Four Quickest Ways to Core Word Mastery (Part II)

In my last post, I described the difference between core words and fringe words, and talked about the benefits of teaching core vocabulary. This is the fastest way to help a child start communicating more effectively. 

If you’re new to the concept of core words then you might be feeling a little overwhelmed and not sure where to get started. 

Rest assured: This post will tell break it down step by step for you. 

1) Download my board

I use this communication board every day in my practice because it's such a great visual support to teach language.

I’ve kept the “Lite” version of the board really simple, with only 10 core words, so it’s a really good place to start, and a great way to encourage communication without needing to purchase an expensive device.

You can grab it for yourself here.

2) Focus on one word

Choose a core word of the week, or of the month. This will make things more manageable.

The words “Eat”, “play” or "go" are all a good place to start, so choose the one that might be the most motivating for your child. Then every couple weeks you can add a new word to the mix. 

I started working with a 4-year-old little boy with autism who is OBSESSED with a toy piggy bank that lights up and makes noises. 

He doesn’t have the dexterity to slide the button to turn the pig on and he was REALLY motivated by this. So that's why we decided to focus on the word "on". For the entire month,  I helped Mom find as many opportunities as she could think of to help him say “on”. 

After the first week Mom reported back that he was able to say “on” to turn the television on. And then the next week he told her that he wanted to turn the lights "on" and the water "on" to take a bath. The following week, he said he wanted to put a hat "on" and told Dad he wanted to sit "on" his lap.

Every week when I came back, Mom would be excited to tell me all of the new situations she discovered.

When you focus on one core word for an entire month it gives children lots of practice with one concept and it also gives parents a very specific and easy to achieve goal. 

3) Get your child to point, not imitate

Some children with autism are master imitators, but they have a hard time creating spontaneous communication. By pointing to a picture instead of telling them what to say, you are helping your child’s brain actively find a word on their own. 

Let me give you an example of how I  might do this at snack time.

You can start by modeling the word "eat" for your child to say (e.g. “Tell me what you want to ‘EAT’”) and  pointing to the word "eat" on the communication board. 

You keep saying "eat" and pointing to the communication board to help them ask for the snack.  

Then after you've done this several times, you pause. If they don't respond then you can point to the icon "eat" without saying anything.  Sometimes the child will point to the board after you and other times they might even say the word "eat".

The key is to reinforce every attempt they make at communication. 

4) Model core words constantly

Core words can be very abstract, so they take lots of exposure and repetition in order for children to start understanding their meanings.

When modeling, be sure to use your voice to emphasize the core word you’re working on: “Oh, do you want to EAT?”.

Focus on modeling core words all day long with the visual support of the communication board and be sure to create lots of opportunities for them to use the words you’re trying to teach. 

Remember my principle: “Inspire, don’t Require.”

Inspire your child to communicate by finding motivating activities but never force them to say a word or point to a picture. With enough practice and a highly motivating activity, children will start responding on their own!

Over to you

After you download my communication board, I’d love to know how it goes!

Does it make it easier for you to work with your child and get started with core words?

Let me know in the comments below.

ENJOYED THIS POST?

I send out blogs like this regularly, offering my expertise and useful tips for parents about all things related to child learning, speech and language development and the use of technology to help children’s communication.

Sign up here and get my free video series, “Communication Crash Course,” which will help you learn the basics for helping your child with autism start communicating. Plus, you’ll always be updated first when I release new content!

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Get from Single Words to Sentences using Core Words (Part I)

Parents often worry about their child’s lack of spontaneous communication.

They call and tell me they are concerned: their child is able to request but they are only using single words(e.g. “cookie” or “iPad”).

I started seeing a child a few weeks ago who was stuck in the “I want” phrase, unable to say anything else. Mom was trying to teach her basic verbs (e.g. “eating, running, drinking,”) but she was adding the “I want” phrase to EVERYTHING so that when she was putting words together and it didn't always make sense.  

For example, I showed her a picture of a child running and asked “What is she doing?”. She replied by saying,  “I want running”. This was a learned behavior: Put “I want” in front of every word.

