Who cares about language? Well, we do! This week’s Wordy Wednesday gets personal with a set of cards for working on the concept of who, one of the all-important wh-questions: who, what, where, when, why and how. Over the next couple of months, we’ll be bringing you cards for all of the wh-questions, but today we’re starting with who questions. You might be asking yourself: Why would I want to work on those questions? When should my child be mastering these concepts? Where can I find materials and ideas for strengthening these skills? Stay tuned to our blog to find out!
Arguably, who is the most basic of the wh-questions; children typically have words for the specific people most important to their lives (mama, dada) before anything else.* As with most aspects of language, children have the capacity to understand and even answer the question well before they can ask the question themselves. As usual, comprehension/receptive language precedes expression/production.
Wh-questions are one area in which children with language delays show particular difficulty. Research based on naturalistic observations suggests that children with language delays tend to ask fewer questions in general than those whose language develops typically. Children on the autism spectrum may especially struggle with who questions, perhaps due to the social deficits characteristic of ASD. These difficulties may come out of a lack of linguistic sophistication, from disengagement or a lack of interest in others, or both.
How can you use these who cards?
- Practice receptive language by presenting a few images (without words) at a time. Ask the child “Who helps us when we are sick?” He responds by pointing at or handing you the picture of a doctor. For reluctant responders, use positive reinforcers frequently. (We’re big on social praise around here [e.g. high fives, fist bumps, loud cheering, hugs], and with especially squirmy or non-compliant kids we give very specific requests and rewards: “Let’s do three more cards, then you can have a sticker/take a coloring break/get up and stretch.”
- Work on expressive language by presenting the images one at a time and ask the child “Who teaches us in school?” She should respond verbally by saying “Teacher!” or “A teacher teaches us in school” depending on her abilities. If the child is having a hard time answering the question, it may help to use our oft-repeated phrase: “Who means a person!”
- Scale up the challenge a notch by having the child ask the who questions. A child who can read may benefit from reading the question directly from the card. You can fade this written prompt as the child becomes familiar with the conversational exchange of asking a question and waiting for the answer. With many of our older clients who’ve been in speech-language therapy for a while, we find that they’ve had a lot of practice answering questions but not a lot of experience asking the questions. At first, a child learning to ask questions may immediately answer his own question. Don’t get discouraged! Have him slow down, ask the question, then STOP! and wait for an answer. You can say something like, “Now it’s my turn to answer.”
- Build a little fine motor activity into the mix. Have the child ask you questions as above, then write your answers. This also forces the child to listen actively and processyour responses. If she is struggling with this activity, try having her listen to
your response then repeat it aloud before starting to write.
- Of course, who practice shouldn’t be all about flashcards. Sprinkle who questions throughout your day: ask who questions about the books you read, who questions about your child’s friends, who questions about the family.
How will you make use of this week’s Wordy Wednesday? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Happy Wednesday! ~Melanie and Elizabeth
*Children typically begin speaking, including words for mom and/or dad, between 9 and 15 months. If a child isn’t producing these words exactly within this time frame, don’t panic! Experts consider a number of factors in addition to chronological age when trying to determine whether a child’s language development is on track, and we’ll be posting about these nuances here in the near future.