Tag Archive for: language skills

5 Possible Autism Red Flags for Preschoolers

Autism spectrum disorder is a diagnosis that affects each child differently. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and common ones include:blog-autism-red-flags-main-landscape

· Problems with social interactions

· Difficulties with communication

· Repetitive/stereotypical behavior

Our Family Child Advocates developed a list of five possible autism red flags for preschoolers. While this is not an all-inclusive list, and symptoms vary between children, these can be early indicators.

1. Not Just Shy

Don’t mistake shyness for autism — or vice versa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a chart for parents that highlights the difference. For example, a child with a shy temperament might be “quiet and withdrawn in new settings.” However, a child on the autism spectrum suffers from a “lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests or achievements with others.”

During preschool years (ages 3 to 5), children are exploring their environment and interacting with their peers, family members and teachers. These interactions help children develop an understanding of the world and form important relationships with others.

Around this age, children should start showing an interest in what their peers are doing and begin to interact with them both during organized (e.g., planned activities) and unstructured activities (e.g., free play). If they only want to play alone (even if there are peers around them), this could be a red flag. In addition, if a child demonstrates limited eye contact with adults and peers — this could also be a sign of autism — especially if the child doesn’t make any eye contact when their name is called or during times of play/activities with others.

2. Something Doesn’t Sound “Right”

It’s true that speech and language milestones are reached at different times for each child. However, at the preschool age, most children should be able to:

· Speak four or more words in a sentence.

· Follow three-step directions like “find your chair,” “raise your hand” or “shut the door.”

· Answer “WH” questions: Who, what, where and why.

· Recognize some letters and numbers.

Children on the autism spectrum disorder may not be able to speak about or do these things. Also, when autism spectrum children do speak, people may struggle to understand what they are saying.

A child on the autism spectrum might repeat the same words (e.g., “clap, clap, clap!”) or phrases, (e.g., “How are you? How are you?”) over and over again. The repeated words or phrases might be said right away or at a later time. While most children go through a repetitive speech stage, this type of speaking pattern typically ends around age three.

3. Demonstrating Major Fury with Minor Changes

It’s common for children to struggle with changes to their everyday routine. However, children with autism can become extremely upset when changes occur, especially unexpectedly. This may be seen during transition times between activities, clean up time or when they are asked to do something. Some behaviors that may occur include: exhibiting withdrawal, repetitive behaviors, tantrums or aggression.

4. Stimming and/or Obsessive Interests

Stimming is self-stimulatory behavior which appears as repetitive body movements and/or repetitive movement of objects. Stimming can involve one or all senses, and some examples are: hand flapping, body rocking, spinning in circles or spinning objects.

It’s natural for children to be curious of the world around them. But obsessive interests are routines or hobbies that the child develops that may seem unusual or unnecessary. Some example of common obsessive interests might include only wanting to talk about and play with computers, trains, historical dates/events, science or a particular TV show.

5. Showcasing Signs of Sensory Sensitivity

Children with autism may have a dysfunctional sensory system. This means that one or more of their senses are either over or under reactive to sensory stimulation. This sensitivity could be the cause of stimming behaviors. Some preschoolers might react unusually to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel. For example, during sensory play (e.g., playing with sand, Play-Doh or shaving cream) a child who does not like to get their hands dirty and prefers to continually wipe/wash their hands — or avoid sensory projects all together — could be demonstrating signs of sensory sensitivity.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help. Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates.


A Checklist for Language Based Reading Difficulties

Learning to read is such a monumental milestone for children in early elementary school, but it can also be a source of stress for concerned parents or for children who don’t seem to “pick it up” as easily as others. Since reading is a fundamental skill which only increases in importance as students move on to later grades in school, early identification of at-risk readers is key to ensuring academic success for all children.

Listed below is a checklist which can be used to identify children (in kindergarten – first grade) who may benefit from further evaluation by a speech-language pathologist:

Speech sound awareness:Child with reading difficulties

  • Does not understand or enjoy rhymes (may have difficulty clapping hands/tapping feet in rhythm to songs or rhymes)
  • Does not recognize words with the same beginning sound
  • Has difficulty counting syllables in spoken words
  • Difficulty learning sound-letter correspondences ( the letter ‘b’ says ‘buh’)

Written language awareness:

  • Does not orient book properly while looking through books
  • Cannot identify words and letters in picture books

Letter name knowledge:

  • Cannot recite the alphabet
  • Cannot identify printed letters as they are named or name letters when asked.

