See here for an updated post on what worked for us: https://fumblingthruautism.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/the-answer-to-the-category-problem/
Grouping things into categories in one’s mind is important, because it provides an efficient way to store information and an easy means for discussing groups of items. As I understand it, children typically pick up on and create categories naturally, but some children with language delays struggle with the concept of categories. My child Beth, who has autism, struggles greatly with categories. I believe it is because once Beth learns one name for something, to call it a new higher-level name does not make sense in her mind. Whatever the reason, Beth needs to be taught categories explicitly.
I am teaching Beth categories by pointing them out during outings (stores are great for this, because similar items are grouped into categories on shelves), category learning apps, and hands-on learning activities (sorting, flashcards, I Spy games, etc.). I will review category learning apps and give examples of hands-on activities in later posts.
The language category list below was derived from multiple sources (category apps and hands-on kits used to teach categories in special education). It is not exhaustive, as there are thousands of categories one can create. I was unable to find a large list like this on the internet, so I hope it will be a helpful resource for parents, teachers, and therapists.
Things of the Same Color. For example, red things like a fire engine, apple, stop sign, etc.
Things With Same Features or Function. For example, group together simple and familiar items, like toy cars of different shape, size, and/or color
Note: some researchers believe there is a “shape bias” as a natural developmental stage, so you may need to play around with bias to understand how your child is grouping things together. My daughter seems to have a slight shape and strong color bias when sorting in categories (1, 2).
Easy to Intermediate Categories
Clothing (All clothing or Sub-Categories like Things You Put on Feet, Things You Put on Head)
Insects (also called Bugs)
Instruments (also called Music)
Sports (also called Sports Equipment, Sport Balls)
Utensils. For example, fork, knife, and spoon.
Vehicles (also called Transportation, Things You Ride In)
More Advanced Categories
Baby Items. For example, diaper, bottle, and stroller.
Buildings. For example, house, barn, skyscraper, and store.
Cleaning. For example, rag, sponge, dish soap, broom, and mop.
Climate. For example, polar, tropical, and dessert.
Community Helpers. For example, police officer, firefighter, nurse, doctor, and librarian.
Electronics. For example, T.V., iPad, stereo, computer, and phone.
Jobs (also called Occupations)
Land, Air, or Water Transportation
Opposites. For example: big/little (large/small), hot/cold, happy/sad, and hard/soft.
Places. For example, beach, park, school, home, store, and church.
Plants. For example, flowers, trees, bushes, and house plants.
Rooms in a House. For example, Bathroom, Kitchen, Bedroom, and Living Room.
Tableware. For example, knife, spoon, fork, cup, glass, plate, napkin, and bowl.
Things in the Air (or sky). For example, planes, birds, hot air balloon, and clouds.
Things in the Room of a House. For example, a bathroom has toilet paper, toilet, and a sink.
Things Found in Places. For example, Ocean/Beach (sand, shells, beach ball, umbrella, sand bucket, etc.), Park/Playground (slide, trees, ducks, swings, water fountain, park bench, etc.), School (desk, teacher, kids, glue, backpack, chalkboard, pencil, etc.)
Things of the Same Shape. For example, a pizza, orange, and tire are round.
Things That Make Light
Things That Tell Time
Types of Animals. For example, jungle, birds, farm, forest, sea (ocean), dessert, zoo, water, dinosaurs, pets, animals on land/animals that swim, reptiles, and amphibians.
Types of Food. For example, vegetables, grains, meat, fruit, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, dessert, candy, and fast food.
Types of People. For example, man, woman, baby, girl, and boy.