3 Tips for Increasing Your Child’s Verbal Communication Skills

When a child has limited verbal skills, it is not uncommon for them to emit undesirable behaviors, such as aggression, self-injurious behavior, or tantrums. Working toward more verbal communication is an important part of reducing these undesirable attempts at communication and allowing for an overall, more independent and happy life for your child. Here are some practical tips to get your little one to communicate their desires and everyday needs in a more effective way.

Work on labeling many items in your natural environment throughout your time together. 

If you teach your child the names of the items or activities they desire to engage in, whether they name them vocally, through sign language, or through a speech device, they will be able to ask for them when they want them. Imagine really wanting some delicious, hot chocolate on a cold day, but not knowing the actual name for “hot chocolate,” and not being able to get it yourself! Your child may be trying to communicate that they want something, but they don’t even know what it’s called! This is why you should be helping them label items and activities at any chance you get, especially the items and activities that they absolutely love or encounter often.

Set the scene. 

Set up your environment in a way that will encourage your child to make a request. For example, put their favorite toy on a high shelf so they need to ask you to get it for them or set up a variety of activities that may spark an interest and have them ask to engage one of them with you. You can also deprive your child of certain toys or activities for a period of time so that they are motivated to ask for them later. Giving them choices and visuals is also very helpful. For example, asking them if they’d like to read a “book” as you show them a book, or go “outside” as you point outside, guiding them to make the actual vocal request themselves once you have provided the options.

Be consistent. 

When your child asks appropriately for something, deliver it the very moment they ask for it, every time! I know you may be thinking, “But what if I shouldn’t? What if my child asks for a cookie before dinner?” If your child is struggling to ask for things and they ask for a cookie before dinner, we recommend giving them the cookie! Of course, you may need to set boundaries in certain instances (we don’t want you to stuff your child with cookies, per their inevitable request), however, it is important that you don’t miss an opportunity to reinforce your child’s attempt at communicating, especially when it is a very rare occurrence. Should your child attempt to communicate that they don’t want something, be consistent about fulfilling that request as well. This way, your child’s attempt at communicating is being reinforced as much as possible.

Labeling items in the natural environment, setting the scene to make certain verbal requests more likely, and being consistent in following through with requests, are some small things you can do to get your child motivated to talk. Be creative and see what works best with your individual child. Eventually, you will begin to notice your child asking you for things independently without any of your involvement, a step in the right direction toward even more verbal communication!

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