Word retrieval:

  • Has difficulty finding a specific word in conversation, uses non-specific words (thing, stuff) or substitutes a related term
  • Poor memory for classmates names
  • Halting speech- pauses and filler words used (“um” or “you know”)

Speech production/perception:

  • Difficulty saying common words with difficult sound patterns (i.e. cinnamon, specific, library)
  • Mishears and then mispronounces words/names
  • Frequent slips of the tongue (says “brue blush” for “blue brush”)


  • Only responds to part of a multi-step direction or instruction or requests multiple repetitions for instructions
  • Difficulty understanding spatial terms (in front, behind etc.)
  • Difficulty understanding stories

Expressive language:

  • Uses short sentences with a small vocabulary, little variety
  • Difficulty giving directions or explanations, little detail provided
  • Disorganized story-telling or event recall
  • Grammar errors (“he goed to the store”)

Literacy motivation:

  • Does not enjoy classroom story-time (wanders, does not pay attention when teacher reads stories)
  • Shows little interest in literacy activities (looking at books, writing)

If your child or a child you work with can be described by many of the items on this checklist, further evaluation of their language skills is warranted to ensure appropriate intervention is provided and continued literacy learning is encouraged. There are many professionals (teachers, reading specialists, and speech-language pathologists) who are trained to assist children in acquiring early literacy skills or supporting children who exhibit difficulty in this area. However, areas of expertise vary and depending on the needs of your child, the appropriate professional to help can be identified.

This checklist is modified from H. Catts’s 2002 publication in Languge, speech, and Hearing Services in Schools as presented in Rhea Paul’s Language Disorders from Infancy through Adolescence.

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Encouraging Language Development While Reading To Your Child: Part 2

Parents often ask which books to purchase for their toddler. We want kids to be engaged, we want them to enjoy books, and we want to develop their literacy skills. So which books work best when reading to toddlers? In Part 1 of this blog, we discussed 10 ways to encourage language development while reading to your toddler. In part 2, we’ll review 9 principles to consider when choosing books for your child.

Principles to consider when choosing books for your toddler:

1. Consider the illustrations. For young children, pictures play a huge part in their literacy experience. Choose books boys readingwith exciting pictures that are not too visually overwhelming.

2. Consider your child’s vocabulary level. Don’t be afraid to try books with unfamiliar words; this is an excellent way to introduce new vocabulary. However, try to avoid books that contain high volumes of unfamiliar words, which may lose your child’s interest.

3. Incorporate rhyming and repetition. Young children often love books with repetitive patterns or rhyming (e.g. Brown Bear Brown Bear, 5 Little Monkeys, Llama Mama, etc). These books provide excellent opportunities to enhance phonological awareness and learn language structures.

4. Consider the length. Young children may have difficulty attending to books for long periods of time. Avoid books that are extremely lengthy in pages or text. While reading, follow your child’s lead and look for signs that they might be losing interest. It’s okay to not finish a book. Instead, try to create a positive experience and avoid forcing your child to attend to books beyond their threshold.

5. Incorporate your child’s interests. Introduce books that incorporate your child’s interests. It might be about a favorite animal, a sport your child likes, or a place your child loves to visit.

6. Incorporate upcoming events. In addition to your child’s interests, also look for books about events or experiences in your child’s life. For example, you might choose a book about the first day of school, moving to a new house, or an upcoming holiday.

7. Involve your child in choosing. Give your child a say-so in choosing books they’d like to read. You might provide a few age-appropriate choices, and let them pick one.

8. Utilize your resources. Libraries and bookstores often categorize their books by age-level. For example, the Chicago Public Library website link includes a “For Kids” section with helpful information about developmental milestones and recommended books for various ages.

9. Try new things! When it comes to choosing books, there’s no right or wrong answer. Instead, use these principles to guide your decision making. Try new books as often as possible, and learn about your child’s likes and dislikes. Enjoy spending time reading to your child!

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Speech Sound Development Milestones

Below are some guidelines about your child’s speech sound development. It is important to keep in mind that all children develop differently.

