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How to Build Expressive Language in Autistic Children

By Karen Doyle ; Updated September 26, 2017
Reading helps develop expressive language.

Expressive language is the way people communicate with others, and it can include both verbal and non-verbal forms of communication. When a child points to objects and names them, or starts a conversation, he is using expressive language. While autistic children often struggle in the area of communication, you can help your child improve his expressive language skills by talking to him and by encouraging him to talk to you.

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Building Expressive Language

Your pediatrician may suggest speech-and-language therapy if your child has expressive language delays. The speech-and-language therapist can suggest activities you can do at home that will reinforce what your child is doing in therapy. Be sure the therapist understands that you will be working with your child at home so they can suggest appropriate activities. Let the therapist know about the progress your child is making at home.

There are activities you can do with your child to encourage and build his expressive language. Music is a great way to help your child express himself. Sing nursery rhymes and other songs with your child, taking turns singing each line, or leaving off the last word or two for your child to fill in. Finger plays involved in songs like "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" with gestures will help, as well. When you read to your child, which is another great way to build expressive language, point out pictures in the book and talk about what is happening. Ask your child to point out and name familiar objects.

When you speak to your child, use the same kind of language he is using. If your child uses one word at a time, name everything you give or show him. If he is putting together two or three words in a phrase, do the same. The two of you can move up to more complex speech together. Provide new experiences to talk about, and talk about everything.

When you are outside or in a new place, point out trees, flowers, animals and other objects and ask your child to name them. To encourage your child to point out objects, say, "Now you show me something." Take turns pointing things out. Turn taking is an important part of conversation that builds expressive language. Remember that you are trying to help your child initiate conversation, so encourage him to begin talking about a new subject as well as answering your questions.

Things You Will Need

  • Picture books
  • Music
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About the Author

Karen Doyle has been a writer since 1993, covering finance, business, marketing and parenting. Her work has been published in "Kidding Around" and "A Cup of Comfort." Doyle holds a bachelor's degree in marketing from Boston College.

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