Look Who’s (Not) Talking

I have lots of posts of language, but I just wanted to write a short one here to share the main tip I have stumbled upon:


Not if they talk well, of course, but to help those who are language-delayed.  Every day that I talk to my baby (9 mos), I realize how much language she hears but very little of which she should imitate.  Meaning, I ask her all kinds of questions.  But I never answer them.  So what will she do first when she talks?  Will she answer questions?  Probably not—she will ask them!

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but if you really want to help your child learn to talk, you have to start supplying them with the answers.  Especially kids with severe echolalia (who just repeat you).  Why are they doing all the repeating?  Probably because they don’t know what to say.  They’d know if they heard it, but they can’t form the words themselves.  So you need to supply them.

Ask the question, but then answer it.  Don’t worry about being wrong.  Your child will either live with it or find a way to protest.  Say something like, “So, what do you want for lunch today?  Hmm.  I want some banana.”  If they accept your translation, say “Yes, I want some banana.” to encourage that.  If they protest, say “No.”  As in “No, I don’t want banana.  I want crackers.”  Make sure you talk in FIRST person so the child picks up the right thing by repeating you.

As soon as this gets somewhere, you can start doing fill in the blanks.  Just start the correct response for the child and let them point or finish.   Like, “So what do you want for lunch today?  I want some….”  And try to let them pick.  If they can’t, just go back to putting words in for them.  “Banana?”  If they look positive then say, “Yes, I’d like some banana. Yes. Yes.”  In other words, make the echolalia work for you.  And repeat the words you want them to say first, like Yes or No.  Or maybe they’ve gotten yes and no but still won’t say “I’d like” or “I want.”  Then just be a little silly and emphasize that… “Yes, I’d like some banana.  I’d like it!  Yes, I like it.”  When you do the repeating yourself, it won’t be long before they’re able to get it to.

This type of putting words in the mouth can work all day, in all kinds of situations.  Just dialogue with yourself, on the child’s behalf.  Easy phrases like “You try” or “I got it” tend to be easy for kids to pick up.  So are “want some?” or “Hear it?” or “Here goes!”  Try to work in these short two or three-word exclamations—they should come faster and encourage more language ultimately than teaching one word information (i.e. cat, dog, Hi, daddy, etc.).  At least, if your child is two or three, this is probably a good place to start.  The nouns and information you’ve taught them are in their heads, probably, but are not going to help them over the two or three word hump that they’re stuck behind.

I have lists of words and phrases my kids have learned early, as well as info on manners and shaping your child’s language through this approach too.  It’s not new and it’s not earth-shattering, but shuffling four little people through these early language days has drilled home for me how important it is.  I am certain that my third child learned to talk so early because I finally picked up on this method.


One thought on “Look Who’s (Not) Talking

  1. thanks for this post/info! I just posted on a blog seeking answers for my daughters echolalia. I want her to start being more spontaneous and answering questions, and also asking questions on her own. I am going to try this method! (She’s 4, developmentally delayed)

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