School starts tomorrow, and that means William’s first day of Kindergarten. At the beginning of 2014 William began to show signs of having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), his speech and his social skills were the biggest concerns for Paul and I. As a teacher, I knew that I needed to pick up the pace of William’s speech and language development. I drew on my ESL (English as a Second Language) Language Coaching training and started picking up the pace of William’s language development. At first it was slow, but after seven months he was speaking with more words in sentences and I was beginning to understand what he was trying to communicate. Now, twelve months later, I can’t stop him from talking and he speaks with words that completely blow my mind.
As a classroom teacher I have children every year (in grade three) that have limited vocabulary, they are not children on the Autism Spectrum or children with learning difficulties. Language development is not as easy as most of you may think, it’s not something that just comes to you. I thought I’d pen a post about language development and how you can help your child create a solid literacy base.
Learning a language is hard (have you tried to learn a new language?), even if that language is your first language (aka mother language). Most parents get so excited when they hear their baby speak their first words. However, few parents put conscious effort into language development past those first few words. Most parents think that speech and language just happens, it just develops on its own.
For children, especially children with ASD or any learning disorder that impairs speech and language development, it is imperative that they are surrounded by rich, correctly articulated language. That involves some effort on the parents’ part. Yes, we are their best role model for language development. The best times to ‘work’ on developing or extending your child’s language skills are during every day experiences. You don’t need to go and purchase special toys, or apps for the iPad. You just need to spend time talking with your child. No conversation is ever wasted, I have had some fantastic language ‘sessions’ with William about a spider in a web, or a crumb that the ant is carrying back to feed its family. It’s not the topic that matters, it’s the language associated with the conversation. For example:
Child: staring at a spider in a web “Spider”
Parent: “Yes that’s right, there is a spider. The spider is in a web.” point to the web
Child: “Web, spider in a web.”
Parent: “Can you see the sparkles on the spider’s web?”
Child: “See sparkles in the spider web.”
Parent: “The spider will catch its food in the web.”
And so on…the point is that the parent models full sentences with correct articulation and the child will often copy what you say, and as their language skills develop further they will add their own thoughts to the conversation. Would I use words that the child doesn’t know the meaning of? Yes, how else will they learn the meaning of the word and the correct context in which that word is used?
Keep your communication genuine and real, where both you and your child are taking turns in talking. This helps them to understand that having a conversation with someone is about talking, listening, pausing, responding and not just about the words we speak.
This image is a perfect example: William and I will play and we will talk about what he is doing. Our conversations flows freely and goes in any direction he wants it to go in. Our language gets built upon each time we ‘play’.
A strong oral language forms the foundation for literacy development and success in schooling. To build this strong foundation in oral language the parents will need to model/use rich language that has been articulated correctly.
Articulating words correctly is so important, I don’t know how many times I have to correct ‘I should of gone to the shop’. You model language to your child, they copy what you say, if you say it correctly then there is less to correct later on. If your child says something incorrectly, gently correct them. If a mistake goes unchecked, your child will think it is correct and then keep making the mistake.
What does rich language mean?? Language with a lot of money? No, obviously, but it is similar. It is language that has a lot going for it. Rich language is dense, it has adjectives and adverbs, it ‘paints a picture’ in the mind of the listener (or reader). It has a lot of description in a small amount of words. Modelling this language includes saying the same idea (the girl ran) in a few ways using language that expands on the idea (the girl in the red dress ran fast), adding new words in order to stretch your child’s vocabulary. Keep this language at and slightly above your child’s level, steadily becoming more complex as your child’s language develops.
And read to your child…every single day…read read read! Picture books that create extended conversation are perfect! Occasionally point to the text as you read it, this helps the child to understand that you are reading words from the page.
I hope this helps some of you,
Yours in Health and Happiness