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Functional First Words!

A common phrase you'll hear thrown around in therapy is "functional." Everything we do should be "functional." But what does that actually mean? When used in speech therapy, functional translates to "this is a useful and easy way to quickly have my needs and wants met." You all want your children to have a way to meaningfully engage in their environment and it's important that you set them up in a way that allows them to have as much success as possible. One way you can support your child's engagement in their environment is to facilitate the introduction of functional (remember-useful is the goal!) first words!

Four categories of functional words:

Core Words








Action Words


Descriptive terms

So now that we have a list of good functional words, what do you do with them?

Focus on modeling words from these categories! Modeling looks like simplifying your language and using these words in instances where they have easily applied meaning. For example, if the word is "more," an easy time to model is during mealtime! Other tips-use different inflections to indicate a statement or a question! "More yogurt?" "Oh, more!" "More, please." You can also pair a sign or a movement with your words to help further solidify the meaning. Baby Sign is a great way to give your child multiple models at the same time!

Modeling and learning functional first words helps your child easily become not only a bystander, but an active participant in their daily habits. Learning functional (useful!) first words also helps your toddler more easily transition to longer phrases and sentences.


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