When children reach a plateau like this, and are unable to put words together into phrases or sentences, this is always when I start thinking CORE WORDS.

So what are core words?

Core words are commonly used words that are useful in a variety of situations. They aren’t just nouns; they can be adjectives, verbs, prepositions … words that are high frequency, highly combinable, and used all the time.

Core words comprise 75 - 80% of the words in our day-to-day speech. 

The other side of the coin is what we call “fringe” words. Fringe words tend to be more specific to a situation, and are usually nouns.

They might be something like “elephant”, or “ice cream”. Great words to learn, but not necessarily useful every day in every scenario.

I have a child on my caseload who LOVES stoplights. Every day he loves to talks to me about stoplights. The word “stoplight” is a fringe word that he can’t get enough of.

The problem is there are so many fringe words and just not enough time to teach them. Unless the fringe word is incredibly meaningful to the child, it’s more efficient to focus on teaching core words simply because they can get a lot more use out of them.

I love to get kids started on core words like “eat” and “go” and “play” because you can use them in so many different situations. If we were at the zoo we might talk about the fringe word “elephant," but if the child knew the core word “go,” then we could use at the zoo, at school, at the playground…. the possibilities are endless. 

Core words simply give you more bang for your buck.

However, fringe words are still a good place to start

For children who are just beginning to communicate I always start with highly motivating fringe words. Fringe words are basic and very concrete. If your child loves to play with trains, helping them say “train” or teaching them to touch a picture of a “train” is very straightforward.

Remember: Choose words that are motivating for your child.  For some kids it’s food, for others it’s their favorite toy. Some of my kids are most motivated by sensory games, so I focus on words like “squeeze” or “tickle”.

It’s important for children to understand they must communicate in order to get what they want. That means teaching them to try to say a word, activate a button on their device, or point to a picture on a communication board (download a free copy of mine here).

But fringe words aren’t the whole story

The problem is that most people focus on fringe words – i.e. nouns only - expecting the child to make the intuitive leap to sentences, but often they can’t do it.  Try making a sentence with all fringe words... you won't get very far. 

Some therapists begin teaching sentence building by helping the child to say “I want” or "Give me" in front of a fringe word. At first this seems like a reasonable approach, since they are building a sentence that makes sense in that context.

Unfortunately, this “I want” can become a learned behavior, as I illustrated in the example above where a child uses the “I want” phrase for everything. Our goal is to help children create spontaneous and novel sentences, not to simply memorize a formula. And once children learn this behavior, it can be very difficult to unlearn.

In fact, “I” and “want” are both core words, but it’s important to teach them individually, rather than as a unit, if you want to encourage spontaneity.

How to get started with core words

In my next post (sign up to my mailing list here to make sure you’re first in line to get it!), I’ll share my four best tips for working with core words.

But here’s some advice to get you started: two great core words to try are “eat” and “play”.

These core words are so easy to use in any situation and you can easily pair them with fringe words your child already knows.

Remember: It will likely take your child some time and LOTS of modeling to understand core words, since they are more abstract.

You’ll find that children might get confused at first with core words and say things like “eat ball”. If this happens, don't worry. Simply respond by saying “We don’t eat a ball, we play ball.” 

With lots of exposure to these new words,  children start differentiating between the categories of things we eat versus things we play with and eventually they will start understanding.

Over to you

Does your child struggle with spontaneous communication? Do they seems to be stuck in fringe words? Let me know what you’re finding difficult in the comments below - I’d love to hear from you!

ENJOYED THIS POST?

I send out blogs like this regularly, offering my expertise and useful tips for parents about all things related to child learning, speech and language development and the use of technology to help children’s communication.

Sign up here and get my free video series, “Communication Crash Course,” which will help you learn the basics for helping your child with autism start communicating. Plus, you’ll always be updated first when I release new content!

P.S. PASS IT ON

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Help! My Child isn’t Talking. 6 Strategies to Help Inspire Communication

It’s really normal for parents to worry that their child isn’t talking soon enough, or as well as they should be.

As your child grows,  so does their capacity to communicate.  While every child develops at a different rate, having a few tools at your disposal can really help enhance speech progression.

