If your child has a speech or language disorder, speech therapy will make a difference. A speech language pathologist (often called a speech therapist) is uniquely trained to assess, understand and treat communication disorders. A full evaluation will determine the specific speech or language goals your child may need to address. A speech-language pathologist may see your child two to four times a week, depending on the recommended course of treatment. What about the rest of the week? There are many things parents and caregivers should do to maximize the benefit of treatment and perhaps shorten the amount a treatment a child may need to meet their targeted goals.
How Can a Parent Take Full Advantage of Speech Therapy for Their Child?
Follow Specific Recommendations
Follow through on all strategies or activities your speech therapist provides. Be sure and work on specific goals at least two or three times a day, based on the therapist’s recommendation, perhaps 10 minutes in the morning and then 10 minutes in the afternoon. Be sure each target is practiced multiple times. For example, if a child is working on production of a given sound, that sound should be practiced at least 10 times during each practice session. So /d/ might be practiced in the initial position of a word 10 times (dog, doll, door, day…) then another sound may be addressed. The same idea applies for language goals. If a child is working on second person pronouns, he needs to address each targeted pronoun many times in each session. A great time to do some of this is while sitting at the breakfast table or at snack time in the afternoon, or just before bed. Again, your therapist should provide specific targets for you and also provide materials for some goals. It is important to follow the guidance of your therapist to insure the best and quickest mastery of specific goals.
Implement Evidence Based Strategies for Speech and Language Progress Throughout the Day
Always respond to your child’s utterance, and whenever possible, make your response related to their vocalization or verbalization. Some very young children, or those with more significant language challenges, may sometimes just vocalize (sounds not words). When a parent of caregiver responds to these utterances, the child realizes that they initiated a reaction. If a parent can “join in”, then the child can start to see others as communication partners then the reaction may be shaped into an interaction! When a parent can identify what a child is vocalizing about, they can join in by imitating and expanding. For example, if a child is playing with a car and hums as he pushes the car, the parent can join the child and imitate the hum. Then the parent can say “umum car go”
The same strategy applies when the child is intelligible. Parents can always respond to verbalizations and join in to encourage interaction. Again, language can be expanded by adding related words. So if a child says, ” I paint dog”, the parent can respond, “I see, you painted a red dog”. Keep language simple but add information and structure that would be appropriate for their age.
So quality time and interaction is key to language progress. With our busy lives we sometimes need to plan these interactions. Turn off the TV. Put away the electronic devices and get out some toys or books. Have a few choice activities in sight but out of reach and see if your child will request a desired toy. If they do not request, pose it as a choice, “Would you like the blocks or the cars?” Then play and interact! The more families can build these kinds interactions into their life styles, the more rapidly a child typically will respond to speech and language therapy. These interactions should happen many times each day.
According to ASHA (American Speech-Language and Hearing Association) children make much better progress when families are engaged in reinforcing treatment goals throughout the day. These kinds of strategies are great for life skill development whether your child has a speech or language disorder or not.
Can Parents or Caregivers Negatively Impact Treatment Progress?
Therapy progress will be negatively impacted if parents or caregivers are not committed to following through with the speech-language pathologist’s specific recommendations. Limited responses to a child’s vocalizations or verbalizations will also slow progress with language development. It is also critical to attend treatment consistently, avoiding cancellations unless a child is ill. The speech therapist is the parent’s partner in treatment. The child needs to be seen regularly and the parent needs to be able to discuss how practice is going outside of therapy and get consistent input from the treating therapist.