Many of the kids I see learn from direct teaching vs. spontaneous learning from the environment. (What does this mean?) And, often times, the child is demonstrating skills but not consistently. Do you have a child that has many skills but does not answer on a regular basis when you ask a question? The child might hand an object for help one time, but scream in frustration to communicate the next 10 times. The child may be smiling and happy but frequently run off and prefer to play alone. These are some of the kids that fall through the cracks. I often hear parents say, “He is just stubborn.” “He can do this, he has done this before.” “He likes to do his own thing.” When I wrote the post Low Tone: It Is Not Just a Speech Thing I was thinking about some of these kiddos.
If the kiddo is always moving it is hard to learn new information or to sit for an activity with another person. We need to think about how we can get the child to be a part of the group so he can learn new skills and demonstrate the skills consistently. Don’t get me wrong. I move with these kiddos. We crawl, we swing, we go through tunnels. Some kids just simply need to move. We need to either build movement into our sessions or increase the “temptation” to want to interact and to communicate. I worked for Little Friends in Naperville, Illinois, for 10 years within their Parent Infant Program. And, we had 2 of what we coined “the red box.”
We stuffed the box with wind up toys, squishy items, balls, cars, McDonalds Happy Meal items, etc. What happens when a wind up toy stops? The child picks it up and sets it down waiting for it to go. The child may attempt to twist the wind up part. Most 2 year olds cannot make the toy go again so who does that child need? You! How does the child learn to ask for help? Hand over hand assist paired with the word and/or sign “help”. Why will the child learn to ask? Because the toy is motivating.
My bag has a zipper on it. I often have children go stand by the bag but they do not understand that they need me for help or how to get my help. Recently, I taught a child with prompts to tap me on the shoulder and say “Tracy help” in order to open my bag. I directly taught that child to ask for help by gaining my attention. We teach the child how to ask for help by increasing sabotage opportunities within the day. We use prompts to teach and then we fade the prompts.
Find what motivates your child. Place the items out of reach, put the items in a bag and let the child pull one out at a time. You don’t need to have “the” box to make this work for your child. Hide the items in the furniture, under tables, in tunnels etc to incorporate some movement. When I bring the box to a therapy session I knock on the box and say “knock-knock-knock”. I place my finger on my mouth and say “hhmmm”. I might peek inside and make a surprised face with another vocalization. Why? I want the child to think about the box. I want to create a verbal routine within the activity.
When you pair the same movements and verbiage within an activity and provide pauses, the child learns what to expect. The hope is the child will learn the sequence of steps and the familiar verbal routines and eventually chime in. In this example, chime in verbally with “knock-knock”, imitating the knocking, putting his finger to his mouth, and/or verbalizing “hhmm.” Just as we often use “ready, set… (pause) go” we need to think about these verbal routines within other activities especially for our kids with language delays, apraxia, and processing challenges. (In the last Toys and Tips Encourage Language post we thought about music and books with repetitive verses).
On a side note…around Christmas time every year, we took these wind up toys, light up toys, objects of interest, etc and wrapped each item in Christmas paper for group activities. Why? Many of the kids we saw were not interested in presents and did not participate in the Christmas festivities of unwrapping presents. If we teach the child something motivating is hidden behind the paper we increase the likelihood of participation within that family routine.
What routines do you have built into your day that you can think about your language and creating consistent verbal routines within the activity? Here is one example that comes to mind…Brushing Teeth. Hand the child the toothpaste and do nothing. Chances are the child cannot open the tube. If your child does not hand objects for “help” then use prompts as discussed in this post and teach the child to give you the tube. If the child has good nonverbal skills, Ask, “What do we do?” (Answer: “Open” or “Open toothpaste”) Ask, “What is next?” (Answer: “Squeeze” or “Squeeze toothpaste.”) These verbal sequences can go on and on within the activity. Or, how about breakfast… “Open cereal” “Pour cereal” “Where does the cereal go?” (Answer: “In” or “In the bowl.”)
How can we structure the environment to encourage the child to initiate an interaction? How can we get the child to come back to us? I am a fan of Barry Prizant. I attended a SCERTS training presented by Barry many moons ago. He recently came out with his latest book as discussed in the article Interpreting Autism that looks like a good read. Barry and another fellow speech pathologist also created this Communication Temptations list you can find on my Pinterest Page. For our kids that are runners, who have decreased attention, and/or who are not learning spontaneously from the environment we need to be creative.
If all of your child’s toys are within reach, the child does not have to communicate for the item. I often hear, he or she just helps themselves to a snack. If the snacks are within reach the child does not need you. Put snacks out of reach. Create the need for communication whether it be verbal or nonverbal. What routines do you have within your day that we can think about language learning opportunities? And, if you have not had the opportunity to take a gander at my first 2 Toys Tips posts here are the links. Toys and Tips to Encourage Language I; Toys and Tips to Encourage Language II; and Toys and Tips to Encourage Language III.