5 Tips for Teaching Language for Choices

How to Teach Language for Choices


Do you need good language skills to make responsible choices? Definitely! Language and thinking skills are so intertwined.  My last post was about why choices are so important. Now, let’s take a look at the language involved in making choices.

language development, behavior, choices, speech therapy

Toddlers typically don’t yet have the language skills to really make choices. They live in the here and now. The real importance of making choices is in making decisions for the future. But, we need to start teaching them with simple choices in the here and now to build better skills.

Providing toddlers with two simple visual choices, such as a graham cracker or a cookie, is teaching more than you might think! When we label the items, we are teaching vocabulary. When we get them to point or name the desired item, we are teaching requesting skills.

We are showing them visually that they have choices and giving them the language they need to make that choice! Without this skill, little ones who can’t communicate will resort to behaviors to get what they want or need.

Think about their play skills, too- working on learning cause and effect. This is a building block for making responsible choices!

SLP tips for toddler’s choices in therapy

  1. Attention spans are short, so have lots of activities available.

  2. Be sure to watch your students with varied choices of toys before beginning intervention. This helps you decide on the toys to use in your sessions. Kids have to really want the toy to help them make the next steps!

  3. Baskets can really helpful for having similar toys available to grab or put away quickly. Toddlers will use eye gaze first to show their choice when two objects are held up. That is our cue to label the one they want!

  4. When eye gaze is established, that is our cue to delay gratification a little and wait for a vocalization to occur. Listen for some variation in vowel sounds to occur between the different toys in your basket, and hopefully, some consonant sounds will be emerging, too.

  5. For children who are having problems vocalizing, are a little older, or could possibly be on the spectrum, this is the perfect opportunity to start developing a pointing response. Pointing is much easier to prompt than vocalizations for a child who is not naturally starting to do that.

speech therapy, autism, pointing, choices

How to Shape a Pointing Response for Students with Autism

  1. Hold up two toys to see which one is being looked at. Quickly set down the other toy and scoop that hand under the child’s hand. It is probably already out, trying to grab the toy!

  2. Use your hand to mold the child’s hand into a pointing gesture while naming the desired object. Be sure to only let the child get the toy after a pointing response, not a grab!

  3. While this feels awkward at first, you will soon become adept at prompting a point. Help yourself out a little by holding the usually preferred toy in your non-dominant hand at first so you can get used to the steps using your dominant hand most of the trials.

Why this Works

I like this technique for several reasons. First, you are shaping a natural gesture (grabbing) into a communicative behavior (pointing.)

Next, you are pairing the child’s eye gaze with that point, since they are already looking at the item they want. This is so  important as a prerequisite step for joint attention (the child looking at what you are looking at.) 

Once the child realizes that pointing goes with looking, it opens the door for teaching that your point is telling them to look!  ou are also starting to teach some of the skills the child will need if he has problems leaning verbal language and as to start by using an alternative communication method. 

Last, and possibly most important, pointing and waiting is such a better social skill than grabbing and taking!

How do you use choices in therapy? If you are still interested in this topic, pop on over to Speech Time Fun this Friday for a summary of my ideas! I’m so grateful for the opportunity to guest post there!

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I’m Linda, an SLP who loves helping you build effective communication skills for your students using strategies and visuals. Pictures are time consuming, so let me make your life easier!

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