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Guest Post: Eliciting Language from the “SHUT-DOWN” kid

Today’s guest post on how to elicit language from children with “shut-down” tendencies secondary to significant expressive language delay comes from Rachel Arntson, M.S., CCC-SLP of the  Talk It Rock It  Blog.

Have you ever worked with a child who would shut down the minute she thought you wanted her to say something? I find this phenomenon a lot with children who display significant motor planning issues and expressive language delay. One morning, I worked with a little two year old who showed exactly that pattern. She appeared to know that imitation of sounds and words is hard. And the more that her parents showed her that they wanted her to imitate, the more she shut down. What a dilemma.

Why does this happen?

It is difficult to know why children shut down, but it appears that these children know that talking is hard for them. I have found that a sure way to decrease their verbalizing is to try too hard to get it. Kids are incredibly perceptive. They instinctively know who is playing with them to get something verbal out of them and who is playing with them just for the sheer JOY of it. So how do we let children think that we don’t care that they imitate and say words when, in reality, that’s our primary goal?

Well, let’s start with this. Stay away from phrases like, “Say this…,” “Can you say___?,” and “What’s that?” Questions and commands can be stifling and can draw too much attention to the fact that imitation and speaking are hard. Questions and commands can lead to the battle of the wills, and there is a high probability you will lose that battle. You cannot force a child to talk.

What else should we do?

Chapter 2 in my WE CAN TALK book contains a description of the WE CAN TALK technique, “Exaggerate and entice with your gestures and words.” This technique worked like a charm with my little student this morning. By adding a simple gesture and by putting some excitement to a word, this little one was motivated to try. Mom and I put so much excitement to the word that it gave unspoken incentive for my student.

As you add exaggerated gestures and sounds, be sure to give your child time to respond. He needs to get a turn, so WAIT to see what happens. I discuss the art of WAITING in Chapter 1 of my WE CAN TALK book. By nature, adults do not tend to wait long enough for a child to respond. I have often encouraged parents to count to 10 under their breath as they wait patiently for their child to respond. Give a look of anticipation by smiling, looking at your child, and leaning toward him. Accept any response initially, whether it is a smile, a gesture, or a vocalization. Respond back to your child by imitating him, saying the same word, or by adding something new to what he said. The main goal is to keep the “volley” of turns going as long as you can. There is rarely a need to praise your child’s attempts in the middle of the “volley”. Just keep it going for a while. At the end of the “volley”, you can give your child a hug, telling him how much fun you had talking to him. Remember that your child needs to know the activity is about playing with him for the sheer joy of it and NOT to get words or sounds out of him.

Find a motivating activity that your child LOVES!

Motor activities can be very motivating for children and often result in laughter. Laughter may be the one and only verbal response that you can elicit from a child. Go with it! When a child laughs, laugh back using vowel sounds. Some of my favorite motor activities include putting a child in a blanket and swinging him as you sing, “Swinging, swinging, swinging, Whee!” Swing him into the couch or on the bed and then wait to see what he does to swing some more. Another activity that I love is an adapted version of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Sit on the floor facing your child as you sing, “Row, row, row your boat. Fishie swim. Row, row, row your boat. We fall in!!!” As you sing “in,” fall to the side, pretending that you fell in the water. These motivating activities can set the stage for verbal imitation and spontaneous requesting.

Best wishes as you try to OPEN UP the SHUT-DOWN kid!

Bio: Rachel Arntson has been a speech-language pathologist in the greater Minneapolis area since 1980 and currently works with infants, toddlers, and their families with Osseo Area Schools. She co-founded Kids’ Express Train, LLC in 2002, and in August of 2012, began a new company entitled TALK IT ROCK IT. With a specific interest in creating music to enhance speech and language skills, Rachel has recorded 9 CDs, has written the WE CAN TALK parent training book, and has developed the Push-Pull Puzzle. In addition, Rachel presents nationally and internationally, sharing her passion for music through creative and interactive workshops. To listen to song samples and get more information about Rachel’s products, please visit her website at Rachel can also be emailed at [email protected].

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