Q: My toddler 2 1/2 years can say about 100 words. Sometimes she says two words together, but she responds to questions with only the answer “No.” She does love playing with me and her sister, and she laughs a lot when I run to catch her. What can I do for her?
A: If you are concerned that your daughter may be showing signs of autism, refer to my article on the early warning signs, "Moms Know Best: Recognizing the Early Signs of Autism." If your daughter is not showing signs or symptoms, use your playful relationship to help her develop more complex language.
It is very typical for a 2 1/2 year old to say “No” a lot. She is exerting her independence so don’t be too worried about hearing “No” at least 5,000 times per day.
At home, encourage language development by taking out dolls, figures, and stuffed animals and engaging in pretend play. If your daughter initiates a scenario (e.g., going to the ice cream shop), ask a lot of questions. Your daughter may be motivated to use more language to keep the interaction going. Involve your other daughter, since being around the same age, they are more likely to “talk” to one another.
On a day-to-day basis, model phrases. If she says “shoe”, ask her, “Do you want your shoes? Say, can I have my shoes, please?” and wait for her to repeat the phrases. Do this whenever she asks you for something that she wants. If she speaks using a few words in a sentence, give her what she wants and offer praise. Make a big fuss when she uses language and reward positive behavior while ignoring the negative behavior.
Always remember to share your observations with the pediatrician for help on monitoring language development over time. You can also reach out to Early Intervention Services and request a speech and language assessment. Your daughter might be eligible for in-home speech therapy services.