Symbolic Sounds And Exclamatory Words

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A father and daughter lying on their stomachs playing with blocks

Symbolic sounds and exclamatory words are part of speech and language development in typically developing children. For autistic children who are non-speaking or minimally verbal, these types of sounds can be easier to produce! If you aren’t sure where to start with children who aren’t imitating single words yet, this is a perfect place to start.

What Are Symbolic Sounds?

Symbolic sounds are simple one-syllable or two-syllable sounds that are associated with the thing they represent. This could be an animal sound (“moo” for a cow, “meow” for a cat). Symbolic sounds could also represent environmental sounds (“choo-choo” for a train, “tick-tock” for a clock). There are also some people sounds that can be symbolic (“achoo”, fake cough, etc..”).

A father and son on the floor playing with toy cars

How Are Exclamatory Words Different?

Exclamatory words are fun little words that are usually full of emotion. These words are often part of children’s vocabulary before they say “real” words. Think of words like “oh no!”, “uh-oh!”, “ouch!” and “oopsie!”. Playing around with these words can also help little ones develop joint attention. I’ve had so many students, who reference me (look toward me) when I say “uh-oh!!!”, with a big facial expression. If a student starts to reference you, there is a better chance that they will start to imitate you. Imitating others is a building block for learning language.

a mother sitting face to face with her daughter with an excited expectant look on her face

Build Language With Symbolic Sounds And Exclamatory Words

One way you can build your student or child’s language using symbolic sounds and exclamatory words is by modeling them. When you model them, be thoughtful about your tone of voice and facial expressions. Be the most interesting thing in the room! When you model these sounds, don’t ask for anything in return. Do not ask them to imitate you. However, be observant and watch to see if they notice you. For example, “accidentally” drop a stuffed animal or object on the ground and say “uh-oh!!!” with a shocked face.

Another way you can use symbolic sounds and exclamatory words to increase imitation skills is by making a little book with pictures. Your autistic students who like structure and routine will like looking at the same pictures and developing a routine with you. You can make your own set of pictures and symbolic sounds, or buy sets that are ready to go. This set of exclamatory sounds/words can be used as flashcards or a small book. This set of animal sounds could also be used!

For many children, using these sounds during play and everyday activities can be the most meaningful. Using visual supports while playing will provide pictures and predictable routines for these symbolic and exclamatory sounds. These themed sets of visuals for play include symbolic sound cards and visuals. Imagine playing with the farm set and having visuals to not only guide the play but encourage modeling and using symbolic sounds.

I created this free list of symbolic sounds and exclamatory words to help you get started. Download it here. You can also listen to the podcast episode, “Encouraging Language With Symbolic Sounds by clicking here.

a father and daughter playing with farm animal figurines

This related blog post about functional play and autism will provide some guidance on encouraging play skills with your autistic students.

If you use visual supports in your classroom or home, you are going to want to sign up for this free Visual Supports Starter Set ASAP! Click here to have one sent to your inbox.

Also, I wanted to share this awesome shirt that Rush Order Tees sent to me! If you need a custom tee for anything, be sure to check them out!

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