A tool used in my pragmatic language group to support turn-taking skills is what I refer to as a ”talking stick.” Literally, it is a skinny, plastic stick (like a magic wand) that, on one end, has a hand which is pointing. The “talking stick” is held by the person talking and passed to the next speaker to visually cue everyone of whose turn it is to speak. The children practice talking when holding the stick and waiting for a turn to talk when not holding it. In addition, the children practice and are reinforced for looking in the direction of and listening to the person holding the talking stick.
This is a great strategy to try at home. Use it initially in a semi-structured activity, like playing a board game. Your child is seated, so s/he is more likely to be able to focus on this. Pass around the “talking stick” to indicate whose turn it is to play the game. Begin to talk when you have the stick. Encourage your child to do so, too. Try it at other times such as the dinner table, too.
Something such as a glitter “princess” wand or a drum stick is of similar shape to the described classroom “talking stick” can help your child to develop reciprocal (back and forth) communication skills. Later, you can fade out the use of the stick and transition to the use of your arm in a back and forth motion between your child and yourself (or other family member) as you move your child to independence in verbal turn-taking. Remember to verbally praise your child and reinforce the specific skills, as well. You might say something such as, “Great job! We talked back and forth about the same thing. We had a conversation about ____.” This can then be tied in with other reinforcement strategies such as a marble jar or a sticker chart, whereby your child earns something (such as a special toy or a special activity [trip to the playground, a play date, a visit to grandma's, etc.]). For example, for each conversation sustained for 2-4 turns each (with the number of turns depending upon your child’s current ability to do this; speak to your child’s SLP for guidance in making your child successful and planning a progression of reinforcement), give your child a/some sticker(s) or marble(s), with an established motivating reward earned upon the child’s completion of a set number of stickers/marbles.
Similarly, consider activities such as rolling or throwing a ball back and forth to each other to reinforce similar verbal turn-taking skills. Think of a child-friendly topic (perhaps a trip your family will take, a special upcoming holiday [the child's birthday], a fun activity the family just did earlier that day [made a cake, went to the playground, etc.]), make a statement to initiate the conversation, and pass the ball to your child. Your child will then comment based on your previous statement and pass the ball back to you. Continue as long as you can. If your child needs help, cue (try not to model unless necessary) him/her to think of a comment. End the topic if you need to provide him/her with 1-2 models to avoid frustrating him/her so much that s/he won’t be willing to try this again.
* As always, please consult with your child’s SLP to determine the relevancy of this information to your child and to provide guidance in determining an effective reward system for practicing communication behaviors (the specifc behavior to be targeted and the number of instances expected before receiving the established “prize”).
By Mary Jane Fledderjohn, MS, CCC-SLP/L