- Autism & Developmental Services
Written By: Michelle E. Sisto, MS CCC-SLP TSSLD CAS
Typically, children begin speaking around 1-2 years of age, however, some children develop faster or slower than others. If your child seems to not be hitting milestones, speech and language therapy is one resource to be utilized, which can make a huge impact. Early intervention, in particular, usually occurs within the home, to facilitate and promote a child’s speech and language development within the most naturalistic setting.
An integral piece of the child’s progress through therapy is the work they do, outside of the speech session, at home, with their families and caregivers. Many speech therapy sessions vary from 1-3 times a week for 30 minutes. This is a very short time that is dedicated to promoting a child’s speech and language skills.
This creates time constraints for the speech therapist to hit all of the child’s goals and needs within a very short amount of time. Constant communication and collaboration between families and therapists is vital for the best interest of the child, especially because speech therapy occurs for a limited time. This begs the question: how can speech therapy carry over, within the home, beyond the structured therapy session?
There are a variety of strategies to help your child improve their speech and language skills. Below are my favorite strategies that can be easily transferred from the speech and language session into the natural home environment:
As a parent or caregiver, it is easy to know what every whine means, without your child ever having to utter a word. While this might avoid frustrations, it also does not necessitate your child to effectively communicate their wants and needs.
Instead of handing your toddler the cookies, directly after lunch, integrate a pause and briefly delay the receipt of the item, encouraging the child to use gestures and words to request and indicate their wants and needs for themselves. This may look like counting 5 before prompting to allow for the necessary time and space .
When communication is a challenge, open-ended questions, such as “what do you want”, may complicate the child’s request and pose increased difficulty when the child does not have the spontaneous vocabulary. By offering the choice, such as “want cars or bubbles?”, gives the child the vocabulary associated with the choice, helping them to hear their options so they can select one.
Rather than forcing children to engage in non-preferred and adult directed activities, follow the child’s lead. During play activities, notice preferential items and activities that your child is drawn to. When looking to engage with your child and simultaneously work on their speech and language skills, look at, engage with, and talk about toys and activities that your child is gravitating towards or focused on.
When your child shows interest in different activities, respond to those interactions. This will capture your child’s attention and build their language skills up in an environment that they prefer. If your child crashes a car into a block tower, imitate their action and utter “Oh no! Crash!” Here, you can pause and wait for 5 seconds to encourage imitation.
Repetition allows children opportunities to continuously practice a new skill. It helps children acquire language, in as young as infancy. Every time a word or phrase is repeated it solidifies that word or phrase in the child’s mind more and more.
With repetition, it also helps children anticipate what is coming, which aids them in imitating the targets being repeatedly modeled for them. This could look like using the phrase “washing hands, wash wash wash hands”, during daily routines.
When interacting with children, asking questions sometimes feels like an interrogation, where we are quizzing the children on what they know instead of modeling or teaching them skills. Instead, try making more comments and observations.
This supports children in understanding what is going on in their environment and learning new words at the same time. It also gives children the space to imitate observations and comments that they hear, to increase their vocabulary and expressive language skills. This could look like “red car go!” instead of “what is the red car doing?”
All parents and caregivers can utilize these strategies during daily activities throughout the day. Whether the child is or is not in speech and language therapy, these strategies are just some of your tools in the toolbox to help facilitate these skills for all children.
By utilizing these strategies, children’s speech and language skills will benefit from the constant support they are receiving. Establishing strategies to support these skills are crucial for future success and help children build on foundational skills that they will need as they grow and become more independent.
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