6 simple steps to tackle speech delays

Obstacles and delays in speech are not uncommon among children with special needs. Toys and play offer parents fertile ground to help children develop and grow these important skills.

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6 Steps to Stimulate Speech

  • Talk to your kids often. Hearing is the first
    building block of speaking.
  • Communicate feel-good messages. Start young,
    helping your child feel good about themselves and their actions.
    Even children who don’t yet speak can understand and absorb the
    words of a parent.
  • Verbally affirm you understand a child’s
    message rather than correct or restate. This positive reinforcement
    lets the child know you understand, allows them to feel
    accomplished and lets them know how language should sound. (“Thank
    you for telling me about your new baby.”)
  • Never laugh at your child’s errors. Laughing
    or repeating speech errors could inhibit speech or encourage
    mistakes. Copying and pleasing the parents are natural tendencies
    for a child.
  • Talk naturally, conversationally, using
    short, simple phrases. Action verbs and nouns with clear
    definitions are the easiest to understand.
  • Listen with undivided attention when your
    child speaks. This encourages and shows you value the child and his
    or her words. This behavior sets a powerful example for a child to
    one day learn to focus, listen and pay attention themselves.

Source: The National Lekotek Center, a division of Anixter

Learn More

With so many toys to choose from, picking the right ones for a
child with disabilities can be difficult. That’s where AblePlay,
created by the National Lekotek Center, comes in. Its independent
toy reviews and ratings help parents find the best toys to match
their child’s abilities and interests. Search for AblePlay-rated
toys at ableplay.org.

Parents usually do a lot of the talking, so let’s try some role reversal. Have your child choose a “buddy” or “playmate” among his or her stuffed animals. You could even introduce a new stuffed animal to add excitement. Buddy Dog by PlayAbility Toys is a great little critter that offers simple, stimulating play possibilities. Tell them they are in charge of communicating and involving their friend in the entire day’s events. Make sure you ask your child to tell you how their special friend is doing or liking the activities.

Morning session

Speech and singing experts know that warming up the voice helps stretch the muscles in the face and assists in proper articulation. So start doing some repetitive chants. Try using all the vowels by creating sounds like “me, me, me,” “la, la, la,” “no, no, no,” “u, u, u.” Beat a drum (or empty container), then get silly and add gestures or movements to the rhythms. Take it up a notch by singing songs like, “If you’re happy and you know it” and change the lyrics. Challenge older children to create their own lyrics or write a rap or song themselves.


Most kids can be motivated by food, so offer your child some menu choices this special day. Make a game of having them request their choices in a complete sentence and give them some examples so they know what you’re asking for. Don’t forget please and thank you.

Afternoon session

Food can continue to inspire conversation by “cooking” something for your child’s buddy or pretend playmates. Get the pots and pans out, food dye, Play-Doh and get your child talking about what they want to cook, mix or prepare for their special friend. Create a space by placing a blanket or cloth on the table or floor. Remember, get your child to talk, ask and verbalize while preparing.

One play item I feel is a good investment is a play kitchen. It not only mimics the real center of conversations in most homes, but also can add social opportunities to engage other children. Little Tikes makes a Deluxe Wood Kitchen and Laundry Center that even includes a pretend phone to further encourage communication.


As a special treat you can go out to dinner or just pretend. Have your child ask what’s being served, request their food and thank the “waitress,” real or parental. Gather ‘Round Restaurant Game is a great way to stimulate communication and give children practice in talking to unfamiliar people (supervised, of course).


Try role reversal again by having your child read or tell a bedtime story to his “buddy.” You can also end the day by asking your child or his imaginary friend to answer questions such as, “What did you like most about the day?” Hopefully there will be a lot to talk about.

Deidre Pate Omahen is a mom, a Chicago Special Parent Advisory Board member and director of programs at the National Lekotek Center in Chicago.

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