What words do I teach my child with a language delay?

What words do I teach my child with a language delay?Speech

Your child may have a diagnosis of Autism, Down Syndrome, global developmental delay and she has just found her voice and has started talking. Yay! So how do we choose what words and language skills to teach? This blog will show you what kind of words you may want to choose to teach and what words to avoid.

Firstly, we will talk about some other important skills you would want to continue to work on that are not necessarily “speaking” skills but are incredibly important in language communication.

  • Indirect language stimulation or using declarative language (simple words)

  • Attending to salient stimuli

  • Pairing (having fun)

  • Simple turn taking activities

Any good program provider, speech pathologist or communication expert would consider these pre-vocal skills at the same time as well as actually communicative skills. Communication can be done through vocal speech, non-vocal communication (using PECS, sign, or other augmented form of communication) and in addition, we can also teach communicative gestures such as pointing, nodding and shaking for yes and no. Communication doesn’t occur in a vacuum but is part of a repertoire of skills.

What words don’t we teach?

When we first teach language we need to figure out what a child wants as it is far easier to set up successful interactions if you are fun and your child wants to be with you. If you child chooses to be with you, you can provide boundless opportunities and create opportunities for motivating your child. This is hard work! Once your child has motivation, we can start teaching her to request. Motivation sometimes may look like that she is grabbing your hand, or she may look at you and grunt, for other children this behaviour may be screaming, crying, or yelling. Some children have approximations of words but are not quite clear. Motivation is the cornerstone for teaching your child to request.

Requesting is one of the most important features of learning language, especially for children with a language delay. Remember that early on in development babies cry to get what they want, as babies get older they learn to communicate, initially by gestures (pointing, nodding), eye contact or social referencing and later by adding words vocally.

Often children engage in problem behaviour to get what they want, to avoid or escape situations or to receive attention. It often doesn’t matter to them how they are going about to get what they want, as long as they get it by any means possible. So for some children problem behaviour may consist of screaming, yelling, hitting, spitting and so forth. The possible problem behaviours are endless and you may have seen your fair share!

To change children’s problem behaviour and more specifically to teach them new words if they don’t have any as a way to communicate effectively we need to figure out what their desire is. What do they want? What motivates your child? When is their motivation strong? If they have just had a biscuit, their motivation will drop to request for that biscuit. If jumping on a trampoline outside is something your child likes, it will probably become more reinforcing if she has been inside for a few hours. Her desire to jump on the trampoline will increase. The more you understand and can determine what your child’s motivation is the easier it will be to teach requesting for specific items. The next question is, how can we use this motivation to then teach requesting. If a child likes to play with bubbles, and it is valuable for the child and they are interest in it, we can capture that and use that motivation to practice requesting.

First we should make a list what those potential motivators might be, your senior therapist or program manager can help you figuring out and choosing what words we can teach. Early on when teaching new words, we would like that motivation to be as powerful as possible. Sometimes this means that we need to withhold items. We can use a variety of items but for children who are 2, 3 or 4 already and who have little or no functional communication we can also use food. Food for most people is the most powerful item and situations are relatively easy to set up. So we may choose to start with having your child request for food items that are highly desirable. Those foods may not always be the most nutritious but as your child learns to request for one item, the second item will become easier, and then the third, and so forth. As your child learns more language, generally the easier it will become and then it will also be easier to teach your child to request for other items beside food. The list of motivators that we talked about are the words that we would introduce first.

Let’s have a look though at words in detail that we DON’T want to teach.

Choosing the wrong words could potentially hinder your child in learning functional communication.

  1. Words that are related to a variety of motivators. Words like “more”, “please”, “mine”, “yes”, “this”. These words tend to be to general. Your child will not learn to specifically request for individual items and she may become more frustrated at her attempts to communicate if she signs more for example and she would like a biscuit. Even though no biscuit is in her vicinity. Many children will start to sign for “more” or “please” to request for an individual item even though they have not had it yet. What “more” really means is give me an increased quantity of that item. This response will start to mean “give me something good”. It will make you guess as a parent what they would like. It will also be very difficult to then teach more specific requests as your child has now learnt to use a “general” request to get what they want and this may be effective in the short term.

  1. Words that are related to motivators from a general category. Words like “toy”, “eat”, “play”, “drink”. Similarly to words that relate to a variety of reinforcers, using these words is not specific enough and is generally too vague. Rather than teaching the word “toy” to request, it is far preferable to teach specific words such as car, book, play-doh etc.

