Help Improve Your Child’s Language Development

A child with a learning disability or developmental delay often struggles with learning to talk. You can play an active role in increasing her vocabulary and/or comprehension at home. Most of the language your child hears comes from you, and you are his best model. Here are some tips:

1. Talk to your child as you go about your day. It sounds obvious, but I can recall times when I would drive my oldest boy to a birthday party, chatting with him the whole way. As soon I dropped him off, Kyle, my second son, rode in the back of the car in silence. Because of his Autism he often didn’t respond to me, so I sometimes fell into a bad habit of not trying to converse with him. I soon corrected this mistake. Regardless of whether your child speaks or not, he or she will soak up all the language you offer.

2. Use motivators to encourage speech. Play with your child, and if he reaches for a favorite toy, withhold it momentarily. Look confused and ask, “What toy do you want?” Pause to allow him to attempt to speak. “You want the ball? Ball. Okay, here is the ball.” Then give it to him. Use this technique for food and drink. If he grunts and reaches, temporarily withhold the item and ask him to say the word. “What do you want? Milk.” If the child makes any attempt to say the word, give him the item as his reward. Then, as he improves, withhold the object until he makes a simple statement or asks a question. “I want juice,” etc.

3. Sing with your child. Singing uses a different part of the brain than speaking. I have known some developmentally delayed children to sing before they could speak. You can even use (or invent your own) tunes to teach parts of speech and manners, “How are you today sir? Very well I thank you.”

4. Don’t accept nonsense words as language substitutes. If your child says “gugga” for “milk,” don’t just accept it as a new word. I’ve actually seen some parents take their child’s nonsense words into their own vocabulary: “Oh, do you want some gugga?” Don’t do this. Instead, use step number two above and withhold the milk momentarily. “Do you mean milk? This is milk. Can you say it? MILK.” Wait until the child attempts to say the word. Ignore–or act confused about–the nonsense word.

5. Read to your child. The time you spend reading books to your child is one of the greatest gifts you will ever give him. Make it a bedtime ritual and take regular trips to the children’s library. Let your child select books, sit in the corner and read them. Point to pictures and ask your child questions to build his vocabulary.