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Important Tool for Language Learning

After a full day of sessions and a long conversation with an amazing colleague (thanks Alex), I opened “Building Healthy Minds” by Dr. Greenspan. Being that I have read and reread it, I find it exciting to discover bits of information, written in ways that are easy to share.  At the clinic, we have been getting many new calls from families with young children with delayed language. Parents often ask why their child is not talking or not using many words. Often, the key is comprehension. Many children are not understanding words or sentences as they should. They cannot use words appropriately if they do not understand the meaning. How do we teach it meaning?

One critical strategy is to present language in a meaningful way. In order to “make meaning,” for children with comprehension challenges, it is important to match language to a child’s experience at the exact time of that experience. For example, you teach the words “open,” or “swing,” as the child is experiencing these actions.

Today, I experienced the power of “making meaning.” I had a very special little girl and her mother join for a session today. Our recent topics have included language development and comprehension. Despite continued challenges, by the end of the session, she was creating the sentence, “push me mommy.” It happened with our support, gestures and patience.  In addition to finding an activity that was motivating and meaningful, we provided the response time to allow this little girl the opportunity to make a mistake and fix it on her own, to motor plan the words despite her apraxia, and to formulate the sequence correctly.

In his book, Dr. Greenspan used the acronym WAA, meaning “words, actions (gestures) and affect (feelings)” as a way to refer to the process by which gesture and emotions make meaning of spoken words. For the next month, at home and in sessions, I encourage all of us to take this to heart when teaching language. Link spoken words with gestures and emotions that make the comprehension richer.

Vanessa Chan-Felcman