Speech, Language and Communication
A Guide to Your Little One’s Self-expression
Written by Sholeh Shahinfar, MA, CCC-SLP, RYT
Published by AUTISM ADVOCATE Parenting Magazine
Self-expression for small children can include the way they move or gesture, the way they make eye contact, and the way they use their words. You may notice your little one is beginning to speak words to communicate wants and needs, and to share thoughts and feelings. It’s exciting to see your baby go from a small infant to a toddler with a unique personality. It’s an exciting time!
Language and communication are complex. As a parent, you long to hear that very first word. Before children start speaking, however, they must first understand the words that are spoken to them. They must attach meaning to words. This is known as receptive language. For example, if you ask them to go get the ball and they do, you know that their receptive language is developing, even though they do not yet speak any words. Once you know they understand what a ball is, they may start saying the word “ball,” or “ba … ” This is when expressive language begins.
Parents often wonder if their child’s speech, language and communication skills are on track, especially when they begin comparing their little one to other children or siblings. If an older sibling has autism, you may wonder if this child does as well. It is important for parents to know that child development is highly individualized and dependent on many factors.
Sometimes parents search for charts outlining developmental milestones. These charts have advantages and disadvantages. They serve to show parents and professionals if a child is developing at a typical rate, but they can also add unnecessary stress and worry since many children meet milestones much earlier or later than what the data suggests they should. As a professional and child communication expert, I find they bring stress to many families and can take the focus off the actual child and onto a version of success that has no clear meaning. When analyzing milestone charts, take into account your little one’s unique set of strengths. Use the milestones as a guide to help support you in empowering your little one’s voice.
I am a firm believer in parental instinct. If you feel that your child is behind in one or more areas of development, you are likely picking up on something that needs attention and support. This support could include parent coaching and education, or direct therapy for your child. Either way, my motto is, “When in doubt, rule it out.”
I also strongly advocate for early intervention. Do not let anyone tell you to “wait and see,” and don’t convince yourself to just wait. The earlier you provide the quality of care and support your child needs, the more present and connected your child will feel.
Let Go of Blame, Shame and Guilt
The journey of self-expression starts within the womb. Along the way, there are so many ways to help little ones become more connected to their voice. As children near their first birthday, parents are anxious to hear their first words. What happens when they don’t hear those first words, and struggle to understand their children’s wants and needs? Parents often go into a cycle of blame, shame and guilt. As parents, we need to let that go! Now is the time to help them find their voice and self-expression. We are all doing our best and must move past those negative feelings so we can provide the best care for our children in the present.
Five Tips for Talking with your Toddler
There are many ways to connect with your child. The following tips will help you communicate and connect with your toddler. I recognize that every child is different, so try out these tips and see what works best for your child. When implementing these tips, don’t compare your child with other children, and don’t rush the process. Be patient, and remember that communication does not only take place with words. We can communicate and convey our thoughts, needs, wants, and feelings in a wide range of ways.
- REPETITION: Repeat words and phrases over and over. Think of repetition when you are selecting books to read with your toddler or toys for play.
- SIMPLIFIY: Use short phrases and sentences. Continue to model sentences that are grammatically correct and complete so that your little one is hearing the right form. When it comes to structed activities, use a few words to draw your little one’s attention to the main vocabulary.
- PARALEL TALK: Narrate everything your child is doing. Talk out loud and use language to descrive your little one’s actions. For example, if your little ones pushes a car, say “push car.” If she is running, you can say “run, run, run.”
- SELF TALK: Narrate everyhing you are doing. This is similar to parallel tak, but involves talking out loud about your actions. For example, if you are cutting uo an apple for a snack, you can say “cut apple” or “mommy is cutting an apple.”
- CREATE OPPORTUNITIES: Choose a daily routine – something that happens almost the same way everyday – and focus on implementing these concepts into that routine. The more you practice, the more your child is learning! You can also create opportunities by the way you structure your environment and daily routines.
These tips are designed to make you aware of all the amazing things you are likely doing already, and to give you the confidence to connect with your child and build his or her self-expression. You can find even more tips to support your little one’s journey at our blog on “25 Tips for Talking with your toddler“
Expression can come in many different forms. The earlier we expose our children to the many ways in which we communicate, the more empowered they become. Language and communication opportunities are happening every day, all the time. You don’t need to sit your little one down at a table to empower self-expression; just use the moments that are being created for you! Your little one’s smiles, gestures and words are all moments to be celebrated. No matter where you and your little one are on this journey of self-expression, just remember that you’ve got this!
Sholeh Shahinfar, MA, CCC-SLP, RYT
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