Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tips for Helping Your Toddler with a Communication Delay to Talk More

Somedays I think that I am ready for my 14 month old son to speak and understand more and other days I am afraid to know what he is thinking. So far he is babbling and following simple one-step directions such as "Come here", "No stairs", "Get the ball", "Let's go bye-bye" (and he then goes to the front door), and "Do you want more food?"; there are a few other basics he seems to understand. He can say "nana" for bananas or all food in general as well as "mama", "dow" (down), "dada", "ma" (more), "no", and "hi". At times, he uses sign language for "more". Unfortunately, he communicates often by squealing and throwing tantrums to get his point across because he doesn't yet have the words to express his needs and wants. The tactics that I am using for him will be the same tactics I use at work for an older toddler with a language delay. I can't prove that this will keep my son from being delayed, but hopefully it will help his language skills (expressive and receptive) to blossom. Even though I am an occupational therapist and not a speech language pathologist, I have learned alot of tips from my co-workers. Also, when working with infants and toddlers we all (therapists) need to know each others area, because we are working with the child as a whole! And it never fails that at an OT session a parent will ask me a language-based question about their child.

Tips to help your toddler talk more:

  • Give choices throughout the day beginning with two items and build-up to more items as he improves. An example includes holding 2 different cups up & asking which cup he wants to drink from. It doesn't really matter which one he chooses, but he had to think of an answer & choose by either looking, gesturing, or speaking. Other choices could include clothing, toys, and foods. Only give choices that you are willing to live with. Do not begin by asking "What do you want to eat?" but instead ask "Would you like to eat carrots or apples for lunch?". Then, if the child doesn't seem to understand, then hold up the 2 choices for him to see.
  • Remember that toddlers who have a severe delay may need to just initially work on gesturing or pointing to what they want. Do not pressure them to talk, but set up the environment and situations to where he is more likely to talk.
  • Sing songs. Initially stick to one or two simple songs and repeat them over and over. Then, once you know the child knows the words to the song, or at least some of the words, you can sing and intermittently pause. When you pause, wait for him to possibly say the word that comes next. Some good starter songs are the ones that also include simple motions such as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", "Wheels on the Bus" and "Pat-a-Cake"
  • Pretend that you don't know what he wants when he grunts. Get the wrong item or gesture with your hands that you don't know. Let him lead you to what he wants if necessary. Then, when he gets the item, you verbally label it....pause before giving it to him and see if he will repeat the word. If not, give it to him. Continue this process until he eventually says the word. Good examples for this are his favorite toy or food.
  • Put some of his favorite toys slightly out of reach on a shelf or in a clear closed container. This way he has to express that he wants it.
  • Try not to anticipate all of his needs, because if you do, the child has no reason to talk. Slow yourself down and let the child ask for his wants and needs.
  • Read books with simple pictures to the child. Read the same 2 or 3 books to him over-and-over so he can anticipate the words that are to come next. Ask questions and encourage pointing and labeling the picture. There is no need to read every single word, especially for a child with a short attention span.
  • Consider using pictures of items to help the child express his wants and needs. You could have a laminated picture of a cup and another picture for a snack placed on the refrigerator, and when he is thirsty or hungry he can let you know by bringing the picture to you. When he does, verbally say the word such as "cracker". "You want a cracker". Hopefully, he will start to say this word. Start with only a couple of pictures and build up to more.
  • Pair the words you say with sign-language. Studies show that this helps vocabulary and doesn't slow it down. Some children are more visual and kinetic so may learn this way better initially.
  • Use simple words for instructions such as "Come here" or "Give me the ball". Remember to wait before repeating the instructions. If the child wanders off, help him to physically follow the simple commands.
  • Limit the amount of time the child watches television. Watching too much TV doesn't help a child's attention span, motor skills, or speaking. Also, there is no reciprocal conversational skills taught to a child when watching television. Yet, some language skills may be stimulated when watching TV briefly if there is interaction. An example is when watching a cartoon, you can point to and label the characters as well as sing along with the theme song.
  • When playing with toys such as cars, planes, and animals, make sounds for that toy such as "honk, honk", "vmmmm", or growling. It may seem silly to model some sounds, but kids like it.
  • If your child is older than one year old and still uses a pacifier, limit the use of it or completely discontinue! The AAP (Amercian Academy of Pediatrics) recommends the use of a pacifier for up to a year of age if the child needs it. Children may need it to self-calm when upset or before bedtime. Any other time than that becomes just a habit...and not a good one!. It is very difficult to talk if a pacifier is in the mouth the majority of the time. It is also not beneficial for the development of tongue, lip, and cheek muscles. There is another entry on this blog site on how to wean a toddler off of a pacifier, and can be found in the blog archives.

These are just a few of the basics that I tend to suggest on a frequent basis. I hope these ideas help you or at least remind you of another idea that can help! If you don't already work with a speech-language pathologist or developmental specialist, I recommend you consider it! Helping our little one as early as possible is the best thing!

1 comment:

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