At FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers, we understand that when children are lagging behind developmentally, interconnected services are vital to helping them catch up. For instance, children with language delays who clearly need speech therapy many times also benefit from occupational therapy to work on things like improved social interaction or classroom skills. Children with conditions like autism, down syndrome, brain injuries or ADHD struggle with speech, but also need ABA therapy to help curb problem behaviors. Similarly, occupational therapy helps them master self-care (i.e., brushing their teeth, feeding themselves, managing their time, etc.), while physical therapy is effective in helping them accomplish those goals by strengthening key muscle groups.
The benefit of interconnected services was recently further underscored in a study published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. Study authors found that when a child’s fine motor skills improved, so too did their vocabulary development – to a pretty significant degree. Researchers concluded this lends credence to the “nimble hands, nimble minds” theory of child development.
The “nimble hands, nimble minds” theory is that when we focus on improving a child’s motor skills (i.e., using hands to manipulate a puzzle, grasp a pencil, cut with scissors, etc.), we will also boost cognitive learning. One reason is that kids tend to “get it” more when the cognitive skill sets we’re trying to teach are rooted in some kind of hands-on physical activity. So for example, when our FOCUS therapists are teaching a child to understand and communicate about spacial concepts (over, under, in, out, bigger, smaller, etc.), we will usually do so through some form of physical play, like building blocks or coloring or putting a puzzle together or climbing into a ball pit. Because we have rooted the cognitive lesson in a physical action, the child is more likely to retain it (and have fun doing it!).
Researchers at Florida State University’s School of Communication Science and Disorders just announced a breakthrough study regarding anticipated speech therapy for children with hearing loss.
Teaming up with a group of international scientists and accessing high-tech brain scans and algorithms, the researchers were able to ascertain which parts of the brain were most associated with speech learning among children with cochlear implants. By identifying this, the team hopes to develop a tool to help more accurately predict which children would need more intensive speech therapy.
The study was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, and the hope is that the findings of this research will help parents and clinicians identify more quickly which children are going to need a regimen of more speech therapy and speech-language support once they have had a cochlear implant.
Play dates are often a welcome respite for many parents, offering an opportunity for the adults to interact as much as the children. What many parents may not realize, though, is that these are golden opportunities to model socialization for your child. Our speech therapists at FOCUS Fort Myers recognize that children learn most from us as role models by watching us, and then practicing it for themselves. For a child who is struggling to socialize, play dates can be so beneficial.
Sometimes children with speech and language delays need a bit of additional help learning about social situations and appropriate responses. Our speech therapists in Fort Myers know one tool that has proven extremely useful is “Social Stories.”
A social story is basically what it sounds like: It’s a short, simple story intended to teach children what to expect in certain social settings. These short books, which include pictures of the child and familiar settings, don’t have to be fancy. They can incorporate photos you shoot on your smartphone and print out on your computer. A therapist can craft or help you create a social story for help with certain scenarios in which your child seems to be struggling. When the story is read repeatedly to the child, combined with images of themselves and the difficult scenario they are confronting, it can be powerful. Social stories can also help those with language delays and deficits to understand certain nuances of interpersonal communication – giving them tools to interact in a manner that is both appropriate and effective.
Social stories were first developed in the early 1990s by Carol Gray, a Michigan school teacher whose four children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. She explained it helps children understand what can be difficult for those with language delays or deficits to comprehend.
Staff Report, FOCUS Therapy
When a child with autism is first learning how to speak, it’s often delayed and it may not develop in the same way as typically functioning children. As your Fort Myers speech therapist can explain, many begin by copying words they hear, as opposed to trying out new words or phrases they generate on their own. This type of “echoing” is clinically referred to as “echolalia,” and it’s often a vital first step in verbal communication.
Echolalia is the exact repetition or echoing of sounds or words. A child with autism will often use words in the same order – and sometimes even in the same tone – as what they hear, be it from another person or in a book or television show.
