WHY YOU ARE THE KEY PLAYER IN YOUR CHILD’S THERAPY
When speech and language therapists put together a therapy program for your child, their decision will be informed by a few things: the age of your child, their main mode of communication, their understanding levels, how much language they have, what speech sounds they have and what communication skills they most need to function socially and academically. Moreover, there is one more very important factor that will be taken in to account: What the evidence says about the recommended therapy. Using research to inform decisions in therapy is crucial to ensure that your child has the best chance of reaching their goals. Therapy programs that encourage joint working between parent and therapist are known to provide better outcomes for the child. Including parents as active participants rather than observers of therapy programs is often the approach taken in the early years.
So, after seeking out support and perhaps obtaining an evaluation, you and your child may have been offered guidance by a speech and language therapist rather than 1.1. therapy sessions. Not all speech and language therapy is given by these 1:1 therapy sessions.
Why not just 1:1 sessions?
Here are some things that may have guided your speech and language therapist’s decision making: Put simply, when parents fully engage with their children, communication skills improve (Roberts, M and Kaiser, A 2011). Working with a speech and language therapist to help you fine tune your interaction skills and offer support where needed, is a sure way to achieve positive results!
- The research indicates that most of the learning children undergo happens incidentally i.e. by listening to the world around them. Around 98 percent of the words that your child knows will be words that are found in your own vocabulary! (Hart and Risley 2003). So, when it comes to language development, you are the biggest contributor to your child’s language and working with your is crucial!
- Guiding and supporting parents in the enrichment of their child’s communication skills is thought to provide long lasting results. Following a parent/child interaction program (Russ & Niec, 2011) found that the improvements in communication were still noticeable two years post therapy. So, signing up to a program and seeing it through, is not just a quick fix, but an investment in your child’s communication for the longer term.
Speech and language therapy, your child and you!
What will I learn from following a tailored program? More comments, less questions!
Questions are important and can help children to develop their understanding, however, we often ask too many questions! We are trained to ask questions to fill silent gaps. So, this strategy will take some planning and practice.
Speech and language therapists will encourage you to comment more. Commenting on your child’s play takes the pressure away from them and they will be more likely to provide you with spontaneous language. In addition, by commenting on what your child is doing, you are giving them the opportunity to listen to lots of language. The more language a child hears, the more likely they are to use new words., so this strategy is very effective
Repeating what your child says but adding new words to expand the sentence and make it more grammatically correct.
Provides strong language examples. Children will get a chance to hear words that they miss out e.g. ‘is’. Remember, the more a child hears, the more they are likely to learn!
We all use some gesture when we speak. 50 percent of communication involves some sort of nonverbal communication. You may point to something, or use the iconic gesture e.g. holding your hands in the shape of ball while you say ‘ball’ Using gestures every day can provide positive communication exchanges between you and your child.
Gesture has immense value when it comes to highlighting key words for children to learn. Children learn by listening and by watching and they will associate what they hear with what has been shown/signed/pointed to. Teaching your child to gesture before they can use words will also benefit their language development. Children who use gesture at a young age e.g. point to request something, will have larger vocabularies later in life (Hanen 2016)
Follow your child’s lead!
This means, letting them choose the toy they want to play with and following what they want to do with the toy. This can be hard at first as its natural to want to lead the play in order to support specific skills. Following what your child wants to do can be a strategy that suddenly opens up their communication.
Following your child’s lead shows them you are interested in what they are interested in and it takes the pressure away from them to respond to an adult led activity. As this can then make them feel more relaxed, they will be more likely to engage and attention levels will increase. Commenting on what your child is doing while they are exploring toys and games, again provides some great listening practice.
Using simple language
When children are learning language, the amount of information they can process will vary. It can be useful to break down longer sentences in to short phrases or pause before adding in more information. Many speech and language therapists will also teach you how to use information carrying words, so the language load is aimed at your child’s level of understanding. As ICWs are words that carry information, focusing on them raises your awareness to how much information you are giving your child E.G. ‘the cat’ (when shown a picture of a cat and dog, is asking your child to listen to one piece of information ‘cat’. ‘The big cat’ when shown a picture of big and small cats and dogs, is asking your child to listen for two key words (big and cat) to choose the right picture. We have a full article on this.
Making language simple can greatly increase the likelihood that your child will be successful in following your instruction. Keeping sentences short and using key words allows you to see how much your child is understanding and therefore add in more words slowly as your gradually support their language understanding.
Use rhymes and songs
Using rhyme and song is a great way to have fun with your child whilst also optimizing their learning of new words. See our time to rhyme and sing article. You can try singing the same songs over and over or missing out a word and seeing if your child can fill in the gap.
When children hear a word repeatedly or in many different situations and contexts, learning the word becomes much easier. Rhyming also helps children learn about the structure of words, identifying what words start with the same sounds or end with the same sounds can also help literacy skills (Goswami,1986, 1988)
Share a book
Books provide repetitive language, picture support and introduce your child to new words. Reading can be a fun daily activity. If your child is interested in a story they will be more likely to learn some of the words from that story.
Listening to stories is another way for your child to meet their listening quota! The more words they listen to, the more they will use! Spending some focused time reading, commenting on the story and responding to your child’s questions is a great way to up their language! As well as increasing your child’s exposure to words, reading to your child daily will have a positive impact on their literacy levels (Read On. Get On.” report published by Save the Children)
DID YOU KNOW?.....................
You are your child’s best teacher? When parents are given guidance to work on their child’s language via a program rather than offered 1:1 therapy the results are positive! Following a review of 18 different parent child interaction programs, improvements in understanding, language, gesture, vocabulary and grammar were all documented (Roberts and Kaiser 2011)
In fact, once given guidance and support, parents were found to have even more of a positive influence on their child’s communication skills than a speech and language therapist!
If you are worried about your child’s communication skills and feel they would benefit from some focused support, it is always worth contacting your local speech and language therapist for an assessment or advice. There are a few different parent child interaction programs available.
Written by Carolyn Fox, Children's Speech and Language Therapist
Roberts, M., & Kaiser, A. (2011). The Effectiveness of Parent-Implemented Language Intervention: A Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Speech-Langage Pathologie, 20, 180-199