Here are six strategies I personally use (and recommend!) all day, every day to get kids talking:

1) Encouraging talking by withholding

Sounds strange right? But it works! Withholding is the absolute best tool in my speech therapy tool box to get children talking.

You want a child to communicate? You have to give them a reason by enticing them with something that is highly motivating like their favorite cookie or a brand new toy.

Then--- simply restrict access to it.

If your child is constantly grabbing your iPhone you can hold that iPhone out of reach then give them the words to help them ask for it.

Make sure the item is visible but not accessible without your help. Try using a clear container or tupperware so your child is able to see all the fun going on inside but they need to communicate with you in order to ask for help.

When you start increasing the expectation (i.e. you expect your child to use words instead of whining), then your child will start understanding how they are able to quickly get their needs met by just simply communicating!

2) Sabotage your child

Sound like cruel and unusual punishment? Rest assured... it’s totally safe and a lot of fun if you get it right.

It works by deliberately interfering with a routine activity in order to elicit communication.

So, for example, if you ALWAYS read a story at night you could try holding the book upside down or you could start a familiar book on the wrong page. 

The most important thing is that you pause and wait patiently for a response, and always wait longer than you think you need to.

Another great time to use this technique is when you’re getting dressed. You could do something silly like put your shoes on before your socks or put your pants on your head.

Alternatively, if you child asks for a cookie, give them a crayon! Then wait for the response.

Children LOVE this game and it will always get them talking and giggling.

3) Imitation

Help your child repeat certain sounds so you can get them talking sooner.

I know this seems like a no brainer but we can help children start imitating actions even before they are able to imitate speech and talking. This can be as simple as taking turns clapping or activating a toy that makes noise.

Once children start babbling you can focus on early developing sounds like "b" (as in "ball") or "m" (as in “mommy”) .

One of my favorites is saying the “m” sound during meals. Eat a bite of food and then say “MMMMM” and help your baby say it too.

4) Giving Choices

One of the best pieces of wisdom I received during a clinical rotation in graduate school was this:

Give a child two options; both of which you (the therapist) can live with.

EXAMPLE:

“Do you want to walk by yourself or do you want to hold my hand?”

“Do you want to put the toys away in the bag or in the box?”

Both choices means the child ends up doing what you need them to do, but offering choices means the child has to respond beyond a simple “yes” or “no” answer. 

This gives a sense of autonomy and independence that empowers children to make their own decisions. Children are happier when they are able to decide what they want to eat, where they want to go and what they might like to play with.

5) Open-Ended Questions

Frequently caregivers get stuck asking lots of yes/no questions.

EXAMPLE:

“Are you hungry?”

“Do you want some apples?”

“Are you all done?”

These all start and end with a single word… yes or no.

It’s important to help children expand beyond single words so that they become practiced at formulating their own thoughts into phrases and sentences.  Try pausing your child’s favorite television show and ask thought-provoking questions such as “I wonder what will happen next?” or “How do you think he is feeling?” and then pause to see what your child has to say.

There’s another great strategy that I use with children who are learning how to answer WH questions such as Who/What/When/Where.

If I ask the question:“Where does an elephant live?” and I don’t get a response, I can follow up with two choices in order to give some context and encourage a response.

“Does he live at the zoo or on the farm?”.

It is important to always put the correct answer first. Children tend to repeat the last option that you give so this is a good way to test if they understand what you’re asking, and see whether they are able to answer appropriately.

6) Strategic Pausing

One of the most useful tools to get kids talking is strategic pausing, and it’s something that I struggle with immensely!

Patiently waiting while you pause at strategic points in conversation is a great way to facilitate language development and encourage talking.

For example, if I’m looking at a book with a child I could say: 

“I see….”

and then wait.

Or:

“I wonder….” 

You can use this with repetitive phrases like, “Ready, set….” and your child can say “GO!”. It's also useful during songs, like this: “Old McDonald had a…”. 

Strategic pausing is especially important when asking children questions… we have to give plenty of time to process what we’ve said and then  formulate a response.

