Strategies for Receptive Language Challenges

  • Situation

    My son has issues with receptive language. When I tell him something, like this morning I was trying to tell him we would have cheerios for breakfast and eggs for lunch, all he could hear was he wasn’t getting cheerios right now. I kept repeating “we will have cheerios and then eggs after” but he still was not hearing me and continued to cry and scream. I then put him on the table at eye-level and validated him by saying “I will get you cheerios” but I couldn’t explain to him that we would have eggs after. My son will be 4 in May and this is probably the most frustrating thing we deal with on a daily basis…

  • Summary

    Children with receptive language challenges may often hear and process certain words in sentences and not others.  Consequently, they may respond accordingly, not understanding an entire directive or comment.  This can be frustrating for both child and caretaker.   Using single words or simple phrases instead of complex sentences,  supporting your language with pictures or objects when appropriate, and/or offering the child choices to control certain situations may alleviate some communication challenges.

  • Definition

    Visual supports are an effective strategy that includes: concrete items, pictures, symbols or printed words and/or a combination of these. These supports may assist children in their ability to maintain attention, understand spoken language, and sequence and organize their environment (Hodgdon, 1995).    A structured choice option is an intervention that gives a child a sense of control over a situation by providing choices. Structured choice interventions are used to prevent or de-escalate interfering behaviors and to increase appropriate behaviors.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 0-2, 3-5, 6-10, 11-13, 14-17, 18+
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Pre-requisites

    An understanding of picture representations

  • Process

    1. In this scenario you can try a variety of simple interventions.  The first and easiest solution is to give only the information that is needed to process at the moment.  If you want your child to have cereal for breakfast, then only provide that information.  When it is time for lunch you can then tell him eggs are for lunch.

    2. A second option is to offer choices of the types of cereal for breakfast by showing the actual boxes while asking: “Which one for breakfast?” or more simply “What do you want?” or “Show me.”  This will clearly identify that cereal is for breakfast and gives the child a choice and sense of control.

    3. A third option is to show pictures of cereal (or use the real objects) and pictures of an egg (or real object) and allow the child to choose which of these two foods he may want for the  meal at hand.  If it is breakfast time show him both and ask ‘Which one for breakfast?”  At lunch time again show both and ask him:  “Which one for lunch?”

    4. Finally, if you want to teach your child a sense of time and schedules, develop a picture or word schedule of his day including choices throughout.  As each activity is completed have him cross it off or pull off the picture to demonstrate completion.  Use language, as well as, visuals simultaneously.

    5. Check examples of schedule uses by going to the links provided below on this site.

  • Documents and Related Resources

    Visual Strategies (website)

    Teaching Children Home & School Routines (related answer on this site)

    This resource was authored by Watson Institute Special Education Consultant, Lisa Plastino, M.Ed.

    If you have questions or concerns about the Watson Institute’s use of this information, please contact us.