Since communication issues are at the heart of autism, I thought it would be nice to have a single bucket of ideas about boosting language. There are all sorts of terrific little tidbits I've read in many posts, but they are scattered around. Its hard for me to go back and find some of them.
If your child/family member has a good vocabulary or has shown marked improvement, do you want to share some ideas? Here's a couple things we do that are slightly off the page.
-Bedtime music. Kids with auditory sensory issues may not tolerate it, but instead of just instrumental music, we played Norah Jones first CD to my 3 year old for every nap and every night's sleep since he was about one. He can sing those songs practically verbatim (you'll be on my mind...fooorrr eeever...) and when he was 2, we clocked him at over 700 words in his vocabulary. This may be idiotic, but I think him hearing that soothing language over and over helped foster his communication skills. We did sign to him, do read lots of books, etc. We just switched our PDD NOS son from his classical guitar CD to one with actual lyrics. Worth a try.
-Books on DVD. There are collections of favorite children's books on DVD and video that feature maybe 12-minute-long stories. My boys love to read, but lots of kids either don't want to sit still or when their mom/dad gets close to read the words, its too intense and they run off. Anyway, if they have the storybook at home and they watch it on DVD, too, it seems like a good way to boost vocabulary.
We've got probably 7 different Scholastic tapes or DVDs with awesome stories. The animations are from children's books you probably already have (How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? The Napping House. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Harold and the Purple Crayon. Chrysanthemum. etc) The Maisy videos are also quite educational and fun. There's even one where Maisy Mouse is playing different games with her friends...nice for socialization!
One of my favorite children's books is The Grannyman, a story about an elderly Siamese cat who becomes revitalized by the addition of a new kitten of the same breed. The kitten learns how to do cat things from the older cat, and the older cat is revitalized by the younger cat's presence. It is a great story of friendship and a great story for cat lovers.
As parents & concerned others, there's a limit to how much interaction we can have with our kids each day, so the tapes, DVDs, recordings, etc. can be a good addition to any child's language development -- whether autistic or not. I'm all for quality educational materials. So much better than most of the trash that is on TV.
The heart of language, however, is for the purpose of communicating, and we would be remiss to simply think that recordings will do the job of helping our kids use language for its intended relational purposes.
IMO the very best way to facilitate language development for any child, any age, any level of development, any dx-label, is to enter his or her world, at his or her level.
Observe. What does your child like to do? Spend time on? What objects does he cling to? What are fascinations or even obsessions? Start a list. Try to do this with an open heart. OK, so you don't like the clanging metal pot lids, but write it down on your list anyway, if that is what your child goes for.
Each activity, each object fascination, is a door that you can choose to open to greet your child, a place to meet & interact at, and also a doorway that he or she can at some time come through into the larger world.
Now, some doors you may not choose to open. Some stims have potential to be injurious & perhaps are better ignored. But other stims -- say twirling around in circles -- are great for sensory integration & can also be used for language development.
While your child is engaged in his activity or w/his object, talk about it. Name it. Use short phrases, simple sentences. Be concrete. Engage in the activity yourself, if possible, alongside your child. Yes, twirl along if that is the stim du jour. Talk outloud ... talk about where you are twirling, fast/slow, arms up, looks blurry, feel dizzy, fall down, whatever.
You may get a reaction, or not. If your child stops & watches you, -- that is notice, and it is an important social skill. Any sort of reaction at all -- esp. eye contact, a vocalization or verbalization, should be rewarded with a smile, a pat, a tickle, a song -- you know best what your child enjoys.
You can do the same thing with toys, play objects, etc. Talk about them while your child is holding them. Hold one yourself, if possible.
Attention -- Stimulation -- Response -- Reward ----------> Social reciprocity is the long-term goal of language development.
You will help your child develop language by entering his or her world. That's where it's at. In doing so, you not only meet him or her there, you provide a model for the best social skills anyone can have.
While this sounds simple, it is not. You may find yourself resisting. That is normal. There is almost a spiritual aspect to developing this skill. It relates to setting one's own ego aside, & blocking out concerns about what other people will think. But the rewards in terms of your child's progress can be great.
Expanding gently on whatever your child says can be very helpful to language development. It gives your child a model of the next step along the way, without overwhelming him or her. And that simplicity does help to highlight the next step. Here are few examples of how to do expansions.
Expansion is a tool that you can as a parent develop so that it becomes 2nd nature to you to use. Then your child is getting quality language stimulation day in & day out. This is a tool that pros use, as well.
