Pragmatics are the social rules that we follow as a society. It is the functional use of our language in everyday life. As you may know, children and adults on the Autism spectrum have difficulty in this area of language. Here are a few milestones to watch for as your kids develop. Along with the milestones, I'll give you some ideas on how to expand on this language. Remember that WE are our children's best model of language and WE are not only their parents, but their TEACHERS!!!
- 9-12 Months: Shakes head "no" or pushes an undesired object away. My son does this with food (he typically will like any toy you give him). When he starts to push the food away (which is ok as long as he does it without spilling it everywhere), then I know he's trying to communicate that he has preferences and I have chosen incorrectly. He knows the gesture, but I verbally give him the language by saying something like, "you don't want this? Tell mommy, 'I don't want it.' " He's not talking yet, but I'm teaching him the words he could use in this instance. Remember, even if they aren't talking, they are little sponges and are learning all the time.
- 12-18 Months: Requests an object by pointing/gesturing and vocalizing a word approximation. These will be words that you begin to understand, but other people may not know. The best thing to do when little Suzy is pointing at a cup and saying, "di" for drink, then say, "Oh, you want a DRINK?" (DRINK is capitalized to show auditory highlighting - see blog post from June 14) "Ok, let's get a DRINK. You must be THIRSTY. Say, 'I want a drink please.' " You won't necessarily expect your child to repeat the entire sentence, but you are clarifying and expanding on your child's utterance.
- 18-24 Months: Says, "what's that?" to elicit attention. Your child is now telling you all the things he/she doesn't know the name for, but wants to learn. Think of it as adding words to his/her personal dictionary!!! A great thing to do is to tell your child the name of the object, what it does, what it looks like, what it feels like, etc. Tell your child as much information as possible while you are both engaged with the same object (and you have time to do so). The more you tell him/her, the more learning that occurs.
- 2-3 Years: Begins to add descriptive details. You can see that all the describing you've been doing over the past 2-3 years is now starting to come out in your child's speech. Keep up the good work! You could play the describing game. Have you and your child take turns describing an object until you can figure out what it is. Example: (describer): "I see something that is round, blue, it bounces, I play with it outside" (guesser): "it must be the ball that I see in your toy box!"
- 3-4 Years: Requests permission. Your child has always just gone and done things and you have had to correct and redirect. Well, now little Joey can ASK you if he can do something!!! If he doesn't ask and starts to move a stool to get something from a high shelf, then simply stop him and say, "Joey, I need you to ask for permission. That means that you ask me if you can get something or ask me to help you get something if it is out of reach. Ask me now and I'll help you get the crayons."
- 5-6 Years: Uses indirect requests. Now your child has begun to get "sneaky." He/she might say, "I really love going to the beach on days like this." They understand the idea of asking for something without using a question. This is a great way to start a conversation with your child. You could respond by saying, "You know, I love going to the beach too. What is your favorite part?" If going to the beach is out of the question, then sit down with a calendar and say, "Today is not good for going to the beach because we have soccer practice at 3 and that wouldn't give us a lot of time to enjoy the sand and water. Let's look at what we have going on and see which day would be best." Then you can help your child plan what you will need for the beach (bathing suit, sunblock, towels, blanket for sitting, umbrella for shade, lunches, snacks, drink, etc). By him/her generating the list of items and planning out what time you would need to leave for the beach, leave to come home, how much time you would have, etc are all EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING SKILLS!!!! These are higher order thinking skills that are very important. I'll be blogging about EF skills soon!
Have fun watching for these (and other milestones) and expanding on your child's skills to get to the next level.