The easiest way to remember these strategies is to embed them into something you do every day and your child will start picking up on your routines and filling in the blanks for you. 

Over to you

Does your child struggle with spontaneous communication? Do they seems to be stuck using mostly nouns or the "I want" phrase? Let me know what you’re finding difficult with in the comments below - I’d love to hear from you!

ENJOYED THIS POST?

I send out blogs like this regularly, offering my expertise and useful tips for parents about all things related to child learning, speech and language development and the use of technology to help children’s communication.

Sign up here and get my free video series, “Communication Crash Course,” which will help you learn the basics for helping your child with autism start communicating. Plus, you’ll always be updated first when I release new content!

P.S. PASS IT ON

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Stop Reading to your Kids: Here's What to do Instead

Incorporating reading into a child’s daily routines is an excellent way to encourage early communication skills, boost vocabulary and form foundations for listening and attention. Often time parents feel obligated to stay within the confines of a book’s words and forget that there are a variety of ways to utilize your child’s favorite books.  Here are 3 creative ideas for switching up story time.

Go Beyond Reading the Page Verbatim:

Depending on your child’s age and ability to understand language, reading the words of a book could be overwhelming for your child. Instead of reading to them you can both point to pictures and say the names of the things you see (e.g. “Look, there’s a lion!”) or the actions that are taking place (e.g. “He is eating icecream”). You could even play a modified hide-and-seek game by naming items and helping your child find them on the page (e.g. “Where’s the bicycle”).

Give Your Child the Mic:

Children often love hearing the same stories read to them over and over again. Once they are able to start putting more words together try a story retell. First read them the story cover to cover and then hand the mic to them and see what they come up with. Children typically have a hard time getting started, so you can help by giving them starter sentences (e.g. “The duck is….”)  and pointing to relevant plot details to guide their descriptions.  Remember: the focus is on telling a story in their own words, so it’s not necessary for them to retell the story exactly as it reads. Be sure to provide lots of encouragement (e.g. “I love when you tell me stories”) to keep the experience positive.

Get Creative:

Take your child’s favorite story and help them make up their own version. This is a helpful way to enhance early narrative skills by discussing story components such as characters, setting and sequencing of events. Get some construction paper out to help them draw pictures or use a doodle app such as “Doodle Buddy”  to help create each page. Be sure to encourage creativity and work together to brainstorm how you can change the story in a fun way. This will help give your child ownership of their work and ultimately fulfill a sense of accomplishment at the conclusion of the project.

Have you tried any of these activities? Let us know how it went in the comments section below. 

Over to you...

Does your nonverbal child with autism struggle with attention? Any tricks you've found successful? Share your story in the comments below - I’d love to hear from you!

ENJOYED THIS POST?

I send out blogs like this regularly, offering my expertise and useful tips for parents about all things related to child learning, speech and language development and the use of technology to help children’s communication.

Sign up here and get my free video series, “Communication Crash Course,” which will help you learn the basics for helping your child with autism start communicating. Plus, you’ll always be updated first when I release new content!

P.S. PASS IT ON

Loved this post? Then use the icons below to tweet it, share it on Facebook and send it to your friends via email.

Baby's First Words: 5 strategies to get them talking earlier

A baby’s first words are a monumental achievement in any parent’s eyes. It’s important to recognize that children first begin communicating with gestures and vocalizations at a very young age (e.g. smiling at you or pointing to what they want) but words don’t typically come until after a child’s first birthday.  Everyday your baby listens to the conversations surrounding them and slowly begin connecting words to their meanings. Once a child develops the appropriate musculature and coordination they begin stringing sounds together (i.e. babbling) and their vocalizations begin sounding more and more like real words. 

Do you desperately want to hear what your baby has to say? These five strategies will help your baby utter those first words in no time! 

Will Repeating Help your Baby Talk More?

When it comes to learning a new skill, practice makes perfect. Including repetitive words and phrases into a child’s daily routine is the quickest way to reinforce new vocabulary and inspire children to begin communicating. Children must be exposed to a new word numerous times before developing appropriate comprehension and use of the word in the correct context.