The Building Blocks of Language
One of the books that is required reading for CORE Approach consultants is “Constructing a Language” by Michael Tomasello. It’s a bit complicated to read, but filled with important research and theory in the area of language development. Tomasello spends a good portion of the book discussing the need to look outside of the domain of language in order to understand communication development. It is through the development of social cognition that language develops. Social engagement and the thinking that grows out of it form the foundations for understanding and using language. Children begin to learn from a very early age to understand the intentions of others. This “intention-reading” is critical for language to develop. We learn to understand what is in the minds of others, and language is a tool that we develop to share what is going on in our minds – to connect our minds with the minds of those around us.
For the past 2 years I have had the wonderful privilege of watching two young clients with autism get on the path of typical language development. Both started treatment with a small vocabulary, but their words were very stereotypical, repetitive, and not used in the context of meaningful engagement with others. We focused on building the foundations for meaningful communication through limiting verbal communication and focusing heavily on nonverbal communication. An emphasis was also placed on active engagement between these children and their parents – including them learning to be apprentices to their parents. Their parents have learned to guide them in ways that facilitate their development. The result has been a slow but steady process of these children forming the social and cognitive foundations for language development. Both are now proficient nonverbal communicators and are beginning to use sounds and words in contextually appropriate, socially connected ways. Their gaze, gestures, and vocalizations are directed toward others for the purpose of sharing meaning and sharing experiences. What an amazing difference from where they started, and what an amazing difference from the path that language development typically takes in autism!
If you would like to check out Tomasello’s book you can find it on Amazon. I feel it should be required reading for all speech and language pathologists, as well as anyone who works with children with communication impairments of any kind. We need to rethink how we approach language development and look to typical child development as our guide.
Until next week,