  1. Words that for removing something undesirable. Words like “all done”, “break”,

“mine”, “no”, “go play”. The problem is that the first requests should not be a request to get away from you. You want to have a positive relationship with your child. We don’t want to create a situation that the most powerful desire or motivator is to leave you. You would want to be one of the most powerful desires the child has. See our section on pairing. This doesn’t mean that we don’t teach your child to use these words, but not for the first requests.

  1. Words that are related to items that are difficult to give or deliver to your child. Words like “swimming”, “bike ride”. If we can only give the item once or it takes a long time to complete the activity reduces the opportunity for your child to practice saying this and making this request. Especially when we first start teaching requests we would like to get a lot of practice in and present your child with a lot of opportunities to practice saying these words.

  1. Words that are related to politeness. Words like “please”, “thank you”. These words don’t benefit your child to get what they want but rather is a form of social convention that benefits the listener or the person who hears the words. Remember that many typically developing children only will start using these politeness phrases when they are 3 or 4 years old, when they already have a well established repertoire of functional communication. Children often will also only use these politeness phrases when prompted by an adult. So these words are also words we don’t want to teach as one of the first few requests and typically we wait until children start talking in 3-4 words sentences fluently before introducing this skill.

In short, word selection is critical but it is equally important to understand which words to avoid to teach initially.

So which words do we teach for a child that has a language delay?

  1. Words that are closely related to a strong desire for that item. The more desirable an item or activity is, the greater the chance that your child would want to request for it.

  1. Words that have long durations of desire. We would like to choose an item that children are less likely to become satiated or get over quickly. So if we were to use food for example, we would like smaller pieces of food, a mini m’n’m, or a popcorn piece, a small piece of chip, rather than a whole bag of chips. When we want to teach new words we want to make sure that we can give your child many opportunities to practice that same word.

  1. Words that are related to a specific item. This will help us to prompt your child if the item is specific. This will also assist in generalisation which means that your child is more likely to use that specific request or word in different settings such as school, outside and also with different people.

  1. Words that are related to specific items that are consumed or dissipate quickly. We would like the reinforcer to disappear quickly, and we don’t have to take the item from the child. Bubbles pop, and your child needs you to blow them again. A small piece of chocolate melts in the child’s mouth. When you are tickling your child, you can cease this and the child needs to you to continue this highly reinforcing activity. We don’t want to take items from the child. A book for example, you may need to take off the child and the child may not like that and results in a temper tantrum, which then would stop you from presenting more opportunities to practice.

  1. Words that are related to items hat are easy to deliver immediately and quickly. If we choose items that may take some time to deliver, for example, a doll house, if it is large and it takes some time to get there is a chance that the child may not make the immediate connection between making the vocal request and the delivery of the item. So when teaching new words, the item needs to be delivered as quickly as we can.

  1. Words that are related to items that are easy to remove when necessary. If an item is small or your child is happy to give that item back for short periods of time that would make teaching easier.

  1. Words that are already in your child’s repertoire. This could be a word that your child is already able to echo back to you when you prompt her to say this. Or if a child is already able to imitate a sign, we could have her imitate the sign “book” and use that for her to request a preferred item. So choose a word that she can already say or where she is able to sign for it or is able to imitate the sign. Rather than teaching words children cannot say, let’s use your child’s strengths and use words that’s already in her skill set.

  1. Words that do not rhyme or sounds similar to other words. We don’t want to teach words that are similar as it will be difficult for your child to produce the different words. This is also the case for using signs that look similar. (eat and drink for example in sign language look too similar). Looks for a selection of words that are easy to discriminate.

  1. Words that are used in the child’s natural environment. It is better to choose words that your child hears, sees and are functional for her. Choosing these words will promote generalisation and it is more likely that the child will use these words in her environment. There will also be many more opportunities if the word is more easily “set up” in her environment.

Some Sample Words that you may consider;

Remember this all depends on your child’s motivation!

  • Food (bikky / biscuit, cracker, apple, chip, ‘nana, m’m, popcorn, chocky-chocolate)

  • Drink (juice, milk, water)

  • Toys (ball, car, bubbles, doll, book)

  • Actions (up, spin, tickle, hug, kiss, crash, squeeze, down)

  • Individualised reinforcers (hat, music, ipad)

  • Electronic type toys Ipad (play, press, back, open)

  • People, pets, characters (Mum, Dora, Bob, Elmo)


Heartfelt Advice From Children With Learning Disabilities

These kids help us to step into their shoes and see things from their point of view. Children with learning disabilities can find it difficult to communicate their needs or even what they are feeling. It’s important for us to remember that everybody learns in different ways and the best way for us to help children reach their full potential is to try and understand how best to facilitate their learning style and find a way that works for each individual.


