Special Learning Logo Light

5 Ways to Increase Spontaneous Communication with Your Child

28 blog avatar 5 Ways to Increase Spontaneous Communication with Your Child
Expert Name: Miranda Schehr
Expert Title: Miranda Schehr
Company Name:  Step By Step Academy
Company URL: www.stepbystepacademy.org
Short Bio: Miranda Schehr, BCaBA, is the Clinic Transition Director of Step by Step Academy (SBSA),

 a non-profit treatment center for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As a clinic transition director she directs the treatment plans of multiple clients through management, training and supervision of clinical staff. Before her involvement with SBSA she worked as an Intervention Specialist in Applied Behavioral Services, where she was responsible in the implementation of treatment of multiple clients and their families through teaching and training in the classroom and home environments. Her extensive experience in the field of Behavior Analysis allowed her to successfully conduct presentations, workshops and conferences on topics: PECS for Parents: learning and using the first 3 phases of PECS with your child in the home; Implementing Direct Instruction Curricula with Learners with Autism Spectrum Disorders; Differentiated Instruction; and Introduction to Applied Behavior Analysis. Miranda is from Columbus, Ohio. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Mild-Moderate Special Education at Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH, completed a graduate coursework in Behavior Analysis in the University of North Texas, Denton TX; and she is anticipating the completion of her Masters of Education in Cognitive and Behavioral Disabilities at the Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL, in August 2012. Miranda is affiliated with the Association for Applied Behavior Analysis International; Ohio Association of Behavior Analysts; Council for Exceptional Children; and Association for Direct Instruction.

5 Ways to Increase Spontaneous Communication with Your Child

Is your child able to communicate but you want them to communicate more?  Do you find yourself always having to ask your child what they want?  The 5 strategies below will help you.

Begin by making a list of the things your child already asks for.  Then add to your list the things your child likes to play with but doesn’t always ask for.

Look over the list and think about where your child is when they play/use/do the things on the list.  The 5 strategies below can be used in different environments but some will be better in some than others.

1.    Put things in clear containers

Putting things in clear containers that your child cannot unlock shows them that the items are available but they need to ask for the items.  Any type of container with a lid works great, use left-over containers with twist-off or snap tops to make it more difficult to open.  You can also put larger toys in clear storage containers.  By putting items in containers you can work on several different types of request: pointing to the item, asking for the item, for help or for actions by having them ask you to open the box for them.

2.    Put preferred activities up out of reach on shelves

This is similar to above, the preferred items are still visible but out of reach.   This works great with movies and toys especially that are a little bigger and easier to see from higher up.  The top shelf of a toy or coat closet works great for this, so does a high shelf around a bedroom or play room.

If your child likes to climb, be careful to not put things on the top of bookshelves so they don’t climb and could hurt themselves.  By putting things up high, you can work on several different types of requests, pointing to the item, asking for the item, asking for help or asking for actions “pick me up” or “get the (toy)”

3.    Instead of giving all of something, give just one, or a few at a time

When your child does ask for things, you can increase their requesting by giving them part of what they have asked for.  By giving only part or some of what they asked for you honor their requ4st and encourage them to ask more by giving them what they want the first time they ask, but you keep their motivation to ask for more by not giving them too much.

For example, if they like to draw, give them paper but keep crayons, markers, pencils etc. so they have to ask for them.  Or with drawing you could give them one marker and hang onto the rest working on requesting using adjectives/colors along with the word crayon and marker.

With items that disappear with use like food items and bubbles this method works very well.  After blowing bubbles, put the wand away and set the bottle down and wait/prompt your child to ask for more bubbles, blow bubbles, open the bubble etc.  With food items, you can keep the container or a larger bowl of the item and place a few on the child’s plate/bowl.

If you are playing outside, give a few pushes on the swing to get them going then stop and watch and wait.

4.    Give your child easy access to part of something

This strategy can be used with things that you don’t want to or can’t completely keep from your child from, like the TV or computer or if they like to draw and there is always paper OR pens around.  If your child can easily get to something that you can’t put away, put away part of it on a shelf, in a container or just plain hide it out of sight. 
If your child likes to play with toys during a bath, get the bath ready but don’t have the toys out/in the tub waiting for your child.  If your child likes specific computer games that require a CD, don’t keep the CDs where they can be reached independently.

This is also a great strategy to start teaching children to request things that aren’t in sight. 
When your child starts to play with the activity, they’ll find that something is missing and need to ask for it. 

Some examples are below:
At meal times, give your child their food, but not a fork or spoon.
Give your child a portable DVD player with no DVD in it.
Give Play-Doh but no tools

5.    Block Access

This last strategy can be used anywhere, with any activity, item or person.  This is best for situations where it is not possible to use any of the other strategies (think your child wants to just watch TV and can use the remote/buttons on the TV and doesn’t need anything else) or for something new that your child is interested in.  It can also be used when visiting friends and family who don’t have their house set up to encourage communication. 

If you know what your child wants, block access to it by holding it, putting your body in front of it and wait and prompt your child to request. 

Now that you’ve read these 5 strategies, look back at the list you made and think about which activities, items, and environments you can use these strategies to encourage spontaneous requesting.


Adolescence and Transition Bundle

Interrupting Social Story Curriculum


Parent Waitlist Program


November 02, 2023 | 12pm-1pm PDT

Journey to Independence

Community-based program designed to support families on waitlist

Being an RBT for me was extremely fun because where were you going to find a place where you can be completely silly without having to worry what people thought about you? This was the only job that made me feel like I could make a dramatic difference while being myself.

I also liked to be surrounded by people that had the same goals of wanting to help kids and the teamwork made the job much easier and more enjoyable.

Change and progress was the ultimate goal for our kiddos. The early intervention program was seriously only a miracle because I saw changes in the kiddos that from day one, you wouldn’t even recognize who they were.

Changes from being able to utter 3-4 words where they can only make a syllable from when they started, the behavior decreases in which kiddo that used to engage in 30-40 0 self-harm to only half, learning how to wait during games, table work where they use to swipe and drop to the floor if they had to.

My favorite was when the parents would tell us what amazing progress they were making at home. I used to tear up and felt for these parents so much because it was already difficult for them and now, they can trust and rely on ABA and the therapists knowing their goal was ours.

By Emma Rogers, BA, RBT

Mother Child
Special Learning’s Free Hotline

This is an independent SL Hotline that is part of our VCAT service. This hotline has no connection with any other association or membership group.

Got a question you want a BCBA or other ABA expert to answer?
Fill in this form and one of our professionals will handle your question quickly and confidently. You can expect a response in 24-hours or less.