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Friday Five: Shaking It Up 

Sometimes I find our language modeling is getting stale. The first sign is usually that we begin noticing repetitive conversations and phrases. We aren’t branching out, and so Diva is not branching out. We might use the device a little less, and rely more on guesswork and gestures. Here are five things we do to help keep the routine from getting stale — and to keep expanding Diva’s language. 

  1. Add more words. And make them interesting ones! Add more basic core words, certainly, but also add fun words like delicious and aggravated and mime. Part of learning to talk is falling in love with the language. Give your child things that s/he can fall in love with. And if your system has no room for playful words, it might be time to explore new systems. 
  2. Add special interests. A lot of moms I know talk about how they add new TV characters when their child starts losing interest in their talker. This makes so much sense to me because our kids need to be able to talk about the things THEY love. If they can’t, they won’t use it. Add TV characters and train line stops and the titles to favorite songs. Give them a way to tell you about what they love. We just added the characters from Yo Gabba Gabba, and you can bet that was the first thing Diva wanted to talk about in the morning. 
  3. Double-check: are you ensuring access to the system all the time? Systems are so easy to get left behind. This is why we use a Gab & Go Harness. When we start seeing a drop in language use, we often find that we weren’t doing our best to re-attach her harness after a bath, or first thing in the morning. The talker HAS to be there to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. If your child cannot have constant access or easily initiate their full system, maybe consider teaching use of an “I have something to say!” wrist band (raise arm in air), Big Mack, or other way to provide a link between child and system. And make that always available. 
  4. Try a new activity. Be creative and try a new play activity that might spark ideas for words. New activities inspire us to try new words, but they also offer us a chance to let go of the “I know her like a mom does” thing. We make a lot of assumptions about what our kids think and feel. New activities force us to drop that and see what they actually SAY about this. And there are so many different things we can explore. In a FB community, a mom mentioned having her child direct her to make different things with Play-Doh. Dana wrote a blog about TV character puppets. We have used new music videos to spark conversation, since Diva is hugely into music. I think it’s really, really important for the activity to be chosen because it’s FUN, not because of its therapeutic value. FUN is what gets kids talking. 
  5. Create a new family ritual. Find a way to add a 2-3 minute family ritual to your day that relies on communication. Don’t make it hard or a burden. And don’t pick a time of day that’s already hectic. Morning rituals would be a disaster for us. Evenings work better. Dinner. Before bed. After bath. Rituals can be prayers, questions about days, telling stories, sharing a cuddle on the couch, working together on a puzzle . It’s what works for YOUR family and what causes you to model. One of our favorites is to have everyone share a highlight or funny part of their day at the beginning of dinner. It doesn’t happen every single night, but it happens often. We model things that we say, and then we give Diva her own turn. Seeing her participate on her own has been awesome. No more guessing or relying on teacher’s notes. She says herself – “markers markers markers” and “favorite show want get”. That’s worth all the time and effort in the world. 
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5-4-3-2-1… Freeze!

We have been playing a lot of Freeze tag in our family. Every day, for 10-15 minutes, we play freeze tag. This is what Little Man chooses for his special time every day, and so we do it. We sprint and hide and chase and freeze and fall down. We laugh. It is exhausting, but it is worth it. For 10-15 minutes, we feel like a family. We hold hands. We hug. No one is yelling. No one is frustrated. No one is biting or kicking or hitting.

I create these moments where I can, and then I savor them. “Little Man time” is one of the only consistent pleasantries in my life. For 10-15 minutes every day, Little Man decides what we are doing and how we are doing it. It tends to get repetitive. We’ve played a whole-freaking-lot of “cat game” and “puppy game.” (His play repertoire is small.) The boredom meant that we stopped doing it, until Little Man started a holiday-fall-apart that quickly reminded us why our days have been so structured and routine.

The idea came from parent-child interaction therapy, where half of the program focuses on increasing the positive relationship between parents and extremely difficult children. “Extremely difficult” is an understatement for Little Man, so we gave it a try. We almost always end up playing something active: puppy games, cat games, monster games, hide-and-seek, tickling, now freeze tag. He loves it; I credit it for so much of our gains with attachment. Not only his attachment to us, but ours to him as well. How can I not attach to this curly haired boy who is nearly peeing himself with laughter?! And I don’t have to “do” anything! I don’t have to remember a special therapy game. I don’t have to remind him of special cues or make social stories. We just let him be in charge, completely.

When I talk to other parents about what has worked for us, I always recommend this strategy. It can be tricky in the beginning. You’re not supposed to give directions, ask questions, or quiz kids on things. You don’t get to be in charge of where the play goes. Sometimes, I’ve wanted to say — no more puppy game! Sometimes, the repetition is exhausting. Sometimes, though, it can be magical. You simply follow the child’s lead, and be excited about their interests. Comment on what they are doing. Spend 10-15 solid minutes showing (not telling) that you care deeply about everything this child does. Ten minutes. That’s all. And it does make a difference.