The foundation of communication and speech is language. Language includes both understanding (receptive) and what we communicate (expressive). Receptive language includes understanding what words and sentences mean, such as when you follow directions. Expressive language includes what we say, but also what we communicate in other ways, like with eye contact, gestures and body language. Children typically gain receptive language skills before learning the corresponding expressive language skill. For example, typically a child will learn what a word means before saying that word.

Language, especially receptive language, is often a relative strength for children with CAS, especially when they are young. It is important to continue to build upon this strength, especially when children are struggling to speak. Building and maintaining a strong language foundation will benefit your child’s overall communication and assist their speech development. It is important for a child to have a message to share to motivate them to do the hard work of working on their speech.

Ways to Build Your Child’s Language

Use Descriptive Language and Narrate

There are many ways to expand your child's language and vocabulary throughout your day. Learning through doing is very powerful for children. Keep this in mind as you do daily activities, like going to the grocery store, and point out new vocabulary to your child. For example, when going through the produce section, you can label new fruits and vegetables, talk about shapes and sizes, and much more. While driving you can talk about different vehicle names, colors and sizes. You can also "narrate" what you and your child are doing as you complete activities, whether chores or play.

More Comments, Fewer Questions

While you want to encourage your child to communicate throughout the day, avoid asking your child too many questions. Being asked lots of questions can feel demanding for a child with CAS, leading to anxiety and causing the child to shut-down. Try using the rule of thumb of making at least three comments for each question you ask. Turn your questions into comments. For example, instead of asking "What's that?" state "I see a ball!" or instead of "What color is the ball?" say "I love that blue ball!"

Follow Your Child's Lead

We all have more to say about topics that interest us. Watch your child and follow their lead by talking about the things that interest them.

Get on Your Child's Level

It can be very helpful to physically be on the same level as your child, so that you can communicate face-to-face. This is a powerful way to let your child know that they have your full attention - which in turn, may get their full attention!

Include Thoughtful Pauses

While it is important to provide lots of language modeling, it is also important to include thoughtful pauses, giving your child a chance to participate in the conversation. They may participate by saying words, using gestures or actions, or looking at you or an item of interest. Try to include pauses after both comments and questions, to see how your child responds.

Simple but Correct

For young children, use simple, grammatically correct sentences. If your child is talking, a good approach is to respond to their words with an additional word or two. So if they say "dog!" you might respond with "a big dog!" or "I see a dog!" For for children using more words, they might say "That's a ball!" and you might say "Yes, that's a soccer ball."

Use Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC)

Encourage your child to use AAC such as gestures, sign language, pictures or a communication device to help them communicate consistently. You can help them by communicating using AAC, too. Your child should be able to communicate not only wants and needs, but emotions, comments and questions. Including AAC is a great way to build both your child's expressive and receptive language. If your child does not have an AAC system or you don't feel the system they have is a good fit, talk to your child's speech-language pathologist - there are options!

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

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