Video Credit: Brain Highways

Five reasons why you should read aloud to your kids – and pick their favourite book

Originally published on The Conversation, written by Ryan Spencer, Clinical Teaching Specialist.

As parents know all too well, children love to re-read their favourite books over and over again.

While this may feel painfully repetitive to adults, there is something in the text that is bringing children back time after time.

Children benefit greatly from re-reading as they learn the rhyming or predictable pattern of the text – rather than spending that time trying to understand what the book’s about.

Research shows that repeated reading of favourite books can boost vocabulary by up to 40%.

But this is only truly beneficial when the text is read aloud.

Research shows that when preschool children are frequently read to, their brain areas supporting comprehension and mental imagery are highly engaged. Studies show that this helps with the development of reading skills, such as word recognition, when they start to learn to read.

By assisting our children to develop these skills, we’re ensuring that they know that text conveys a message, and to read on for more information when they get stuck on a word.

And it’s never too early to start reading aloud to your children. Australian author and literacy studies professor Mem Fox says reading to children from birth can help develop a love for and understanding of books.

Need more convincing? Here are five ways that reading aloud can benefit your child:


  1. Improves fluency

Fluency when reading is essential in order to build strong and confident readers. But it can frequently be misinterpreted as relating only to reading speed alone.

Researcher Timothy Rasinski highlights the “bridge” that fluency plays in between word recognition and understanding what the book is about. He highlights the way that reading fluently at a natural reading speed helps to ensure that comprehension is maintained when reading.

When you share a book with your child, they get to see good reading modelled for them. They establish a sense of the speed and prosody that is essential to fluent reading. This then aids in their comprehension of the story.

To help your child hear themselves as a fluent reader, choose a favourite book, and take it in turns reading a sentence, such as in the style of echo reading, where you might read a sentence or a page first then your child repeats the same part.

Hearing themselves as confident and fluent readers allows children to break out of the struggling reader mindset where every book is a challenge.


  1. Expands vocabulary knowledge

Research shows that possessing a broad vocabulary is essential to making sure that children have access to a range of different words with different meanings.

It makes sense that the more words that children know when reading independently, the more they’ll enjoy what they’re reading.

While vocabulary lessons are taught in schools, parents can also assist in helping their children learn new words at home by reading favourite books aloud.

Before reading a book for the first time, flick through the pages with your child. Look for any interesting words that your child might not have seen before. Talk about what these words mean and where they may have seen them before.


  1. Helps comprehension

Successful reading is all about making sense of what we’re reading.

As adults, if we don’t quite understand something that we’ve just read, the first thing that we tend to do is to go back and reread.

This is a vital skill that we need to encourage in our children to help them become self sufficient readers.

Reading aloud provides the means by which to clearly take about what is happening in the book and to practice this rereading skill.

The conversations about what the book is about can take place before reading with your child in order to predict what might happen. Discussions during and after reading are also usual in clarifying what your children have just read.


  1. Involves family members

Fathers and other significant males in a child’s life play a vital role in encouraging their children to be active readers at home.

While mothers do tend to spend more time with their children and often take on reading as a part of this experience, research demonstrates clear benefits when dads, uncles, grandfathers and male friends read with children.

Dads are often seen as the untapped resource when it comes to reading with their children and they frequently provide a different range of experiences, especially when reading aloud.

This might be through using different funny voices and even the content that is read together.


  1. Brings the fun back into reading

As any avid reader knows there are few things better in life than curling up with a favourite book and not wanting to put it down.

Sharing this experience with your child is a valuable way to get them on the path to loving books as well.

Consider taking home a new book from the bookstore or library and selling this to your child.

Try talking about the pictures, look at interesting words and predict what might happen before reading together.

When you are reading the book aloud for the first time, use different voices for each character.

If you’re looking for some inspiration on what to read to your child, then try the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards shortlist, or the Dymock’s Top 51 Kids list which is voted for by kids for kids.


Sesame Street’s Nationwide Initiative to Help People See Amazing in All Children

Beloved children’s television program, Sesame Street has launched a wonderful new initiative, See Amazing in All Children. Developed with input from parents, autism service providers, and people with autism, See Amazing fosters an affirming narrative around autism for all families and kids.

The initiative includes a website packed full of free resources and tips to help parents educate their kids about autism, and support families to accomplish everyday activities. Visit the website here to click through the interactive story of Elmo, Abby and Julia, to download daily routine cards, or to watch some See Amazing videos.

