The ability to respond “yes” and “no” to questions seems to come naturally to most children by the age of 18 -24 months old, but for some, it doesn’t happen spontaneously and they need to be taught this skill.
Children who have difficulty responding “yes”, may also have difficulty responding to other questions, and rather than answering questions they repeat the last few words of the question and echo. Echoing is a clear indicator of difficulty comprehending and answering questions. Not responding to or ignoring questions is also an indicator of communication challenges.
During my work as a behavioral analyst with children with communication challenges and autism, I often come across with children who just answer “no” when asked about wants and needs leading to confusion and problem behaviors when they feel misunderstood.
If you suspect your child is struggling to answer “yes” to simple questions about wants and needs, you can teach them this skill by following the recommendations below:
Start by practicing responding “yes” whenever you are sure your child wants specific items or foods. I found that using their favorite foods is easier and promotes functional communication.
Pair a head nod with the word “yes”. Head nodding serves as a gestural prompt that could lead to verbally imitating or responding “yes”.
So, let’s think your child wants a cookie.
While showing him/her the cookie, ask them “Do you want a cookie?, Yes!” (At the same time nod your head as a gestural prompt).
Then again, ask them “Do you want a cookie?” wait a few seconds (while nodding your head) for them to respond “yes”.
If they fail to respond “yes”, repeat “Do you want a cookie? Yes!” and give them a cookie.
If you want to increase the number of practice opportunities, you can use smaller cookies, or cutting the cookies into pieces. When giving out a big whole cookie, you limit practice to just one trial.
I would recommend avoiding the following which may increase confusion when there is a clear challenge in answering questions:
Prompting “yes” and “no” in the same question. For example, do you want ice cream? Yes, or no?
Asking two questions in the same statement. For example, do you want cookies or ice cream?
Asking questions about wants whenever the actual item is not present.
So you may be asking yourself, why I am just explaining how to teach your child to answer “yes”?. Well, it is easier and more effective to focus on one skill at a time. Once you notice, your child is starting to answer consistently and correctly “yes”, you can go ahead and start practicing answering “no”.
Feel free to contact me if you need further support teaching communication skills.