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Three Rules for Talking


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1.  Shorten Your Sentences.

2.  Ask Fewer Questions.

3.  Show Your Child What You Mean.

Why are the 3 Rules Important?

Imagine yourself learning a foreign language.  You are suddenly set down in a new country with no translator.  What 3 things would help you learn the language most quickly?  You can see the need for these rules, can't you? It would help if the locals would use short sentences, not ask you a bunch of questions that you were unable to answer, and if they would show you what they meant.

Let's Take a Closer Look at Each Rule

Use Shorter Sentences:  You can communicate the same idea with fewer words. 

1)  "Anna, honey, I have too much in my hands so could you do mommy a favor and bring that pile of socks  upstairs?"

2)  "Anna (placing a pile of socks in her arms), help Mommy, come upstairs (lead the way)."


Rule of Thumb:  Use sentences 1 to 3 words longer than the sentences that your child uses. 

Note: This rule does not include Scripted Language, which is little phrases that you say all the time the exact same way and your child understands.

Ask Fewer Questions  

Almost every parent or caregiver that I meet asks too many questions.  Most people ask questions as a way of teaching new vocabulary. 

"What color is this?" 
"What does the cow say?"
"How many animals are there?" 

Asking questions and then answering the question yourself is a normal way of interacting with a baby.  Parents all over the world do this  But, as a child grows older, and starts to understand more language but cannot yet talk very much, it feels to the child as though he or she is being tested and failing in the area of conversation.  Asking questions is a way of testing a child's vocabulary but it is not a good way of teaching new vocabulary.

Using new vocabulary in interesting and meaningful ways is a good way to teach new vocabulary.  Asking questions that a child cannot answer is not a good way to teach vocabulary.  Adults may ask children questions as a way to get a conversation started.


"How old are you?"  
"Where do you go to school?" 
"Where did you get that pretty dress?" 

Asking questions is a great strategy for getting conversation started with children who have good language skills but it is not a good way to get conversation started if a child does not have good language skills because the child can’t answer and feels bad.   

If you are going to ask questions, ask real questions:  In normal, daily conversation, only ask your child a question if your child knows the answer and you don't know the answer.  "Do you want juice or milk?"  is a real question.  "What color is this?" is a mini test because you already know what color it is. Avoid the mini test questions.  Many games on this website were created to help children learn new vocabulary.  Study these games and you will see much better ways to teach your child new words.

Show Your Child What You Mean 

Children who have difficulty comprehending language often watch what others are doing very carefully--at least when they are interested.   If you are going to show your child something, you can say "Watch!"  You should be saying "Just Watch!  I will show you" so often that your child tunes right in when you say this and watches what you do next. Teach your child to watch when told to watch by doing very interesting things after you say it.  

You can also casually demonstrate the meaning of words as you talk about what you are doing.  E.g.  "Here is juice.  Mommy will pour juice. Just a little bit.  Not too much. Oh!  You want more.  You can say "More juice".  Mommy will pour just a little juice.  More?  You are thirsty!  Mommy will pour a LOT!"  This strategy is called Parallel Talk.  It is where you talk about what you are doing as you do things.  Remember the Rule of Thumb though and don't use sentences that are too long.  It is ok, by-the-way to talk in 3rd person this way, calling yourself Mommy or Daddy rather than using the pronoun “I” because many children with autism get very confused about who “I” and “you” are.  It is much clearer who you are talking about when you use this form of speaking when speaking to young children with autism.

Easy Print Microsoft Word version of this page is attached below.
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Tahirih Bushey,
Dec 6, 2009, 5:19 PM
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