Parenting Tips: How do I teach my child to make requests spontaneously at home? - Autism Partnership Singapore

“My child often scrambles and messes up the room while looking for his toys. Sometimes he would be tugging and pulling me angrily because he could not get what he is looking for. He would then resort to shouting and yelling. How do we get him to ask nicely instead of messing up the room and getting upset?”

A Parent’s Q&A from our online seminar in May 2020

Parenting Tip: .

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Communication is essential and heavily used in our daily life. We will not be able to get by a day without speaking to someone. Being able to communicate helps to reduce confusion and frustration and therefore it is important for children to be able to express themselves and tell us about their needs.

In order for our children to know to request their needs, we first have to set up the situation for them to practice communicating. 

Step 1: First, we have to spot the intent

  • Is your child looking for something?
  • Is your child trying to communicate to you (verbally or non-verbal)?
  • Is there any sign of your child is indicating a request?
    • Your child may be looking around, gesturing or trying to say something to indicate a request.
    • Your child may also tug and pull you as a form of asking for help to look for the item.

You can also lay out a few potential items to see which one is he/she gravitating towards.

Step 2. After spotting intent, let’s see if we can figure out what the child wants

  • Do you know what your child wants?
  • If not, you can ask your child “What do you want?” or “Go find it”.
    • You can also nudge your child gently to go look for it if you are still unsure what he/she is looking for.
    • If your child is not responding to any of the questions, you can flash one toy at a time and observe if he/she is reaching out to any of them.

Step 3. Once you identify what your child is requesting for, you can then withhold the item

  • Your child should not have access to the item.
  • If your child can touch the item, it may trigger him/her to snatch and we will then lose the opportunity for him/her to practice using language.
  • Also, snatching can be disruptive and we do not want our children to pick up this habit.
  • Hence when you are withholding, you should keep it in sight but not within reach.

Step 4. Go in with a full verbal prompt “I want the (item)” >> Child will repeat after you and say “I want the (item)”.

  • The language that you choose to prompt your child to say depends on your child’s language ability.
  • It can range from just eye contact, a single closest approximated sound, a word, a phrase, to a full sentence.
  • Words like “the”, “a” and other articles may not be so important for your child to pick up at the start.
  • Do accept the closest approximated articulation based on the language capability of your child. We do not want to frustrate him/her by getting them to rearticulate over and over again all at once.
  • What is important is us re-articulating the correct phrase and to set up more opportunities for your child to practice requesting. Practise makes perfect!

Step 5. When your child has requested, deliver the desired item IMMEDIATELY, together with a re-articulation.

  • Immediate delivery of the desired item when your child has requested is important as we want your child to form the association that appropriate communication will lead to the desired outcome.
  • Delayed delivery may lead to child not picking up requesting and they may revert back to the disruptive behavior of grabbing and fussing.

Step 6. While delivering the desired item, re-articulate “I want the (item)” (depending on your child’s language ability).

  • Re-articulation is for your child to hear the correct pronunciation and words/phrase/sentence that you want your child to pick up.

  • Your child may or may not pick it up from your re-articulation however we want to seize all opportunities for your child to be exposed to the right form of requesting.

If your child did not say the right sentence stem, you can re-articulate the right one for him/her but it is not mandatory for your child to repeat again after your re-articulation.

Flow chart: Setting up situations for your child to practice requesting


This requires repeated practice and proactively setting up situations for your child to practice requesting. This means to not only wait for your child to show intent but to purposely set up the intent.

If fussing is already happening, reactively you may want to calmly hold onto your child and give him/her the language for him to repeat after you. ***Make sure to always observe your child in order to spot intent. This will also help us to find out what your child is looking for so it is easier for you to think of what language to prompt there and then.

Speaker Biography:

Liling Loh (Case Supervisor)

Liling Loh (Case Supervisor)

Loh Li Ling is currently a Case Supervisor at Autism Partnership Singapore. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from James Cook University, Australia.

Having worked at Autism Partnership Singapore since 2014, Li Ling has worked with many children of varied age groups, ranging from 2 to 16 years old in both one-to-one and classroom settings, with an average of 4 to 6 children per group. Her expertise in groups includes teaching children relevant skills required for school; to improve and have the understanding for appropriate social behaviours as well as to develop meaningful affects for one another. She is also a member of the Autism Partnership Singapore Jumpstart team.

Li Ling has also provided shadow-aide support for children in mainstream and international schools to assist and facilitate children to adapt to a school environment. She has conducted social groups, regularly bringing groups of children aged 10 and above on regular outings.

Li Ling also does parent and helper training to guide caregivers on managing their children in the everyday, natural setting.

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