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Helping young and emerging communicators make social connections

Young and emerging communicators often need support with communicating to get their needs and desires met.  It is important to focus on social communication and not simply requesting items of interest.  We can support and teach social communication by providing a socially-focused vocabulary that encourages attention towards people and their actions.  By modeling this type of language—“person + action” we are encouraging a child to use language to get a person to notice something, to be able to call out to a caregiver, and/or to sustain a motivating activity.  Sharing attention with the use of “person + action” language is an important building block for developing more complex language, such as conversations.

Teaching Social Language:  Choose action words that can be used across play and daily living routines such as “do, stop, go and give”.  Instead of focusing on the item or preferred activity focus on the actions of the activity.

Model The Use Of Person + Action throughout the day by using a person’s name and action when speaking or narrating the activity–e.g., “Mommy open”, “Josie give”, “Papa do”.

Model during play or other high interest and motiving activities. For example, if building together you could say, “Mommy give” while simultaneously handing the block to the child. 

Model during daily routines such as eating, dressing, and bathing.  For example, if bathing you say, “Mommy wash” or when preparing a snack, “Daddy open” or “Daddy pour.”

  • Use visuals (objects and/or pictures)  to support the use of social language. Pair your language with a visual to support the child’s understanding. Model the use of these visuals when you are talking to the child:  showing the item and using words.
  • Point to the visual while saying the words then perform the action. For example, point to “mommy blow” then blow the bubbles or if using a picture, point to the picture of Mommy and then say, “mommy blow”.
  • Wait for your child to respond. If your child does not respond, shake the object that you are using (bubble jar) to get your child’s attention and then push the visual closer to her to remind her that it is her turn to talk.
  • Build on what your child says.  If your child says, “blow” respond: “mommy blow” while pointing to the visual.  And then blow!
  • Focus on the same few actions that go with each activity (e.g. for a bubble activity focus on words such as “open, blow, do”)

 For Example, to support socially-focused vocabulary, you might place your photo on top of a container filled with balloons to help the child remember to get the adult’s attention. It also helps reinforce the idea that a partner is needed for the fun balloon routine! Instead of labeling the item and saying “balloons,” model the social language of person + action: “mommy open”, or “mommy blow.”

Helpful Hints: 

  • Respond to any attempts to communicate.
  • Don’t give up! Children need many opportunities to hear and use social language with different activities and people.  Keep using “person + action” language while pointing to the objects or pictures!
  • When using pictures and/or objects to help support the development of social language, be consistent in how the visuals look and are organized. 
      • Categorizing: most emerging communicators benefit from a simple organization of their visual supports. For example, put all of the options of people in one row and all of the actions in another row. When using the same visuals for different activities, keep the common pictures in the same location. If “go” is located at the bottom of the first column then it should be located there for all activity boards that it is used.
      • The background color can also be used to support the child’s ability to categorize. Choose one background color for people and a different colored background for actions. Choose any color that works for your child but keep the color used for the person and the color used to highlight the action the same across activities.

Help your child understand pictures by
pairing them with the real object.
Use the person + action language: “Daddy tickle”

This board could be used when playing with playdoh

Remember:  Have fun!  Laugh, smile, and use exaggerated
gestures to help your child remain engaged!