How to Teach Colors to Children with Autism and Speech Delays

Colors is one of the first skills that early developmental toys focus on, and many people think it is an important language skill to teach.

Today, I’m diving into an important topic: teaching colors to children with autism or speech delays. Many parents and educators focus on teaching colors too early, which can actually hinder a child’s language development.

I’ll share insights on when and how to teach colors effectively, ensuring a solid foundation of basic nouns and language skills first. Stick around as I explain the best practices and methods to help your child or students learn colors in a way that supports their overall communication growth.

You won’t want to miss the simple sorting and language building activity you can do to help children with autism learn colors today! 

YOU’LL LEARN

  • The right time to teach colors
  • Why teaching colors too early can cause problems
  • Developmental signs that a child is ready to learn colors
  • How to teach colors- a simple technique
  • Effective strategies to teach colors
 

The Importance of Waiting to Learn Colors

Years ago, my friend brought her young son to my house for an assessment and some tips. As we sat in the living room, I pointed to a chair and asked him, “What’s this called?”
 
He proudly replied, “Yellow chair.”
 
His parents were thrilled that he not only labelled the chair but also used the color! 

However, I had to break it to them that it would of been better if he just said “chair”. 

They were confused and you might be to, labelling colors seems like a cognitive leap, and something to celebrate. But, the issue with a child with autism or speech delays is that they may begin to see “yellow” as a noun which can complicate language development. 

Lovevery’s article on colors, explains that young children process language in the order they hear it. If they first learn to say ‘chair,’ it’s easier to add descriptors like ‘yellow’ later. This way, they can build on their vocabulary, learning about different types of chairs, asking for help to move a chair, or simply describing it more accurately.

But if they get stuck on ‘yellow chair,’ it could hinder their ability to use flexible language in the future.

Introducing colors too early can interfere with acquiring functional language, leading to confusion and limited progress. By ensuring children have a solid foundation of basic nouns first, they are set up for greater success in learning and using colors appropriately.

So when and how can you teach colors? 

When to Teach a Child Colors?

Picking the right time to teach colors to children with autism or speech delays is essential to support their overall language development. Edu & Kate discuss how many children become interested in learning colors at 18 months of age, but should you start teaching colors then? 

Introducing colors too early can interfere with the acquisition of functional language, leading to confusion and limited progress. By ensuring that children have a solid foundation of basic nouns first, we set them up for greater success in learning and using colors appropriately. Here are some key points on when to teach colors:

  • Strong Vocabulary Base: Ensure the child has 50-100 solid nouns.
  • Age Consideration: Typically, color identification should not be expected until around 30 months of age. With delays, we have to also look at the developmental age of the child. 
  • Natural Learning Signs: Look for signs of natural interest in colors during everyday activities. Ideally, if kids learn colors naturally through books and games, this is best. 
  • Developmental Readiness: Assess whether the child can easily name objects and respond to prompts without major difficulty. Sorting colors is an easier skill and we usually would start there. 
  • Receptive and Expressive Skills: Confirm the child can identify and label objects consistently before adding the complexity of colors.

By following these guidelines, we can introduce colors at the optimal time, enhancing both language skills and overall cognitive development.

How To Teach Colors

You may find a lot of articles on how to teach colors, but here I will share a technique I have used with many children with autism and speech delays to get you started. This technique will avoid shaping up incorrect language while being easy enough to learn effectively! 

This technique can be used with toddlers and children with or without a diagnosis to help them learn colors. 

So, how do we teach colors? 

To teach colors effectively, I use a structured and systematic approach with construction paper.

  • First, I select three colors that the child likes or primary colors like green, yellow, and red.
  • I cut large pieces of construction paper into smaller squares, making sure I have multiple squares of each color.
  • We start with sorting activities.
  • I place one exemplar of a color on the table and pair the word with the action. For example, I say “yellow” three times as I place a yellow square next to the exemplar on the table.
  • The child is encouraged to echo the word if they can. But, even if they do not repeat “yellow”, we match it after repeating it 3 times.
  • We do the same with the other colors, ensuring a very active session where the child sorts and labels the colors while I reinforce the word.

As the child becomes more familiar with the colors, I mix up the squares and ask them to match and sort while I label the color.

The goal is to build strong associations with the color words separately from nouns. Only after the child can fluently identify and label colors do we begin to combine colors with objects, ensuring each concept is solid before moving forward.

Throughout the process, I avoid using colors in everyday labeling to prevent confusion, focusing instead on the construction paper activities. By keeping colors and nouns separate initially, we help the child build a robust vocabulary and a clear understanding of each concept before integrating them.

This method ensures that learning colors enhances their overall language development rather than hindering it.

Make sure to watch me explain this on our YouTube video for the week. (add link to youtube) 

3 Things To Do Today to Teach Colors to Children with Autism and Speech Delays

I hope this episode helped you determine when and how to teach colors. Remember, if you have picked the right time to pick colors, usually between 30 and 48 months, this skill should be mastered quickly. 

Three things you can do today to teach colors more effectively are; 

 

1.  Stop focusing on teaching colors to early learners with limited language/no words. If you’re a parent or professional, you may need to spread the word about this – why teaching colors and focusing on combining colors with nouns too early is not a good idea.

2. Begin pairing colors when the child is ready with sorting activities. I would use construction paper + primary colors.

3. When it is time to teach the child to label and receptively identify colors, we want to teach two or three colors at the same time. We never want to just pick one color because we want to build what I call conditional discrimination from the start. 

If you continue to struggle with teaching colors or other language activities or want help in improving speech and reducing tantrums, make sure to sign up for a free workshop. 

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