’s skill level, you can start off with a simple sentence structure such as “Person” + “Action,” and then expand to more complicated sentences as their language skills grow.

After a child successfully creates a sentence using the board, I typically follow up with a “WH” question.

For example, if the child built the sentence, “The girl is eating,” then I might follow up with “Who is eating?” or “What is the girl doing?”

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I always recommend starting this activity with highly-motivating family photos from a vacation or a child’s daily routine (e.g. eating their favorite snack) so that the sentences are meaningful and relevant. You could also try this activity while reading a familiar story or watching their favorite YouTube video. The key is to keep it fun and engaging.

Are you interested in learning exactly how I use this resource? Head over to my Facebook Group because that’s where I release all of my resources first!  

Over to you

Have you tried this resource? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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