Speech Intelligibility:

Intelligibility is the percentage your child is understood by both familiar (i.e., people your child interacts with daily or weekly) and unfamiliar listeners (i.e., people your child meets for the first time or does not interact with your child often). Below are guidelines as to how much a child should be understood by an unfamiliar listener:toddler talking on phone

2 years: ~50%

3 years: ~75%

4 years: ~80-90%

5 years: ~90+%


Articulation is a fancy word for speech sound production. We use guidelines to determine whether speech sound development is on track. The mastery of sounds differs from child to child because there is a range in which acquisition of sounds is appropriate. For example, speech sound /l/ is typically mastered between ages 6-8, but a child can produce it without error at ages 4-5. Speech therapists may work on later developing sounds at an earlier age in certain situations such as when speech intelligibility is significantly affected, or the child is mature for their age with appropriate language skills. Below are guidelines as to when speech sounds are mastered in typically developing children:

2-3 years: p, b, m, n, w, h, t, d, k, g, ng (playing), y

4-5 years: f, v, s, z, sh, ch, j

6-8 years: r, l, voiced and voiceless th (this, with), zh (measure)

*All sounds should be mastered by age 8-9 years

** Remember, these are just guidelines. For an assessment of your child’s speech skills, contact a speech therapist for further information or to set up an evaluation.

When should you be concerned?

• If your child shows frustration including: refusing to repeat themselves, refusing to talk, and becoming emotional if they are no t understood

• Familiar and unfamiliar listeners continuously ask your child to repeat themselves or ask for clarification (i.e., what did you just say?)

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10 Ways to Build Your Child’s Vocabulary

Vocabulary development is a critical component in your child’s ability to interact with the world around them.  Children need the right words to effectively communicate their thoughts and ideas to others.  Strong vocabulary development also impacts listening and reading comprehension.  The more vocabulary words your child knows, the more likely they will comprehend what they are hearing or reading.  So how can parents help?

Here are 10 ways to help build your child’s vocabulary.

1. Create language-rich environments to encourage new vocabulary.  This might include a trip to the zoo, a seasonal craft, or a fun picture-book.  Introduce age-appropriate vocabulary to your child through a fun and memorable experience.
2. Use kid-friendly terms to explain new words.  For example, if you are boy with yellow ballteaching your child what  “zebra” means, avoid a dictionary definition such as: a horse-like African mammal of the genus Equus .  Instead, try a simple explanation: a zebra is an animal. It looks like a horse.  Zebras have black and white stripes.
3. Encourage your child to brainstorm their own examples of new vocabulary words.  For example, if the new word is “little”, you might encourage your child by saying “Can you think of a little animal?”
4. Practice sorting new vocabulary.  Encourage your child to describe, sort and categorize vocabulary based on various features.  You might think of “3 cold things”, “3 animals” or “3 things that take you places.”
5. Think of synonyms and antonyms.  Encourage your child to think of substitute words (e.g. “can you think of another word for enormous?… big!”) or opposite words (e.g. “What is the opposite of hot?… cold!”).
6. Give your child opportunities to practice their new vocabulary words.  If you recently enjoyed an outing at the zoo, you might print out digital pictures from the trip.  Throughout the following week, enjoy looking at the pictures with your child and remembering what animals you saw.  You might also read a picture-book about animals or zoos (“What is this animal called?” or “Can you find a tiger in this picture?”).
7. Introduce new vocabulary words ahead of time.  Holidays, seasons, and special outings are all excellent occasions to introduce new words.  For example, as Fall approaches you might choose 10 new words about Fall (e.g. pumpkin, Autumn, cool, leaves, apples, jacket, etc).  Plan a fun craft that incorporates those new words.  You might make play-doh shapes using vocabulary words, draw new words with sidewalk chalk, or search for words in a picture book or magazine.
8. Tap into other senses.  Children learn best when information is presented through multiple senses (e.g. touch, sight, sound, smell).  To tap into the various, you might have your child stomp to each syllable of new vocabulary words (el-a-phant), draw a picture of the word, or act out the meaning.
9. Encourage older kids to use strategies to remember new vocabulary.  They might keep a “vocabulary flashcard box” that includes challenging words from chapter-books, their school curriculum, or new concepts encountered in their environment.  Encourage your child to define vocabulary in their own words, and draw a picture to represent it.  You might also brainstorm root words or word derivations (e.g. run, running).
10. Avoid vocabulary over-load.  Try not to teach too many new words at one time.  For example, if you are reading a book with your child, avoid explaining every unfamiliar vocabulary word.  Instead, just stick with a few important words.   As much as possible, learning should be motivating and stimulate curiosity.   Follow your child’s lead, and explore concepts or words that they find interesting.  Look for cues that they might feel overwhelmed or frustrated.