Building Language for Your Child with Autism, Part 3: Building Receptive Vocabulary

Receptive language refers to the thought process involved in hearing, processing and comprehending spoken language. When we mentioned above that a two year old child should be able to follow simple commands, point to objects when they are named, and recognize names of familiar objects; these objectives were examples of receptive language skills.

There are a number of ways to help build your child’s receptive vocabulary. Using photo cards is one basic and concrete vocabulary building tool that you can do at home. Place pictures of common objects on the table in front of your child. Ask your child to “touch the cookies” or “give me the hat.” When your child can follow the command and consistently select the requested picture, you have added a new word to their receptive vocabulary.

It is likely that your child will need help selecting the correct card… especially the first few times you try this task. Here is a trick to help make picking the right word easier. Start with just one card on the table and increase the number of pictures slowly. For example, if you are trying to teach the word cookies:


    1. Start with just the picture of the cookies on the table.
    2. After your child has learned to touch the cookies picture on request, add a blank card to the table. Ask your child to touch the cookies picture several more times, rotating the position of the two cards each time.
    3. Then, add a second picture to the table, and a third, and a fourth.
    4. Once your child can select the cookies picture each time, introduce new words using the same method!
















This is a part of a series of guest posts by Angela Nelson on building language in children with autism. As the creator of the acclaimed Language Builder Picture Noun Card Set, Angela received her BA and JD from UCLA where she studied and practiced behavior psychology under Dr. Ivar Lovaas. She has been creating autism and special needs curriculum products since 1997.