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Sometimes You Just Need to be Quiet

Rogers Bridge » Receptive and Expressive Language Delays » Sometimes You Just Need to be Quiet

It’s very common for speech therapists to work with non-verbal children. Children can be non-verbal for many reasons and there are a variety of strategies that your therapist will use to encourage children to use verbal language.


One of the first strategies I teach parents is modeling. Modeling language helps the child connect actions or objects to words and generally helps the child learn the language being used. Make sure you are consistently modeling language for your child because successful language development is dependent on consistency and repetition.

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"Jessie is AWESOME! She is very patient and has done some serious progress with my son in very short time!"

— Eldijana Muhovic Karačić

But what happens when this doesn’t work?

I am working with a 2-year-old that isn’t using language verbally but is very bright. When he listens, he obviously understands what I am saying to him. But he doesn’t always listen. Any person that has spent time around toddlers, knows that this is pretty typical for his age. But with this little guy, using words is a lot harder for him. He understands what I am saying but sometimes the “stubbornness” he shows by not responding is actually task awareness. He knows how hard it is to say words, so he is pausing to let me say the words for him. This kid is smart. He has tricked me (his speech therapist) and his mother into thinking that he didn’t have the ability to produce words yet.

During therapy, we are playing with a ball, because that is his favorite toy at this moment. I am modeling language for him and he is really enjoying the activity but he isn’t attempting to use any words. His mother is in the session so occasionally I’ll stop and explain something so she can reproduce the activities at home. I am holding the ball during the time I am speaking to his mother and the next thing we know, he is yelling “Bah!” at me. I look at him but I don’t respond immediately so he yells: “Bah! Bah! Bah!”

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His mother and I are extremely happy, we praise him for talking, and immediately give him the ball when he asks for it. Now, of course we want him to do it again and consistently. Logically speaking he has used the word a couple of times and he should be able to say It again in the same context right? Not always.

It’s not always as easy as just saying the word again.

In between the time he said ball and the time we wanted him to say it again, we’ve placed more demands on him. He was listening to us talking and has been processing, or trying to understand, what we’ve said. Sometimes that processing simply takes time.

We now understand that we haven’t been allowing time for him to process what was said, to think of what he wanted to say, to coordinate the movements of his mouth, and then to produce the sound or word.

We were talking so much to him (and modeling great language), that we didn’t give him the time he needed to say the word.

We thought we were doing the right things, modeling and encouraging the child to use language. But, by accident we discovered that he needed more time to process and produce the word that we wanted to hear. We adjusted our interactions, adding longer pauses to wait for him to respond. Initially, the time we waited for him to respond was uncomfortably long for us. We wanted to help him along, prompt him and give him a model. But, we persevered! He initially took much longer than you would normally give a child to respond but our new approach elicited more results. Slowly but surely, he responded more and consistently.

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I am always learning something from my patients. They teach me as much as I teach them. This kiddo is doing great and I’ll never forget that sometimes you just need to be quiet.

Quick Review

  1. Model a single word for your child.

  2. Give your child time to process and produce sounds.

  3. Accept vocalizations for your child's first attempt.

  4. Reinforce your child's response by giving them the desired item and repeating the word.

  5. Repeat: Model, Wait, Reinforce (The 3 Step Method for teaching a new word to your child).


"Jessie is such a loving and caring therapist. Her passion for helping her patients and families show every visit. She is open to what works for each patient while being effective and productive. She is responsive and able to adapt to her patient's moods. Speech therapy has never been my son's favorite, and he has been to known to be a bit difficult, but it never slowed Jessie down. She was always so loving and made the sessions fun for him. I would recommend her to anyone looking for a great therapist."  – Belinda

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