Establishing, Increasing, and Expanding Vocal Abilities

July 10, 2024 - The Cornerstone Team

Establishing, Increasing, and Expanding Vocal Abilities

The Cornerstone team recently held a comprehensive training session, “Establishing, Increasing, and Expanding Vocal Abilities,” to help parents enhance their child’s vocal skills. This session offered valuable insights and practical strategies for families. In this blog, we’ll explore the techniques discussed and share practical tips for implementing them in your daily life.

Identifying Vocal Skills to Target

When you’re looking to enhance your child’s voice, it is important to focus on four main vocal skills:

Echoic: Echoing sounds or words.

Mand: Requesting items or information.

Tact: Labeling items or actions.

Intraverbal: Responding to others’ words.


Strategies for Increasing Vocal Skills

Echoic Skills:

Echoic skills are verbal imitations. When a child hears a sound or word and repeats it, they demonstrate echoic behavior. This skill is crucial because it helps children learn new words and sounds, which can be used for communication. Echoic skills are the first step towards more advanced language abilities.

Engage in Vocal Play: Echo your child’s spontaneous sounds to encourage more vocalization. This builds a foundation for reciprocal echoic skills and provides reinforcement for spontaneous vocalizations.

Shaping: Provide more reinforcement for closer attempts at echoing words. 

For example:

Example 1: If you say “Up” and your child says “Uh,” praise and reinforce this approximation.

Example 2: If you say “Mama” and your child says “Ma,” provide more praise for this closer approximation than for “mm.”



Choose sounds, words, and phrases that are important to your child and their daily routine (e.g., “up,” “go,” “eat,” “mama,” “dada”).

Incorporate these during fun activities like singing, reading, or playing with toys.

Shape spontaneous sounds into more meaningful words (e.g., “ah” into “mama,” “uh” into “up”).


Manding Skills:

Manding skills are crucial for communication. They enable children to request items, activities, actions, or information. These skills are essential for meeting their needs and expressing their desires effectively.

Use Echoic Skills: Prompt requests using words your child is motivated to learn. Motivation is crucial for mand training, so be tuned into your child’s indicators of motivation, such as reaching for an item or looking at something.

Shaping Requests: Gradually shape requests from simple sounds to full words. For example, start with “buh” and progress to “buba” and finally “bubbles.” Reinforce their best approximation with the most praise and reduce reinforcement for less accurate attempts.



Give your child multiple opportunities to practice asking for items by giving them a small portion or taking turns.

Repeat the item’s name as your child interacts with it and reinforce any attempts at vocally manding for an item.


Tacting Skills:

Tacting skills involve labeling or describing items, actions, or stimuli in the environment. This verbal behavior is essential for helping children with autism build their vocabulary and enhance their communication abilities. When a child tacts, they are essentially naming or identifying something they see, hear, touch, or experience.

Modeling: Regularly label items in your child’s environment. For example, when a family member enters the room, say, “There’s [family member].” Use items, people, or characters that your child is interested in to engage them in labeling.

Shaping Responses: Shape their responses and reinforce their best approximations. For instance, if your child says “da” for “dog,” provide praise and gradually shape the word to “dog.”


Intraverbal Skills:

Intraverbal skills involve responding to others’ words, such as finishing phrases, answering questions, or engaging in back-and-forth conversations. These skills are essential for interactive communication and social interaction. 

Interactive Phrases: Use songs and familiar phrases, intentionally leaving out words for your child to complete. For example, sing “Twinkle, twinkle, little ____” and pause for your child to say “star.”

Play Phrases: Introduce simple, easy-to-imitate phrases during play, such as “Ready, set, go!”



Generalization ensures that the vocal skills your child learns are used in various settings, with different people, and in different contexts. This is crucial for effective and flexible communication.

1. Practice with Different People:

Family Members: Encourage your child to use their vocal skills with family members such as mom, dad, siblings, grandparents, and extended family.

Peers and Friends: Arrange playdates or group activities where your child can interact with other children and practice their skills.

Community Helpers: Engage with familiar community members like teachers, babysitters, therapists, or neighbors.


2. Practice in Different Places:

Home: Create opportunities for your child to practice at home in different rooms and during various activities.

Public Places: Practice in community settings such as grocery stores, parks, libraries, and restaurants. For example, encourage your child to order food at a restaurant or greet the cashier at a store.

Friends’ Homes: Visiting friends or family provides a new environment to practice skills.


3. Use Different Items and Examples:

Variety of Objects: Ensure your child practices labeling and requesting various objects. For example, if they can label one type of dog, expose them to different breeds and sizes of dogs to broaden their vocabulary.

Multiple Contexts: Practice the same skills in different contexts. For example, if your child can request “water” at home, ensure they can do the same at a friend’s house or at school.


4. Vary Instructions and Prompts:

Different Instructions: Use varied instructions for the same task to prevent rote learning. For example, when pointing to an object, use both “What is this?” and “Can you tell me what this is?”

Prompt Fading: Gradually reduce the prompts to encourage independent skill use. For instance, start with a full verbal prompt and slowly fade to a partial prompt or visual cue.


Focusing on these strategies can help your children develop stronger vocal skills, enhancing their communication ability. At Cornerstone, we are committed to supporting families on this journey.

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July 10, 2024, The Cornerstone Team

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