Although it may not have any communicative meaning (there is a difference between functional and non-functional echolalia), it can be an excellent place for your speech therapist to begin work with your child on meaningful communication.
Staff Report, FOCUS Therapy
At some point, most parents have been on the receiving end of judgmental looks due to a child’s behavior. Tantrums in the cereal aisle are practically an official rite of passage for all toddlers. But “bad” behavior could be a sign of a deeper issue. Occupational therapists and speech therapists in Fort Myers know that sometimes, “bad” behavior goes hand-in-hand with a clinical condition with symptoms that can be mitigated with prompt and proper treatment.
For instance, a child grappling with a speech delay may find the most effective form of communication is behavior some find socially unacceptable. These behaviors can include tantrums and aggression, but also non-compliance, running away or resistance. Understandably, parents may feel unprepared or unequipped, and respond ineffectually with tactics like yelling, repeated admonition or just giving in. Both parent and child remain trapped in a frustrating cycle.
According to one study published by researchers with Western Michigan University, a significant portion of children with language disorders also have co-occurring emotional or behavior disorders. Despite this, most children diagnosed with an emotional or behavior disorder have not been evaluated for speech-language problems. When a child has receptive and expressive delays or disorders, it can directly impact their social functioning – and in turn, their behavior.
Staff Report, FOCUS Therapy
An increase of screen time among young children – particularly involving smartphones and iPads – may heighten the risk of a speech delay, according to new research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting.
As Science Daily reports, the analysis examines whether handheld screen time use is associated with an increase in language delays among infants. Over the course of four years, researchers looked at how closely about 900 children, ages 6 months to 2 years, interacted with electronic devices. Then they compared their rates of language and speech delay.
By the time these children reached 18 months, 20 percent of them were using a handheld device an average of a half hour daily. The children were then screened for a speech delay. Researchers found that for each 30-minute increase in the time these children had access to handheld screens, there was a 49 percent higher risk of expressive speech delay.
Expressive language skills are broadly understood to describe how a person communicates their wants or needs. It encompasses both verbal and non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions, gestures, vocabulary and syntax (grammar rules).
Staff Report, FOCUS Therapy
This week, FOCUS Therapy was among the many organizations promoting awareness of childhood apraxia of speech, a motor speech disorder that typically becomes apparent as a young child is just learning to talk. The condition is often misdiagnosed because it is relatively rare, though our speech therapists in Fort Myers have successfully treated numerous children with this diagnosis.
The 2017 Apraxia Awareness Day was recognized May 14, the fifth year since it was designated by the Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America (CASANA). The motto of the organization is, “Every Child Deserves a Voice.”
We work toward that goal in our own speech therapy program, with the firm belief that it starts with correctly identifying the condition early on, and beginning therapy as soon as possible. Children with apraxia who do not receive early intervention may have great difficulty developing speech that is intelligible – a problem that can lead to struggle in all aspects throughout their lives. This is precisely why Apraxia Awareness Day is so critically important.
By Jennifer Voltz, MS/ CCC-SLP, Owner/ Founder of FOCUS
As mothers, we know what our children want even before they do. We know when they will be thirsty or hungry, because well, we just know.
But think about it: If we get out a juice box and have the straw already inserted and the first sip taken to make sure it’s not too full – and we hand it to our little one, they never have any need to communicate. We met their needs before they even had to say one word.
One of the ways our speech therapists compel children with speech delays to engage in communication is to resist giving into that need or desire – even when we know exactly what it is.
Parents can employ this same tactic.
Childhood apraxia of speech may be effectively treated in part with sign language. That was the conclusion of a study by researchers at Penn State College of Medicine, who recommended further study and noted the effectiveness of early intervention of numerous pediatric therapies together.
There is a great deal of evidence to show that learning sign language is beneficial for all children – regardless of whether they have a speech delay. Researchers have found when children learn sign language:
- It improves the cognition in typically-developing children;
- It does not impair or prevent communication for children with disabilities;
- It can help both younger and older children develop important language skills.