An exciting part of the See Amazing initiative was the introduction of a new friend to the Sesame Street cast, Julia, who has austism. Together the furry Muppet friends go on daily adventures to help children and the adults in their lives reach their highest potential. Grover and the gang will tackle a variety of topics that face children in the areas of health and well-being, school readiness, and emotional well-being. Some of the content and topics presented are more sensitive, so you should preview these videos before sharing with a child. You can see more on the Sesame Street in Communities YouTube channel.


My Week as a Therapist

High-school student, Isabella Camilleri, wanted to spend her week of work-experience with children, not adults. Below Isabella tells us about her time at the Aspire office, and a few of the lessons she learnt from both the Aspire therapists, and kids!

Last week I completed work experience at the Aspire office and it turned out to be much more than just a nice break from school. I chose to complete my work experience at Aspire because I was inspired by my brother’s therapists and wanted to learn more about the work they complete and the resources they use in their sessions. During my work experience, I sat in with some of these therapists and their clients during sessions and also made resources for the office staff to use.

During the sessions, I observed how the therapists use reinforcement and educational activities to fulfill the requirements of the client’s individual programs. The programs for each child are catered to their specific needs, which conform to the idea that even though most children have been diagnosed with Autism, each child is unique in their own way in terms of their reinforcement and language and learning patterns.

The resources I made included PECS and WECS books, which stand for Picture/Word Exchange Communication System respectively. These resources are used for communication by children who use minimal or no language, so that they can develop their communication skills further.

Overall, I had an enjoyable experience working in the office, especially when making resources for the clients of the office. I would like to thank all of the Aspire staff for accommodating me this week.


Sign up today for term 4 social skills!


Big Heroes Social Club

Don’t miss out on our next social skills group.

With term four less than a month away make sure you secure your spot in our last Big Heroes Social Club for the year. The first session will be on Saturday 10 October and will run each week for the ten weeks of the school term. 

At the moment there are only a few spots available in each of the groups.

What is a social skills group?

Our small social skills groups are a perfect chance for children to develop and practice their social skills at different levels through a variety of fun-filled games, crafts, music and role-play activities, as well as setting personal goals for each child. Additionally, parents will receive a brief evaluation after each session with possible targets to develop at home and at school.

New fun and wonderful themes will be introduced each week to help your child improve their social confidence in a supportive play-based group environment. Spaces are limited so get in quick!



Where does my child fit in?

Morning Builders – Saturdays 10am- 12pm

A structured peer group environment ideal for our advanced learners, that will focus on targets such as perspective taking, theory of mind, advanced conversation skills, executive functioning skills (e.g. task topic shifting), advanced social skills (e.g. body orientation, eye contact) and social dynamic play.

Afternoon Explorers Saturdays 12.30pm- 2.30pm

A highly structured peer group environment for our intermediate learners to advance and master targets such as requests from peers, turn taking, participating in group activities, executive functioning skills (e.g. switching attention, transitioning), skills based activities (e.g. fine motor skills, crafts) and functional pretend play.

How do I get involved?

Initially, we conduct an interview, generally over the phone, giving you an opportunity to address any questions or concerns, as well as giving us the opportunity to assess your child’s needs. Fees for the Big Heroes Social Club can be deducted from FaCHSIA/ NDIS Funding.                                                            

If you are interested please contact the office for more details on (02) 9648 4442 or email at info@aspireearlyintervention.com.


Aspire Spring Newsletter

There’s always plenty going on at Aspire, especially now that we have a such a wonderful centre with FIVE clinic rooms.

If you want to keep up to date or hear about the latest news, have a read of our Spring Newsletter via the link below.

Aspire Spring Newsletter

How Can Health & Finance Help?

We recently entered into a partnership with William Johns and his organisation Health & Finance Integrated – a Social Enterprise financial planning service dedicated to assisting people through times of vulnerability with financial advice and guidance.

Setting up a meeting with William is a great opportunity to find out a few strategies that you could introduce to make your life easier by planning ahead for the financial and life challenges you may face. Take the time to visit their website and learn more about their services.

 HFI advert

Health & Finance Flyer

Participate in a Survey for Autism Research

The Experience of Mothers of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

What factors contribute to a child’s improvement or lack of improvement in ABA programs?

You can participate in a study to help learn more about this area if you are a mother of a child with autism that is between the ages of 2-12 years and currently participating in ABA therapy.

The study involves a short questionnaire that should take up to one hour to complete. The questionnaire will ask you questions about yourself, your social support, and your child’s level of functioning before starting ABA and currently.

If you want to participate please click the link below to enter the survey/ take a copy of the link below to access later:



More details can be found in this document.

Research Study Information Sheet