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Behavior, Communication and many of the programs on Bravo TV: a short list of some of my FAVORITE things to talk about. I have two amazing boys with autism, Greyson is 9 and Parker is 7. They both have significant struggles with communication. It’s my favorite thing to work on and by far one of the most rewarding. When my boys are at Speech Therapy, I cheer like sports moms cheer at games. Helping to give my sons tools to communicate at home, and in the natural environment helps build a bridge that connects my boys and I. I want to share four ways we encourage communication in my house, every darn day.

  • MODELING LANGUAGE:

We are constantly modeling language in a variety of different settings using all different types of speech. I label objects, describe actions and events, and talk about what I’m doing. Since they were babies, I have always narrated our day.

“It looks like you are sad”.

“The sun is hot!”

“Oh no, you hurt your arm.”

“I LOVE COFFEE!”

Some of THE BEST people to model language are typically developing, similar aged children, especially the ones that are big talkers. We do play dates and Inclusion in school to make sure Greyson and Parker are in frequently in language rich environments.

  • DON’T OVER PROMPT:

So often we “help” our children by jumping right in and prompting them to speak. Say hi! Say yes! Say thank you! Say help! I work to make sure I give my boys time to answer or respond. It’s hard and I have to hold my lips shut because I want to jump right in and “help”. They often need just a little additional time to process. Instead of verbally prompting, I prefer to prompt instead by using expectant pauses and wait time in order to give them the chance to initiate communication, answer questions and request help all on their own. I try to count to ten in my head before verbally prompting a response. When they do initiate communication, I reinforce like crazy. GREAT JOB! YOU ARE AWESOME! HERE’S $100! (Ok, fine, I don’t do the last one. But you get my drift.)

  • ESTABLISH MOTIVATION:

I am the keeper of the stuff, and the only way to get the stuff- is communication! I keep the good snacks up high. I might withhold a puzzle piece, a toy or an item out of sight so they have to ask me for it.

Ok, let’s color! (hand on markers, expectant look.)

I have them help order their favorites when we go out- like ice cream. It’s vital that my boys understand the power language has to get them stuff. It’s not just something really hard and confusing that they must work on daily. This is also where reinforcing attempts to communicate is vital. Behavior goes where reinforcement flows! And for many people with autism, communication is HARD WORK that should be congratulated frequently.

  • MLU + 1 or 2.

Ok great, so now we have words coming. How do you work to continually increase the understanding and the use of language? I do this by expanding sentence length by repeating what they are saying, while adding a word or two. A fun way to say this is “MLU + 1 or 2!” (Clearly I know how to have fun.)  MLU is the “Mean length of utterance.” Language acquisition is a process that children move through at various rates. A morpheme is considered the basic unit of speech. As a child learns, the lengths of their patterns of speech increase. The mean length of utterance is a measurement that pertains to the way a child uses morphemes and the average length of speech. Speech therapists use this type of measurement to assess a child’s language abilities.

To oversimplify- basically this means that however many words they use on their own, you add a word or two to. If they say, “car”, you might model- “Car go!” Or “Red car go!” The more descriptive vocabulary we have and can use, the better we are able to repair communication break downs and clarify messages.

So, they let’s say they can say, “I want car.” Why is it important to then add more details, when it’s obvious that you know exactly what they want?

Because sometimes it’s NOT obvious. And there will be MANY times where you DON’T know what they want, and without being taught, they won’t have the ability to specify their request. It can be heartbreaking to see that they desperately want to say something, or ask for something, but just don’t know how. That’s when the extra words like big, little, shiny, red and other adjectives can really come in handy.

This Adjective Adapted Book Series is a fun and functional way to work on adjectives, and can be used for many different kinds of learners.

Most children with communication disorders spend maybe an hour at Speech Therapy a week. That means carrying over ways to increase the use and understanding of language at home is imperative for best results. Communication helps my boys be understood by the rest of the world, and it helps them understand the world better too. I always say the greatest gift we can receive is when we are understood. Whether you have autism or not.

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