More confirmation: It pays to follow the child's lead

Published on Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Preview Talking and Books to see how we teach parents and teachers to "Follow the child's lead."

Impaired verbal skills are common in young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) as well as many other children served in early intervention programs.  Knowing more about what parents can do to improve their child's communication and language can help build effective interventions in the most natural of environments.

Eileen Haebig of the University of Wisconsin examined different types of parental communication with children with autism spectrum disorders. She found that parents who used “follow-in” comments when playing with their children saw the biggest vocabulary gains (expressive and receptive) in their children.  Haebig defined “follow-ins” as comments that describe or acknowledge what the child is doing. Children of parents who interacted with their child about what the parent was doing during play did not show the same language gains.

"Follow the child's lead" is one of the defining aspects of a developmentally appropriate practice and its facilitative effect on early language development has been documented for children who are developing typically (Tomasello & Farrar, 1986), and children with disabilities (Yoder, Kaiser, Alpert & Fischer, 1993).

In Language is the Key we call it “Follow the child’s lead.” This is the overarching strategy in the program. It makes sense that children want to talk about what they are interested in, not what grown-ups want to talk about! 

Following the child’s lead is not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes adults have to wait and watch in order to discern what it is that the child is interested in.

Preview our video programs to see how we teach parents and teachers to “Follow the child’s lead” and promote early language development.


Haebig, Eileen, Andrea McDuffie, and Susan Ellis Weismer (2013). The contribution of two categories of parent verbal responsiveness to later language for toddlers and preschoolers on the autism spectrum. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology 22.1: 57-70. Print.

Tomasello, M., & Farrar, M. (1986). Joint attention and early language. Child Development, 57, 1454-1463.

Yoder, P., Kaiser, A., Alpert, C., & Fischer, R. (1993). Following the child's lead when teaching nouns to preschoolers with mental retardation. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 36, 158-167.