WH Questions For Speech Therapy With Young Children With Autism: 3 Tips To Help!

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Do you struggle with teaching your young students how to answer WH questions? Do you wish you had a way to address this skill in children with autism who are non-verbal or have limited verbal skills?  I’ve got you!  In this blog, I will share 3 tips that helped me teach WH questions for speech therapy with my little ones who have limited verbal skills.

But first, let’s explore the typical development of WH questions.  By 18 months, children can answer simple “what” questions, such as “what is this?”.  We talked about this skill in last week’s blog post about teaching vocabulary.  Check it out!  Between 2 and 3 years, children can point to a picture of something that is described to them (e.g. what do you brush your teeth with), and can begin to answer some “where”, “who is” and “what doing” questions.  In addition to teaching nouns last week, I also talked about “what doing” questions when I taught you how to teach identification and labeling of present progressive verbs.  Between 3 and 4.5 years old, children are able to answer higher level, more complex WH questions, involving “when”, “how” and “why”.  It is important to build the understanding of WH questions in speech therapy, at home, or in the classroom by taking it step by step.  If you look at those developmental norms, you can see why I start with vocabulary, “what is it?” and verbs, “what is she doing?”.  Then, move on to combining those together with other WH questions.

Tip 1:  Teach vocabulary (nouns) and present progressive verbs first.  This will give your students a foundation of language to start with.  Then, start with sorting activities that relate to the main WH questions you will be targeting. For example, use these free WH questions for speech therapy visual sorting mats to teach sorting.  You can work on sorting “people” and “not people”, sorting “people” vs. “places”, etc… By sorting, you can start to help children recognize the difference between people and “things” in an activity that does not require verbal speech.  Use miniature toys or pictures for sorting.


Tip 2:  Use visuals.  I bet you knew I was going to say that!  Over the years, I’ve been frustrated because I have students who I KNOW could learn to answer WH questions, but all of the resources out there that targeted WH questions for speech therapy were flashcards that required a student to answer verbally. For example, a card with a firefighter and a fire truck that says “who fights fires”.  One of two things happens my student echos the phrase “ who fights fires” since they are experiencing echolalia, or they label the object in the picture on the flashcard that they are most familiar with (the fire truck).   Now, if you have a student who has a communication device, that they are able to use to answer these questions, use that!  Usually, my young students aren’t using a device fluently yet, so that is why visual supports are so helpful as they are developing their expressive skills.  If you have a few pictures within the activity to choose from, you can start to target those WH questions in speech therapy and begin to see progress!  See the photo below for an example.


Tip 3:  Pull it all together using fun picture scenes!  Start with scenes that are simple with visual supports. This will provide some of the structure that children need to get started. Then, you can easily target multiple WH questions for speech therapy by using picture scenes and you can also help your students generalize their newly learned skills.  Be sure to have a visual support close by, in case you need to prompt your student.  Picture scenes can also add that “next step” of difficulty since there are many different pictures to choose from.


Don’t forget to download my freebie with sorting mats to use as a precursor for teaching WH questions for speech therapy.  You will also get free visual cues to use during any step along the way.  I hope these help you and your students!

If you are looking for WH question activities for speech therapy, check out the following:
Where Questions
Mixed WH Questions Year-Round Thematic Bundle
Where Questions-Animals
WH Questions- Winter Scenes
Speech Therapy Picture Scenes

Click here for the NEW WH Questions Milestones Handout recently shared on FB & IG.

Click here to watch last week’s Facebook Live Mini-Training titled “How To Target Vocabulary Goals For Speech Therapy”.

Click here to watch the Facebook Live Mini-Training titled “7 Steps To Teaching One Step Directions”.

Also available for FREE: “The Ultimate Guide for Targeting Language Skills in Young Children with Autism”. Sign up HERE to receive your guide!

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