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Q&A Session 7

Q&A Session 7 with the Director of The Son-Rise Program, Bryn N. Hogan

Topic: Difficulty Developing Spoken Language

I am writing as a professional rather than a parent and there is a little boy I see once per week who has autism, is 9 years old and who does not use speech yet. He has good receptive language and he will make sounds experimenting with his voice.

He is generally compliant and can be quite interactive at times. He is fabulous with complying with requests, but the one area of trouble I have is that he so rarely seems to want anything that it makes it difficult to develop his spoken language, i.e. it is as though there’s not too much that’s actually motivating for him in terms of toys or activities or games, etc.

Have you any thoughts on this matter?

Anne M.

A: Anne,
You pose an interesting question. Often, when a child is not interested in traditional motivators (playing catch, chase games, tickling, etc.) it seems as though they have nothing that they want. But everyone has a motivation. You may have to become a bit of a (happy) detective though, to figure it out.

Here are some things to try:

  • Watch him and see what he likes to do. Whatever are the dominant things he does, those are motivations for him. You may be able to tap into some of those, i.e. if he likes listening to himself clapping, you may find that your own clapping, or another percussive instrument might catch his fancy.
  • This is where the design of the Son-Rise Playroom can come into play. You may remember, we encourage families and professionals to utilize a high shelf, so that when a child wants something it is not readily available; instead, they have to interact in some way with their facilitator to get what they want. If the child has things that are within reach for him, then he has no reason to learn how to speak.
  • Some non-traditional (but very motivating) things for certain children are snacks and drinks. If he likes to eat an apple, for example, cut it up into little pieces and put it on the shelf. When he’s hungry, give him just a few pieces instead of the whole apple. Now, you can ask him to verbally communicate to get another piece. If your child isn’t eating and you are trying to encourage him to eat more, don’t try this approach. This is specifically for children who are clearly motivated to eat or drink.
  • He may like particular things from you if you let yourself try them out: squeezing his arms, feet, hands, and head (with his permission, of course); belting out a song to him in a funny voice; running around the room whooping and hollering if he so much as looks at you. Any of these (or other things you could try) may prove to be a motivation for him

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Q&A Session 7