Talking can be very hard for our kids. It takes a lot of effort. How do you motivate your child to work on it? Is there a way to extend the conversation?
At school, Peter gets tabletop language worksheets and drills to prime him. The tutor may present an interesting picture from a magazine or internet of something Peter can relate to such as a boy skiing down a mountain (Peter loves to ski), and then asks him to describe it. What’s the picture about? (“A boy skiing.”) If no response, she’ll prompt him, “Who’s in the picture?” (“A boy”) “What is he doing?” (“skiing”) “Where is he (mountain or desert)?” “How’s the weather? (hot, cold, sunny, snowing, raining might be choices offered on PECS or a word bank)” “Look, at the bright lamps on. When is this? Morning or night?” Tell me about the boy (color of clothes, big vs little, fast vs slow, excited vs bored- think attributes, form, function, and class). Peter inputs all his answers on his AT device (Vantage, by Prentke Romme), saves them in a notebook, and then reads them all off at the end. “A boy is skiing down the mountain. It’s cold and snowing. He wears a red jacket. He skiis fast. He feels happy.”
Peter also gets worksheets with short 5-10 sentence stories and similar types of questions to answer, using formats ranging in difficulty from multiple choice to fill in the blank to concept maps. The tutor provides word banks and choices as needed to prompt him, and has him check off boxes as he completes each question to receive a little prize, break, or choice of a new activity after all the boxes are checked.
All this practice enables Peter to take advantage of real life opportunities for a little conversation around things he wants. The other day Peter and I were grocery shopping. He ran over and grabbed a box of chocolate doughnuts from the shelf. I smiled, put my hand over the package, and asked him, “Let me guess what you want. Can you tell me about it?” (Big or little? Color? Shape? Flavor- chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla? Taste- sweet, sour, or salty?) Eventually Peter put together all the attributes: “I want a big, round, sweet, chocolate doughnut.”
Last weekend, we were out at a restaurant. Peter wanted another piece of pizza that he really didn’t need, as he’d already had several pieces. I thought it might be a good opportunity to make him work a little at getting it, to at least slow him down. So I put my hand over his and said, “Peter, I see you reaching for something on the table. I wonder what it is. Instead of reaching, could you describe it with words?” “I want big, cheese and pepperoni, hot, triangle pizza,” was the eventual product of our back and forth to elicit elaboration. So consider elaboration as an initial step when you want to get a conversation going.