Children develop their communication skills in many different ways. Typically, they start small and build into more complex language and strategies of communicating as they grow. Children with autism are no different in this regard, however, it's the pace at which they learn that may differ.
Expanding Vocabulary for Children on the Autism Spectrum
The development of a large vocabulary is necessary for an individual to be able to effectively communicate with others. We believe that parents and caregivers should be active participants in the child’s learning process. Parents interact with their children on a daily basis and therefore have numerous opportunities to help them learn new skills and language. Teachable moments can be found throughout the day with skills such as eating breakfast, getting ready for the day as well as brushing teeth and getting ready for bed at night.
Assessing a Child’s Ability to Label Items
Before you select new words to teach your child, you must first assess the student’s vocabulary to determine what they know. The biggest challenge is determining which items the child can receptively identify and label.
To assess a child’s vocabulary, we like to use the First 220 Nouns List, which can be found in the Success on the Spectrum book. This list is composed of four groups and includes many nouns that children often acquire during their first several years of life. These lists include food and other items that are frequent reinforcers for many children. It also includes common animals, clothing items, household items, common food items, and other items that are found outside of home.
When using the First 220 Nouns List, parents must first identify and score items on the list that the student definitely knows and doesn’t know. It is recommended to follow a general pattern of assessing words from the first group, followed by the second group, the third group, etc.
Parents can easily conduct an assessment of items that the child can label in their own homes. Think of your home as an educational supply store! The items that the child uses the most are right in your own home. This involves going around the house and asking the child to label actual objects that a parent believes the child already knows. One way to do this is to see if the child can expressively label objects, such as a favorite toy, or common items that they come in contact with on a daily basis, like a toothbrush, shoe, or cup.
Another way that parents can assess a child's expressive labeling at home includes pointing to the five most obvious items in each room that a child is likely able to label. For example, a child can be taken into the bathroom to see if they are able to label the bathtub, toilet, sink, mirror, and towel. They then can be taken into the kitchen and asked to label the refrigerator, oven, etc. If they don’t know the labels of items, tell them! Have the child say the name of the item and repeat it until they can answer independently. Make each moment a teachable one. Many parents end up surprised at how many items their child sees and hears them talking about, yet still are unable to label them correctly.
Which labels should I teach?
Assessing a child’s ability to label items is easy when you utilize the First 220 Nouns List. By scoring the child’s labeling skills, parents and caregivers will be better able to determine their ability label item, and therefore, work on expanding their vocabulary. The main strategy is to select words that are important and relevant in the child’s daily life. It is important to teach words that the child frequently hears others say, are easy to learn, and are items that are seen or used by the child on a daily basis. When teaching these new labels, make sure that the child gets many opportunities to use the new target words, focusing on only a few words at a time.