** If babbles or raw vocalizations, imitate them and then name the activity you are doing, ("walk," "wash," "eat.") Or name the objects in use ("comb," "teddy," "spoon.")
** If single words, expand to phrases. (child: "ball;" you: "red ball" or "throw ball.")
** If phrases, expand to simple sentences. (child: "throw ball;" you: "Jeffy throw ball.")
** If simple sentences, expand to longer sentences. (child: "Jeffy throw ball." you: "Jeffy throw red ball.")
From there, things tend to snowball into naturalistic language & longer expansions. Don't worry too much about pronouns & verb tenses when going for early language development. These things will shape up in time. Just be a good role model in using correct grammar yourself.
Note 1: to be most helpful, expansions need to occur right after the utterance by the child. You have to be on your toes & prepared to do this at the snap of a finger. An expansion 2 min. later may not connect in the child's brain. So, think through the sorts of things your child typically says or vocalizes, & how you might expand them, in preparation. It may take you a day or so to get up to speed, but if you're a little slow on the draw at first, don't worry. It won't be harmful. At worst, slow-on-the-draw is simply ineffective.
Note 2: expansion is an activity undertaken by the parent or concerned other. It does not require any sort of response by the child, because expansion is primarily a language stimulation skill. You provide the input & the child's brain is working on it, whether you see a response or not. However, if you get a notice, or if the child tries to spontaneously imitate -- WooHoo, party time! Make sure the child is rewarded & understands your pleasure. But do not be pestering the child to imitate.
ABA has good programs for developing imitation. In normal language development, kids usually go through at least 2 iterations of imitation -- one early & one late. Imitation is a skill that all of us use in many ways, all life-long, yet some autistic kids seem highly resistant/have a difficult time with imitation.
Imitation is impt because once the skill is firmly in place it can facilitate rapid development of language & social skills. Imitation is also important for refinement of skills.
Many imitation skill programs start with imitation of motor or nonverbal skills. Most imitation programs rely on reward to help shape up the skill. Rewards or reinforcers are a whole topic unto themselves. You need something simple, quick to dispense, above all something your child enjoys & isn't sated on. Some potential reinforcers: Food (little cheerios or raisins), tickles or hugs, stickers or stamps, tokens (requires understanding of what tokens build up to for exchange). The reinforcers must be dispensed immediately following attempts at imitation in the beginning; as time goes on one can be a little fussier about accuracy of imitation before rewarding (R+).
Here are some examples of how imitation skills can be built:
1) Motor: cycle -- the child is spontaneously doing an activity, eg. clapping, rocking, combing hair, and eventually stops. The parent imitates the activity, asks child to do it ("comb hair, Susie.") The child repeats. R+
2) Motor: out of cycle -- parent initiates an activity the child does frequently & asks child to do it. Child makes attempt. R+
3) Gestural: parent demonstrates a sign paired with word & asks child to imitate. (Do "more," Susie. More. -- while demonstrating the sign.) Child imitates the sign.) R+
4) Oral gestural: Parent demonstrates a tongue or lip movement & asks child to imitate. ("Kiss, susie.") Also sticking tongue out, pursing lips, wiggling tongue side to side. Work in front of a large mirror.
5) Speech: vocalization -- parent makes a vowel sound, says: "Say ahhh, Susie." Any sound at all from Susie --> R+
7) Speech: words (usually paired w/picture, object, or activity)
8) Speech: 2 word phrases (paired w/picture or activ)
9) Speech: sentences -- as above
10) Speech: grammar & artic specifics
Note that it is easiest to start with motor skills because if the child does not respond, they can easily be "put through" the action or prompted. For example, if Susie is told to imitate "comb hair" and she does not respond, her hand can be moved towards the comb & she can be rewarded. You can even "help" Susie's hand comb hair, but eventually you want to fade the help.
Some kids come to imitation programs having OK motor imitation but stuck on verbal/language. So, not all of the steps may be necessary with every child.
Note: while expansion & other language stim activities can occur throughout the day, a formal imitation skill program will usually have a few discreet training periods each day. However, once the child has the basic skill, the goal is then to generalize it to use 24/7, and to gradually fade food & token reinforcers to social reinforcers (smiles, tickles, "good job," etc.
Note: it can be very helpful to watch a professional working an imitation development program with a child, or to watch a video or DVD of the same.
Note: If a child has a lot of difficulty with imitation, consult a professional about the possibility of apraxia, a neurological condition that makes the initiation of motor activities on demand, difficult. (And even speech is a motor activity when you get down to it.)